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Tweaking The Math Behind Political Representation

timothy posted more than 6 years ago | from the as-nature-intended dept.

Math 322

mlimber writes "Nature magazine's news section has an interesting story about how the seats in the US House of Representatives should be divided up. The problem is that the population isn't evenly divided by the number of seats in the House (435). So how should one allocate the fractional parts? The current method tends to favor big states, while a recent proposal by a mathematician is for what he calls a 'minimally unfair' allotment. He is predicting 'one person, one vote' challenges on this topic in the near future."

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eh... (3, Informative)

Richard.g.k (1215362) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991438)

Is there anything new in this article? people have been complaining about congress seat inequality forever...

Solving the wrong problem (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991688)

Of all the problems in the US electoral system, this is undoubtably the least important.

A vastly more critical glitch is that it is possible to draw congressional boundaries in such a way as to increase the influence of demographics tending toward electing one party and decrease the influence of the demographics tending toward the other, and the people who have the power to redraw districts barely even bother to hide the fact that they're doing so anymore. Solving that glitch with a means to draw boundaries that is guaranteed to be impartial, so that the elected representatives actually did reflect the preferences of the people electing them-- now that would be a serious improvement to democracy.

Re:Solving the wrong problem (1, Interesting)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992110)

It is interesting how you have decided that changing the boundaries to give one party more power in the amount of people willing to vote for them is not the same as reflecting the preferences of the people electing them. The boundaries are artificial and in some cases arbitrary but if anyone is elected because of boundaries, they would by definition be reflecting the people who voted for them.

I think your forgetting the main reason boundaries are changed in the first place. The more the population grows, the more representatives that are needed to represent them. If a state was to grow in it's population without redrawing the political boundaries, it could be possible for the state to technically have a population large enough to support two or three additional representatives but not enough people in any one district to warrant splitting it or anything. The boundaries get changed primarily to reflect this difference and make sure that the people's representative are reflective of who is voting for them. The only problem here might be that any party in power can change this to favor their parties candidates. But even then, it would still reflect the people who are voting for them.

Re:Solving the wrong problem (1)

Strilanc (1077197) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992368)

The problem is that if you drew the boundaries differently different people would be elected.

Grouping your numbers until they all round down doesn't make your original input smaller.

Re:Solving the wrong problem (2, Insightful)

thirty-seven (568076) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992146)

To prevent gerrymandering, have independent boundary commissions to redistrict after every census. Make one of their priorities be to keep historic and geographic communities-of-interest together when drawing districts. As a part of this, allow for greater differences between districts' populations (say, up to 15%) in order to allow for nice, neat districts that follow county lines, city limits, or established neighbourhoods in big cities.

Yes, gerrymandering would be just as technically possible under my proposal as it is under current the U.S. systems, but, in practice, it should eliminate gerrymandering. Other countries that also use first-past-the-post single-member districts, such as Canada and the UK, as the U.S. does, use redistricting schemes very similar to the one I described, and they do not have gerrymandering.

For example, here are interactive maps of the electoral districts in southwestern Ontario [elections.ca] and Toronto [elections.ca] , created using a system very much like the one I described. They are typical.

Re:Solving the wrong problem (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992752)

One potential drawback in your system is that substantial minority populations, which may be spread across multiple districts but not large enough to take a seat in any individual district, may fail to gain any seats in any district (i.e no representation whatsoever), even though there may be enough of them in the aggregate to warrant a minority number of seats. This would be particularly true in a "winner take all" system where all of the seats in a district or if the district only has one seat goes to the winner with the runners up getting nothing.

Three words (1)

necrostopheles (865577) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992318)

Multi-member electorates.

OK, maybe that's two. And seriously, letting party hacks control the electoral system?

Re:Solving the wrong problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992968)

I agree that gerrymandering is the biggest problem. However, I don't think the solution lies in figuring out more and more clever ways of having legislators tell me who I have to vote with. This insistence on dividing up representation by geography creates an artificial bias towards governing by geography. However, the House of Representatives governs at the national level. Therefore votes for representatives should be aggregated nationally. In short, let people gerrymander themselves!


Here's a simple example. Suppose 5% of the population consists of Slashdot readers who have strong opinions about open standards and "your rights online" issues. Presumably they are mixed in to the general population geographically. Therefore they will never be able to claim their 5% representation in the House. If votes for representatives were aggregated at the national level, then they could form a "Commander Taco" party, vote for their platform without regard to what city they live in, and get their (0.05)(435) representatives to the House. Then you can start talking about actual representation.


As long as the only form of vote aggregation allowed is geographic-- as long as I am only allowed to be represented by somebody who lives somewhat close to me, compared to the entire population being governed-- I will never be represented adequately.

Re:eh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21991708)

people have been complaining about congress seat inequality forever..

In fact, it's the whole reason the US uses different systems to divide Representatives and Senators. The House favors large states, the Senate favors small states.

It interests me how few people remember that the Federal government is about governing the states, and the state governments are about governing the people.

Re:eh... (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992286)

> It interests me how few people remember
> that the Federal government is about governing
> the states, and the state governments
> are about governing the people.

We don't remember because it isn't really true any more.
The Federal Government has myriads of laws that apply to individuals.
It's not clear to me that this was ever not the case.

Re:eh... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992096)

Is there anything new in this article? people have been complaining about congress seat inequality forever...

Don't exaggerate it's only been like 220 years....forever indeed ;)

Re:eh... (1)

Lane.exe (672783) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992512)

Not to mention that it was sort of the point that more populous states would enjoy greater representation in the House. The Senate is the balance to that.

Re:eh... (2, Funny)

IAmGarethAdams (990037) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992794)

I just want to know who the one person is who gets the one vote. They're the person I want to find.

Wrong. (1)

cslax (1215816) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992860)

As a result of Wesberry v Sanders, the whole concept of "One man, one vote" was applied to the districts within states. However, look at underpopulated states, such as, I don't know, Wyoming. Los Angeles alone probably has about 7.5 times more the amount of people than the entire state of Wyoming. California has > 67 times more people than Wyoming. But Cali does not have 67 seats in the House. States like Wyoming, Rhode Island, etc. have low populations, but still get 1 vote. This means the way it is now, states such as Cali, NY, etc. get UNDERrepresented. So no, people do not have equal representation, but if we were to have equal representation, then there'd be about 600 people in the House. And people complain that bills don't get pushed through fast enough with 435...

They've finally found it! (5, Insightful)

wpegden (931091) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991446)

Once they get this little pesky problem fixed, our government will be awesome!

Re:They've finally found it! (4, Funny)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991476)

"Yes, its just that one thing" - Dogbert

What about the minor candidates? (1)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991494)

How many delegates went to Vermin Supreme?

Edelman method = Non starter (3, Insightful)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991588)

From TFA-

The method ... doesn't necessarily come up with unique solutions -- there could be many ways to achieve equal 'unfairness'.
So basically, any re-jigging using this method will arbitrarily (or otherwise) favor one state over another, with no rationale. Additionally, it would likely mire the US electoral process in endless legal challenges. And we can't have that! (waka waka waka)

Re:Edelman method = Non starter (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992090)

Even though it's been out of use for more than 100 years, the Hamilton method is very straightforward, comes to a single solution, and (FTA):

...the Hamilton method ... is the only one that ensures a state won't be rounded up or down past the nearest integer.
The Hamilton method is also understandable by your average [Joe|Jane]. I think that the hoopla over Hillary winning New Hampshire despite the fact that she and Obama won the same number of delegates shows that a lot of Americans just don't understand the system.

Re:Edelman method = Non starter (1)

Mark J Tilford (186) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992380)

The Hamilton method was dropped because it was possible to have a situation where increasing the total number of Representatives could reduce an individual state's representation. With the size of the House being fixed, that probably no longer matters.

Re:Edelman method = Non starter (2, Insightful)

Hatta (162192) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992890)

As I understand it, it's essentially a rounding problem. So why don't we just give states fractional seats and let their fractional representatives cast fractional votes?

Re:Edelman method = Non starter (1)

Naughty Bob (1004174) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993108)

That's brilliant. Who needs integers?

Correction (4, Informative)

sharp-bang (311928) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991610)

The current method doesn't favor big states. FTA, "the current method has an inherent bias towards giving small states a boost up".

Re:Correction (3, Informative)

taniwha (70410) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991940)

yup - somewhere like Wyoming with a population of 1/453 already gets more representation per person than someone in California (it has about 2/3 or 1/453 of the US population)

Re:Correction (1)

sumdumass (711423) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992216)

I'm not sure what your getting at here. The constitution says with the exception of the original 13 colonies, that there will be one representative for thirty thousand people and that each state will have at least one representative.

what am I missing here? 1/453 and 2/3? I'm not sure what that is supposed to mean?

Re:Correction (3, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992678)

The constitution says with the exception of the original 13 colonies, that there will be one representative for thirty thousand people and that each state will have at least one representative.


No, it doesn't. It says that (except for the period prior to the first Census, for which it spells out exact by-state representation) each state will have a number of representatives assigned in proportion to population based on a census count, except that each state will have at least one representative. It further states that the total number of representatives shall not be greater than 1 for every 30,000 people (that's not that the number will be 1/30,000: if that was the rule, the House would have, based on the 2000 census, 9,381 members — which would certainly reduce the voting-power impact of rounding problems from fractional seats.)

Re:Correction (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992604)

somewhere like Wyoming with a population of 1/453 already gets more representation per person than someone in California


Wyoming has (per the 2000 Census apportionment count), ~1/568 (~0.176%) of the US population. It has 1/435 (~0.230%) of the seats in the House of Representatives.

California has ~12.06% of the population, ~12.18% of the seats in the House.

I'm not seeing a lot of favoritism toward big states here.

Re:Correction (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992754)

Yes, Wyoming's solitary Representative is really keeping California's contingent of 53 from getting any work done.

Re:Correction (2, Informative)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992830)

That single representative could be quite influential, especially if he was very senior in years of service and was on the important committees compared to 53 more junior members from a larger state. This is why smaller states tend to elect the same guy over and over again because it increases their chances of getting more and better goodies in disproportionate amounts to their actual population or influence. Seniority matters in Congress.

Fixing the wrong problem (4, Insightful)

jfengel (409917) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991612)

The article starts by noting that California dominates the House of Representatives, but this doesn't really change that fact. Tweaking a seat up or down does change things a bit, especially where the electoral college is concerned, but the real problem is gerrymandering. Seats end up being permanently allocated to one party or another, with the incumbent enjoying an immense advantage.

If you want to fix a problem, come up with a better algorithm for drawing district boundaries. Right now the party in charge DOES use an algorithm, one designed to create the pessimal boundaries that ensure its maximum advantage.

Of course, there are many such algorithms, and no matter how fair they are the legislature would vote to choose whichever one favors them best.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (1)

Mawginty (882393) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991972)

More like 50 algorithms. Each state legislature is responsible for determining the federal congressional districts (with some complications having to do with the Justice Department, some Southern States, and the Voting Rights Act). This protracts the problem because if, say, California decides to use a relatively non-partisan districting process (like Schwarzenegger's proposal a few years back), Texas can still go on being as partisan as it wants. If there was ever a good case for federal control of an issue, congressional districting is it.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992120)

That's because California has so many people. By giving every state the same number of representatives, you would put a lot of power in the hands of a relative few, exactly the opposite of the Constitution.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (2, Informative)

syphax (189065) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992354)


It's called "the Senate."

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (1)

mr_mischief (456295) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992398)

Actually, it's not the opposite. The House of Representatives give equal representation to the citizens of the country. The Senate gives equal representation to each member state regardless of population. Both must approve the same wording of the same bill for it to become law. The Constitution promises that both ways are used, not just one or the other.

Splitline Algorithm (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992262)

http://www.rangevoting.org/GerryExamples.html [rangevoting.org]

No affiliation - was just googling up some pictures to support my own (lesser) ideas for simple geometric rules to limit gerrymandering.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (1)

mathfeel (937008) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992518)

I thought about this for a while and am not sure if there'll ever be a solution. The reason is that people have a tendency to move into neighborhood they find most friendly or simply economically feasible (and therefore a district would tends to attract people of similar background and voting pattern). So if a district tends to have say 10% consistent Republican (or Democratic) voter, changes are a large portion of the remaining 90% leans that way too. It'll therefore be damn hard for the other party to win. I tends to think that it's the lack of accurate representation that are more problematic. In each district it's winner takes all, but I am not so sure if the person I voted for accurate reflects my political view point or just that the other person is so far away from it, there'd be no chance for me to vote for him/her.

I can see other problems with other country's systems, such as one in which certain # of top vote getter is elected (and therefore you have a spectrum of elected candidate). This is hard business, and I am no political scientist.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (2, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992744)

If you want to fix a problem, come up with a better algorithm for drawing district boundaries.


If you want to fix a problem, design a system where the drawing of district boundaries doesn't matter much instead of one where it does. Its easier to do, for one thing: simply increase the number of seats per district, and adopt a preference voting system that generates proportional results, like STV. This makes it difficult to do much to ensure "safe" seats or enhance partisan advantage by messing with district boundaries.

Right now the party in charge DOES use an algorithm, one designed to create the pessimal boundaries that ensure its maximum advantage.


Actually, there are two different things that are frequently done in redistricting: one is carving safe seats to protect incumbents, the other is maximizing seats in which one party has a majority. These are, to an extent, conflicting goals.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992758)

Gerrymandering, at least in its most blatant manifestations, might be more difficult to do if a state is tasked with drawing up to twice as many districts.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (1)

jpfed (1095443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992902)

I wonder whether gerrymandering could be hindered by specifying that each district must have at most a particular perimeter/area ratio in miles^-1. This could force districts into rounder/ more convex shapes.

Re:Fixing the wrong problem (1)

xzvf (924443) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993086)

You are correct about gerrymandering. But in addition, congressional districts are getting too large. Since they were capped at 435 districts have grown to nearly 700000 people each. Making money for TV adds the primary way to reach constituants. Its already too large for a Congressman to really know his/her distric and will only get worse. In addition population density is also an issue. In Wyoming running for congress is the same as running for govenor. While in NYC, its like running for city council. If we really want a representative government, cap districts at 300000 people and add more seats to the HofR.

No need to tweak... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21991676)

...just remove all niggers from the House and Senate and we're on our way to a more pristine America.

Huckabee 2008!

I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (2, Interesting)

nebaz (453974) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991702)

From article I
The number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty thousand

A house of representatives with 10,000 people might actually be unwieldy enough to actually have to do business, rather than listen to speeches all the time.

Re:I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (1)

mshannon78660 (1030880) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991802)

Given the way that meeting productivity goes down (at least in business meetings) when you get more than 8-10 participants, I'd be willing to bet that a house of representatives with 10,000 people would never even manage to fund the government, let alone get any other business done. Roll call votes would take something 2.5-3 hours (assuming roughly one second to call the representatives name, and them to reply with yay or nay) just to collect the vote. It might be more entertaining to watch, though.

Re:I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992104)

With that many representatives, they might have to resort to using modern technology for register votes.

Wouldn't that be horrible!

Re:I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (1)

TheGreek (2403) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993104)

With that many representatives, they might have to resort to using modern technology for register votes.
You mean like the voting machines the House already has [house.gov] and uses for recorded votes?

Re:I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (5, Funny)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992152)

I'd be willing to bet that a house of representatives with 10,000 people would never even manage to fund the government, let alone get any other business done.

Perfect!

Re:I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (4, Interesting)

Archangel Michael (180766) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992508)

Why is this modded funny? It is actually insightful.

What is the largest number a person can adequately represent? I actually believe that 30K might be on the high side of that estimation. Right now, a Representative in the House isn't beholden to anyone other than the special interest groups. The Special Interest Groups only need to focus on 435 people currently. If they had to spread their $ around to more people, the amount they could offer each would be much less and more easily overcome by a small band of normal constituents.

I actuall see no problem with more representation, currently we're getting less and less. You tell me, do you feel adequately represented by anyone, let alone by your congress critter?

17th amendment (5, Insightful)

ChristTrekker (91442) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993044)

What is the largest number a person can adequately represent? I actually believe that 30K might be on the high side of that estimation.

Very insightful! I've been saying this for a long time now. When the 17th Amendment was ratified, populists thought that direct election of US Senators would be a great move for democracy! Instead, they shot themselves in the foot. Do you really think your Senator cares a fig about your opinion? You're one among millions. Back when s/he was accountable to the state's legislature though, you can be darn sure he paid attention to their few dozen opinions. Losing the support of any one legislator was significant.

Making Senators into super-Representatives was just silly. The House has a 2-year term because the electorate is fickle. Senators have a 6-year term because (in theory) your legislators are wise enough to make more thoughtful decisions. If we trust them enough to make laws for the state, can't we trust them enough to select Senators? But no, now we are stuck with our fickle decisions for 6 whole years - and 6 years after they make dumb decisions they can be sure we've forgotten about them, so they are even less accountable than ever!

Increase the House membership to 1000, and repeal the 17th Amendment. Those are the two best things we could do to "fix" the Congress in a relatively easy manner.

Re:I kind of like the original Constitutional idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992386)

Speaker:JoeRepresentative?
JoeRepresentative: Yea.
Speaker:JaneRepresentative?
JaneRepresentative: Yea.
Speaker:KenRepresentative?
KenRepresentative: Nay.
Speaker:KateRepresentative?
KateRepresentative: yea...

Hardly... (1)

C10H14N2 (640033) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992404)


Comparatively, to equal the level of representation in France, we'd have to have nearly 3,000 people in the House, which is roughly the number of delegates to the National People's Congress in China and they seem to be doing just fine. Granted, it's much easier to count unanimous votes...

Misunderstanding the original Constitutional idea (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992796)

"Shall not exceed" is not the same thing as "shall be"; X <=Y is very different than X = Y.

One person, One vote only IN your state (5, Interesting)

micahfk (913465) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991710)

Of course, what the article fails to mention is that your vote is only worth so much depending on what state you live in. Remember, in the US, we elect through the electoral college which generally means (technically, the electors do not have to vote by what the people vote with an exception of a few states) your vote is counted within the state and not within the nation. So, how much is your vote worth? At the extreme ends, Wyoming, which has the least number of people for a state gets 3 electoral votes for about 500,000 people (0.0006%), whereas California has 55 for 38 million people (0.00001%).

Therefore, for every 1 vote for a Republican in Wyoming, 60 votes for a Democrat in California are needed to cancel each other out. And this mathematician wants to make it more "fair" by giving more votes to smaller states?

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992020)

Thats only in presidential elections, which this has NOTHING to do with.

RTFS

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (3, Informative)

quizzicus (891184) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992280)

Wrong. Electoral votes are allocated by the number of Representatives plus the number of Senators (DC gets three when we pretend it has representation). Thus, the number of representatives in a state directly influences the number of electoral votes it gets.

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (1)

RJBeery (956252) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992234)

Wait a minute, what you say would be accurate if the states didn't vote in an ALL OR NOTHING scenario. You (and the current electoral college) completely discount the 30-40% of the Republican votes in California in your example.

-Rod

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (3, Informative)

joggle (594025) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992238)

Ummm, I only see one representative listed for Wyoming on the official US House of Representatives [house.gov] website. The guy wasn't suggesting adding representatives to Wyoming, but to Montana and some other states. Montana had a population of 902,195 in the 2000 census and 1 representative. That works out to a voting power of 0.00011% per person in Montana. California had a population of 33,871,648 and has 53 representatives (0.000156% per person).

His model wasn't trying to be fair, just less unfair. To be fair Wyoming would either need a fractional vote or the size of the House would have to be increased until each person in the house represented about 500,000 people. Since this isn't possible from his model's point of view he does the next best thing (removing votes from large states that have fewer people per representative to smaller states that currently have more people per representative).

With that said, I agree that small states don't need more representation in the House. They are more than adequately compensated by having 2 votes in the Senate. To put in perspective how powerful that is, imagine that even if San Francisco had 2 senators the Wyoming senators would still be representing fewer people. San Francisco has a population of about 750,000 (4th largest in California) vs. the population of 500,000 for the entire state of Wyoming.

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992246)

No, he wants to make the House of Representatives more fair. The House is supposed to be apportioned according to population, with each state receiving at least one representative. The Senate, on the other hand, has two representatives per state, regardless of population. Each state gets electoral votes equal to its representatives plus senators -- and that's where the small-state bias in the Presidential election comes from.

If you want to remove that bias, change the number of electoral votes to be equal to the number of representatives (or just remove the electoral college all together, or something else entirely). Don't advocate making the House apportionment any more unfair than it needs to be -- that's just silly.

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (3, Insightful)

alan_dershowitz (586542) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992298)

Everything you say is true, but is not relevant to his definition of fairness. The Electoral College is not meant to be proportional to the population while the House of Representatives is. He's trying to make a system that was MEANT to be proportional more accurate, while you are arguing for a conceptual change to the system. His definition of "fair" is more procedural ("if it's supposed to be proportional, is it?") than yours, which is essentially political ("One Person One Vote is a better system than the Electoral College.") Not to say you aren't right, but he's a mathematician and not a politician so he's studying the former and not the latter.

Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (1)

careysub (976506) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993078)

Everything you say is true, but is not relevant to his definition of fairness... Not to say you aren't right, but he's a mathematician and not a politician...



Quite so, and to get a publication out of the issue he has to offer a new and more complicated method than any of the historical ones. An excellent study of this issue was prepared by the Congression Research Service six years ago [house.gov] .



The upshot of this report is that the current method (the Hill method) is one of the best ones ever implemented or seriously proposed. But the triviality of this issue can be judged from the fact that this report shows that if the Hill method were replaced by the simplest and earliest proposed method (the Hamilton-Vinton ranked fractions method) only one single seat in the 2001 House would have changed hands.



Given the extreme favoritism to tiny states that the current Senate and Presidential representation schemes provide (the latter through the Electoral College), it is not at all evident that there is a problem here in need of fixing.


Re:One person, One vote only IN your state (1)

ChristTrekker (91442) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992874)

He's talking about representation in the HoR - the EC is a completely separate issue.

The EC is an attempt to use two different representation schemes (equal between persons, and equal between states) for a single office (the presidency). Naturally if you look at how much influence any one person has in such a system (every X number of people should be equal, like in the House!), it looks grossly biased. Just as obviously, if you look at how much influence any one state has in the EC (every state should be equal, like in the Senate!), it seems unfair as well. You can't have equality by both systems at the same time.

On the principle of the thing, he is right. Within the House, every X people should have as much voice as X people from another state. Whether his algorithm is better or not, I have no idea.

Unclear Summary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21991748)

From the summary: The problem is that the population isn't evenly divided by the number of seats in the House (435).

This statement could be interpreted a couple different ways but the literal mathematical interpretation is wrong.

If you just want to figure out how many people should be represented by each seat in the house then you can get a number that is accurate to less than one person.

The problem is that you don't want congressional districts to cross state lines but state populations are not integral multiples of the district size that would give equal representations.

The article explains this in more detail but the basic idea is that based based on equal representation a state should have a fractional number of seats but this number gets rounded up or down to give each state an integral number of seats. This rounding meaning that some congressional districts have slightly more people and others have slightly less.

some of us have no representation (3, Insightful)

Presto Vivace (882157) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991814)

Did he mention Washington, DC [dcvote.org] in his mathematical formula?

Add more seats (2, Interesting)

kcurtis (311610) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991826)

I have long thought the House should be larger. It is meant to be representative, but the sheer size of each district now means that entire populations go ignored. Think of a conservative enclave in a Democratic district, or vice versa. For example, the wealthy town of Grosse Point Shores is in a very liberal Detroit district. Do you think their views are taken seriously?

I understand the cost involved - just the buildings alone will be a fortune. But consider how hard it is now for your representative to stay in touch with his or her constituency. The average size of a Congressional district is just below 650,000! That is three times what it was at the turn of the last century. Considering the minimum was set at 30,000, the current sizes are way out of whack compared to the probable intent.

With 650,000 constituents,it really is no surprise how important campaign donations have become. Worried about lobbiests and PAC's? Well, here is the root of the problem. Yours is a voice in the crowd.

Re:Add more seats (2, Insightful)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992176)

the wealthy town of Grosse Point Shores is in a very liberal Detroit district. Do you think their views are taken seriously?

Yes, money always gets taken seriously by elected officials.

Re:Add more seats (2, Informative)

exi1ed0ne (647852) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992424)

I have long thought the House should be larger. It is meant to be representative, but the sheer size of each district now means that entire populations go ignored.
That's why to a large extent the States (and even larger extent The People) were originally suppose to be the major government entity, with the Congress tasked with only 18 authorized jobs to do. One of those is to show up one day a year, since the framers thought that there wouldn't be enough work.

Re:Add more seats (1)

ChristTrekker (91442) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992700)

We'd need 10,000 seats now, at that original proportionality. That's a bit unrealistic, even with modern technology. However, we do have technology that was unavailable in 1911, when the size was frozen at 435 representatives. We could easily reset that number to, say, 1000. This would immediately have the effect of making reps more in touch with their constituents, as well as diminishing the "small state bias" that many see as a failing of the Electoral College. It would be a very smart thing to do, IMHO.

Re:Add more seats (1)

OctaviusIII (969957) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992804)

Well, to make seats as representative as those in Canada (about 125,000 people per seat), you'd need 2,400 seats (or, benches). It's not only a matter of representation, it's also a matter of available space and funding, and having 2,400 representatives is something not even the European Parliament has tried (and they have 700 or so).

Re:Add more seats (1)

merreborn (853723) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992898)

I have long thought the House should be larger. I understand the cost involved - just the buildings alone will be a fortune. But consider how hard it is now for your representative to stay in touch with his or her constituency.


As others have mentioned, at the original proportions used when the legislative branch was created, we'd need 10,000 representatives.

Having all 10,000 attempt to meet in a single location is obviously absurd -- in a 12 hour meeting, each rep would have just 4.3 seconds to speak; the building required would have to be the size of a small stadium (wp [wikipedia.org] gives a pretty good idea of stadium capacity). The list of issues goes on and on, and frankly isn't worth discussion, as the idea's pretty clearly absurd.

Instead, how about a hierarchy? Keep the existing house, and have some number of sub-representitives serving under each rep. 10,000 averages out to about 20 sub-reps per rep. Have these sub-reps communicate with constituents, and report back to the rep with their analysis of their sub-district's opinions of the issues.

This concept has its own issues -- the "main" representative becomes responsible for communicating what goes on in house meetings to his sub-reps. Voting is also problematic. Does the "main" rep get one vote? Does every sub-rep get a vote?

Re:Add more seats (1)

tfoss (203340) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992938)

While I don't necessarily disagree with you, do you think having a House of Representatives with 10,000 members would work? While there is a lot to be said for having smaller districts, and having a conservative government (in the sense of making changes difficult, not in the sense of right-leaning) is probably a good thing, I can't see how a legislative body an order of magnitude larger would really work.

-Ted

Re:Add more seats (1)

grilled_ch33z (1140073) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993114)

I understand the cost involved - just the buildings alone will be a fortune. But consider how hard it is now for your representative to stay in touch with his or her constituency. The average size of a Congressional district is just below 650,000! That is three times what it was at the turn of the last century.
What is this? A Congress for ants? The real House of Representatives will have to be... three times as big!

The REAL problem (3, Interesting)

jameskojiro (705701) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991846)

Is gerry Mandering, we need a good mathematical formula for detirmining the SHAPE of the districts not who gets what.

1. Divide each state into a grid of 1 mile by 1 mile "chunks"

2. Find the population of each "chunk" using census data.

3. Start in the Northern-West corner and start adding blocks to the district moving west to east and dropping down one row and changing direction each time you drop down.

"Drop down, change direction and increase speed" Lurr from Anthology on Interest 2: Futurama

4. When your population count hits what 1 representative can represent, start a new district.

5. Repeat

6. ????

7. Profit from special interest kickbacks and pork barrel spending.

The REAL problem is mountains (2, Interesting)

globaljustin (574257) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992596)

while your proposed system is unfeasible due to geography (square mile units? maybe that will work in Kansas, but not states with variations in geography-a major determiner of population distrobution), the main point of your post is well made...

I agree completely, we need to draw congressional districts objectively. gerrymandering completely subverts the original (and very progressive) ideas about how the House should function. It's the most directly democratic part of the Federal Gov't.

regarding TFA's proposed solution, if the math works out that it's more fair, then I support it. i've seen a few posts above debating the math, but a compromise could be reached.

the main problem is that whenever a new proposal like this comes along, dem's and gop's game the system to see if the new proposal will be good or bad for them, and then create rhetoric to support whatever helps their side. it's understandable...partys try to maintain their power.

as a democrat, i'm confident that if truly done fairly, any objective system will favor the dem's in the long run. the overwhelming majority of american citizens are more left-leaning on policy issues when you remove the political rhetoric (polls and personal experience bear that out), but the problem is, less than half of our citizens vote

Fractional votes should solve the problem (1)

bsharma (577257) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991864)

If we dispense with the notion that each vote should be one and start using fractions for voting, a lot of these rounding related issues should be easy to fix. California can have 54 representatives with a vote of 0.97 (say) and Idaho can have 5 reps. with a vote of 1.07 etc., so that population count of a State balances nicely with overall weight of representation. A lot of artificiality in our voting system is introduced by the rounding error of integer votes.

Re:Fractional votes should solve the problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992098)

At one time, we had a system where some votes were counted only as 3/5 of a vote. I don't think you are going to find very much support for your idea.

Third House (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21991944)

I think we should add a third house, composed of a random sample of people across the entire country. The term is three months, and the only way to come back to the seat is to be (miraculously) drawn again. The job would be to listen to time-limited debates (without involving themselves in the debate), and brainstorming a set of questions they would like answered for the second round of the debate.

At the end, every law needs a majority vote in this new house in order to pass. Constitutional amendments require a 2/3rds or 3/4ths vote in order to pass.

If you can't convince a random sample (including people of all national origins, races, religions, sexual orientations, etc.) that a law is a good idea, it simply doesn't pass. The limited term and not being directly involved in the debate (only listening and then X rounds of questions) means that politics and political shenanigans are reduced to a minimum.

We also give this house the ability to override Presidental veto and Presdiential pardon/commutation. If 2/3rds of this house (alone) agrees that the President should not have vetoed a law or pardoned someone, then the President's action is null and void (i.e.: law passes, or person still goes to jail for obstruction of justice)

What do you think?

Re:Third House (1)

Al Dimond (792444) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992666)

I think it's a great idea in principle. I think that lots of people would hate (like jury duty). I think that makes me like it even more.

Having such a large and diverse group of people could lead to really unpredictable group dynamics, so there'd need to more formal processes than just brainstorming to generate questions. At the same time any professional moderators would have to be sure not to color the proceedings with their opinions. It would be hard.

A More Perfect Constitution (1)

Komi (89040) | more than 6 years ago | (#21991954)

I noticed this article seemed to work under the constraint that there are exactly 435 members of the House. Why stick to this number? Larry J. Sabato deals with this and many other basic assumptions in the Constitution in his book A More Perfect Constitution [amoreperfe...tution.com] . (See bullet 5 for members of HOR.) He suggests that we conduct a new Constitutional Convention to revamp things. And he's not arguing that his 23 points are the absolute best choices, but rather a starting point in the discussion. I would love to see this sort of basic reworking of things, assuming we take proper precautions to protect people's rights.

For those that don't want to read ( Me included :) ) can hear an audio interview with Diane Rehm [wamu.org] .

Re:A More Perfect Constitution (1)

jwthompson2 (749521) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992532)

Some of his ideas are just bad.

His desire to make the Senate more representative is just stupid. If the Senate is seen as a representative body then why have it? That's what the House is for. What we need to do with the Senate is go back to the original constitutional understanding that Senators represent the state legislatures, not the people of the state directly. We need to repeal the 17th amendment, it undermines the idea of our federal government as a blending of democratic and republican ideals.

His idea of having Presidents continue in any formal capacity is really dumb, that's an institutionalized American nobility, exactly what the Founders sought to avoid and even spoke explicitly against in the Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Last Paragraph).

His idea to synchronize elections is also silly, the point of the offset terms was continuity.

His idea of mandatory national service sounds nice but the principle of an all volunteer armed forces has served us well so I fail to see the point of this kind of forced military service.

On the whole though his ideas aren't bad. Increasing the size of the House and even the Supreme Court could be good, although I don't know that a larger Supreme Court is really as helpful as it seems. Term limits are great and his election reform ideas are solid. Automatic voter registration is just a fantastic idea, we already do something similar with Selective Service registration. And I certainly think his last point about how we should go about the changes is spot on, I would just worry that without some initial reforms in regards to lobbying and the sort that even that would be effective.

Re:A More Perfect Constitution (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993064)

Some of his ideas are just bad.


Its been a month or so since I finished the book, but I don't remember any that were actually good. Still, he's right that the broad issues are ones that need to be discussed, and the Constitution shouldn't be viewed as some kind of unchangeable divine ordinance.

His desire to make the Senate more representative is just stupid.


Its also is the only thing that is still expressly prohibited to be done by amendment in the Constitution, so you can't actually do it.

It would be better, if you want to make the legislative branch more effectively democratic while retaining the same basic structure, to simply reduce the power of the Senate.

What we need to do with the Senate is go back to the original constitutional understanding that Senators represent the state legislatures, not the people of the state directly.


This is Constitutionally easier than Sabato's idea; its even less of a good idea, though.

We need to repeal the 17th amendment, it undermines the idea of our federal government as a blending of democratic and republican ideals.


Republican (in the general and not partisan sense) ideals don't conflict with democratic ones and don't need to be "blended" with them. Insofar as republican ideals exist, they consist of having elected leaders rather than direct popular rule; a popularly elected Senate is not less "republican" than one appointed by state governments.

Now, the elected Senate may conflict with the ideal of the US as a loose confederation of states, but that's an idea that has become less useful with advancing technology and typical geographical scope of trade, travel, and rapid information interchange. The most reasonable arrangement of responsibility in the 21st century isn't what it was in the 18th century.

His idea of having Presidents continue in any formal capacity is really dumb, that's an institutionalized American nobility


Since its not heritable, and Presidents are elected and not appointed, its not much like a "nobility". That's not to say that I'm sold on the idea, either in outline or Sabato's particular proposal, though.

His idea to synchronize elections is also silly, the point of the offset terms was continuity.


So what? The whole point of the book is questioning decisions, not quasi-religious devotion to centuries-old decisions as if they were divine revelations rather than fallible human decisions.

That being said, while some tinkering with electoral terms might make sense, and synchronization might even be a good idea if done in the right context, his whole arrangement of terms (the President gets a basic term with a possibility of a short extension, etc.) is ill-considered, overcomplicated, and doesn't seem to have any clear benefit. Like many of his proposals, the setup is clever, but not much else.

His idea of mandatory national service sounds nice but the principle of an all volunteer armed forces has served us well so I fail to see the point of this kind of forced military service.


National service, as he describes it, is not necessarily military service, and I'm not really sure there is a whole lot of evidence that the all-volunteer force has "served us well". Its only existed since the end of the Vietnam-era draft, and its hardly as if the US military's performance after Vietnam has been any better than it would have been expected to be based on its performance prior to and through Vietnam.

Why not... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21991994)

Just have the number of people in the house of representatives change?
Say, give every 500,000 people 1 representative no matter what, or something to that effect.

A More Perfect Constitution (1)

horatio (127595) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992036)

Dr Larry Sabato [virginia.edu] at the University of Virginia wrote a really interesting book that devotes some time to this subject, called A More Perfect Constitution [amazon.com] . He talks about the gerrymandering (fixing districts so the incumbent, or at least the same party, always wins) that goes on, and proposes some interesting solutions, including making the House 1000 members to be more representative of the actual population. This, he says, would have the effect of producing smaller constituencies, require less money for someone to run for office, and invite more non-politicians into the process. It was a fairly easy read, and he provides historical perspective on why the Constitution is the way it is, and what we might do to make it better. One of his primary arguments in the book is that it is a living document, meant to be changed over time - that the founders never intended it to be so static for so long.

King Solomon solution (1)

mcmonkey (96054) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992084)

When districts are redrawn after the next census, if your state has a population calling for 4 and 9/13th seats in House of Reps...

[scene: 5 representatives from state X being sworn in.]
Congratulations! Now Mr. Representative #5, your honor, if you would just step this way...

[off stage: chain saw noises]

This method is bound to succeed (1)

damburger (981828) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992140)

After all, when do politicians not listen to reasoned scientific argument? Oh, shit, wait...

Proportional representation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992172)

I almost can't even be bothered to write a reply about what the real problem is. It is so obvious to anyone who lives in a multi-party democracy. The way the Unites States elects its congresspeople is a big failure that results in two-party hegemony. The whole system needs to be overhauled. The small congressional districts where only one candidate gets chosen should be scrapped. Each state should become one voting district and all the congressional seats of the state should be allocated using the proportional D'Hondt method. This would make it possible for third parties to become viable and the "winner takes it all" silliness would be replaced with almost accurate representation of the political opinions of the people.

Re:Proportional representation (1)

Mesa MIke (1193721) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992356)

In other words, abolish states as we know them and reduce them to administrative sub-divisions of the nation at large?

compared to WHAT? the SENATE? (1)

Ralph Spoilsport (673134) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992264)

Typical typical typical.

"Waaaah. The number of Representatives isn't MATHEMATICALLY PRECISE!!!!" Waaaaaah!"

Compared to WHAT??? The SENATE??? Where Alaska gets as much representation as New York or Texas? Good Move. Oh, and then he says it favours big states...

Hello! Reality calling! The SENATE is the OTHER HALF of the legislative branch - and it favours small states - by A LOT. So, frankly, I think the TINY big state bias in the house is VERY small potatoes compared to the obscenity of the Senate.

senate. SENATE! Ha! WTF is this? Rome?

RS

Bias towards red states? (1, Interesting)

skintigh2 (456496) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992320)

"Using his method for populations in 2000, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Utah and Mississippi would each gain one seat; Texas, New York, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina would lose one; and California would lose three. "That could very well freak people out," says Edelman."

So, basically "red" states would gain seats and "blue" states would lose them?

At a quick glance, though, it does seem he has a point: Montanta has almost a million citizens per seat, while most states are around 700k.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_population [wikipedia.org]

I never realized that electoral votes are different than the number of representatives. With a minimum of 3 per state, some states have 1 vote per 200k +/- while populous states have 1 vote per 600k+/-. THAT is a system I'd like to see overhauled. Give each state one electoral vote per seat, or abolish it all together.

Even better, abolish the "one man, one vote" system. That's great as long as there are 2 parties, but to actually get accurate results you either need N-1 "approval" votes per N choices, or have the voters rank their choices and do instant runoffs until someone wins Otherwise you can have a situation in which 79% of the people like 4 candidates and hate 1, and then split their votes among those 4 and the one they hate withs with 21% of the vote.

Re:Bias towards red states? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21993048)

"Using his method for populations in 2000, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Utah and Mississippi would each gain one seat; Texas, New York, Florida, Ohio and North Carolina would lose one; and California would lose three. "That could very well freak people out," says Edelman."

So, 5 states gain one seat each, 5 states lose one seat each,
for a net lose/gain of zero, and California loses three seats - which go where???

Not freaking out, just wondering if the arithmetic in this quote was in
Edelman's original article, or just in Eric Hand's summary in Nature.

AC in CA, naturally.

Re:Bias towards red states? (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 6 years ago | (#21993120)

I never realized that electoral votes are different than the number of representatives. With a minimum of 3 per state, some states have 1 vote per 200k +/- while populous states have 1 vote per 600k+/-. THAT is a system I'd like to see overhauled. Give each state one electoral vote per seat, or abolish it all together.


Each state has one electoral vote per seat it has in the Congress.

The Congress is not just the House of Representatives.

The Alabama Paradox (2, Informative)

mblase (200735) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992482)

I'm surprised the article could discuss the mathematics of this without bringing up the Alabama paradox [wikipedia.org] of 1880. It's an interesting example of how, using otherwise correct and normal mathematical distribution, increasing the number of seats in the House can actually decrease the representatives for a specific state.

Wow, let's just let SkyNet decide (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992496)

As with the many complaints over video-poker style electronic voting machines, here is one more example of yes, we have the technology lets use it for something. Really, running through 380+ iterations to find some functional minimum is nice, but to label this functional minimum with a title of "Least Unfair" is a good shot of hubris on the mathematicians part. Remember, good government runs with; "A Day, A Dollar, A Pencil, A Paper" His method just blows out of the water a citizens ability to understand the process entirely. May as well pull it out of a hat and tell the people that FSM created a magic formula... just for the Good Olde USA, cause FSM is just that kind of noodly-good kinda deity.

since the representatives represent citizens (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992552)

Why does each state have to have an integer number of representatives? Why can't you just take the perfect number of citizens per district and divide the country up so each voting district is exactly that size, even if it has to cross state borders. With regards exact methods of election, the system used in the state in which the largest part of the district is found would be used. Thus each district is exactly the right size and everyone is represented equally.

Another solution would be forced resettlement of randomly chosen citizens from one state to another so as to make up the numbers exactly, which would probably be easier from an administrative standpoint.

Radical solution (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992562)

The way to eliminate gerrymandering is to eliminate geographic districts. My former US Rep, Tom Delay, never represented me, but he was my "Representative" because of where I live. I propose that voters self select who represents them without regard to geographic boundaries.

There are approximately 200 million eligible voters in the US. Divide by 435 Reps and you get about 500,000 voters per Rep. Somewhere between 50% and 70% of the eligible voters actually vote, so 100 million votes are cast. The winners in each election should get on average 250,000 votes, or more. So, instead of selecting among just a few candidates based on geography, instead allow any eligible voter to vote for any candidate regardless of where they live. Those candidates who get more than 250,000 votes are elected. The number of Reps would vary from year to year, but so what. The election should use the Single Transferable Ballot system so that people are willing to support candidates that might not win without fear of throwing their vote away.

No more gerrymandering. No more worries about big states vs little ones. No more voting against candidates like Tom Delay rather than for a candidate that would actually represent me.

The Tubes People, The Tubes!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992618)

Won't these people just think of the TUBES!? PLEASE!?

There are better ways to do that (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992882)

The simplest is that for every pair of adjacent states, a maximum of one Congressional district may cross the state line. Now everyone can get identical representation.

That might require tweaking the Constitution though. So let's say we want to minimize the total unfairness. For each person in the USA, your weight in Congress is 1/n where n is the number of people in your district. Ideally your weight should be 435/N where N is the number of people in the USA. Let's call (1/n-435/N)^2 is the unfairness of your weight being that. Let's make our rule be that we want to minimize the the sum of how much unfairness over the whole country.

Unlike his rule this would say that you shouldn't keep hitting one large state repeatedly (eg California. Unlike his rule, this is generally going to give a unique answer.

If you replace squaring with raising to the 4th, 6th, etc you will get rules that come closer and closer to his rule. But again, all with the advantage that they generally give a unique answer. The limit of these rules would give you his rule, but again with the advantage of giving a unique answer.

that's little compensation (2)

nguy (1207026) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992926)

The current method tends to favor big states

Yeah, and the current method of allocating senate seats is favoring little states big time. That's one of the reasons our agricultural policies are so messed up and why the little states are getting money from the big states.

There's nothing to be "corrected" here, at least not until the allocation of senate seats is changed substantially.

435 is totally arbitrary (1)

Mister Mudge (472276) | more than 6 years ago | (#21992932)

Every 10 years, from 1791 until 1911, Congress did not merely rearrange the deck chairs, they made the deck bigger - that's why we have the decennial census, to see how many congress-critters we need as well as deciding where the districts are to be. But in 1920 Congress just stopped making itself bigger - apparently deciding that it was in their interest to concentrate power in as few people as they could get away with.

So the solution to the reapportionment problem is not just one of how to divide up the electorate into 435 somewhat equally-sized chunks, but also (and, in my opinion, much more importantly) to return to changing the number, as well as the size, of those chunks.

drug alt title (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21992962)

Tweaking the Meth........
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