What is the best size for a district?

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What is the best size for a district?

Postby dogtired » Tue May 31, 2011 3:28 pm

What is the best size for a district?

Using my own observations of my hometown's council districts as a model, I believe Duverger's theory became law prior to our reaching the 50,000 number. The effects were already obvious as our district sizes reached 20,000 but became a hard law somewhere between 30,000 and 40,000.

Note: For those not familiar with Duverger's theory, there's already another thread which covered that well, perhaps too well. This thread isn't for debating his theory, although it might get mentioned here.

In looking at their own state legislatures, I believe that our founders were keenly aware that the disconnect between rep and people widens as each districts get bigger, and the reps were going to become even more dependent on campaign money from self interest groups. This was before we had any parties.

This topic was the convention's most heated debate. There were those that wanted to set the magic number at 40,000 while others thought that even 30,000 was too big. Even Washington, who rarely said anything during the entire convention, weighed in on this. He ended up supporting the 30,000 figure although he thought the districts should be even smaller.

Currently, I am of the opinion that our founding fathers had it right when they came up with the 30,000 number. I think we need to figure out how to return to this mark.

Furthermore, I think we need to look at all districts within all levels of government. Regardless of the size used for our US House districts, other level districts certainly can be made smaller. And can be used as models for others to study.
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby JEQuidam » Sat Jun 04, 2011 8:18 pm

dogtired wrote:What is the best size for a district?
With respect to the federal government, I'm convinced that the Founders arrived at the best answer to this question (as they did with everything else in the Constitution and Bill of Rights). The solution they settled upon was proposed by the House of Representatives in the first congress: Congressional districts should be no smaller than 30,000 people, and no larger than 50,000. That proposal is identical to Article the first of the Bill of Rights, except that the word "less" was changed to "more" in the last sentence, thereby rendering it meaningless. That subject is discussed in this forum posting.

Those who feel the Founders may have settled upon a district size too large must remember that they were operating under the expectation of a federal government with very limited powers as prescribed by the Constitution, then further bounded by the ninth and tenth amendments. They discussed that very rationale during the debates leading up to establishing 30,000 as the minimum district size. And that is an entirely valid rationale if one does not anticipate that an imperial federal government will come to usurp so much authority from state and local governments. This usurpation would have never occurred had we maintained appropriately-sized districts (less than 50,000) and had we never ratified the 17th amendment, but that is an entirely different discussion.

For those who don't understand why a congressional district size of 30,000 was perceived as massive by the citizenry when the Constitution was proposed, please read "The Naming of Thirty-Thousand.org".
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby dogtired » Sun Jun 12, 2011 11:44 am

Sorry, I had to go away for a while.

Yes, I think we all agree that our founders were right in coming up with the 30-50K figure. And as QED pointed out, we could have save our country a lot of trouble had we stuck with it.

I guess my real question should've said, for district sizes concerning local, county and state levels. Currently, I am of the opinion that the lower level governments should have even smaller districts. I often wonder if it's possible to come up with a one size fits all, but I don't think so. Perhaps you guys, with your knowledge, already have some ideas.

Maybe max sizes should be something like: local 10K, county 15K and state 20K. Or 10K, 20K and 30K.

I don't want to dwell on this to much so we can move on to other things. I'm just curious in knowing your thoughts.
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby JEQuidam » Thu Jun 16, 2011 8:42 am

dogtired wrote:...lower level governments should have even smaller districts.

When the Founders proposed congressional district sizes of 30,000, such districts were considered huge (as explained here). The Founders persuaded the citizenry that congressional districts of such immense size were adequate because the “objects of federal legislation” were to be limited to a few areas; therefore, “a moderate number of representatives” would be sufficient [Federalist 56]. That was then, this is now. The Founders never dreamed we the people would so readily abandon the ninth and tenth amendments. Therefore, community-sized congressional districts (of 50,000 each) are now more essential than ever.

With respect to our subnational governments, while the issues are more “local”, they are usually less consequential. In a city or county government, the concerns include sidewalks, potholes and schools, perhaps an occasional bond referendum or local tax. A state government usually deals with more momentous issues, though they have been largely neutered by expanding federal usurpation and the 17th Amendment. However, subnational governments do not approve international treaties or declare war. In other words, a neglected highway improvement is not as consequential as a foreign military intervention or national debt ceiling. In theory, it would now only take 110 Reps in the federal House to approve a declaration of war (i.e., a majority of a quorum). It would be more reassuring if the approval of at least a thousand Representatives were required for something so consequential. It boggles the mind that 110 Reps, or even 218 Reps, could commit a nation of 300-million people to war. In contrast, I’m not so concerned about a local highway appropriations bill being approved by a hundred or so state legislators.

My point: Because of the significant difference in the scope of power of the legislatures on different levels of government, it may not necessarily follow that a state legislative district size should be 25,000 if the congressional district contains 50,000 people. Despite that, I believe that the smaller the better. The article “Freedom and Legislative District Sizes” illustrates that no electoral district is too small, especially if your creed is “Live Free or Die”.
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby USeagle » Thu Sep 01, 2011 9:40 pm

2nd Congress 1st sess 1792.gif
President Washington vetoed the first apportionment bill, because Congress was not aloting uniformed Representation ratio between all the States.
2nd Congress 1st sess 1792.gif (19.86 KiB) Viewed 7271 times


President Washington vetoed the first aportionment bill, because Congress was not aloting uniformed Representation ratio between all the States.
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby USeagle » Tue Sep 06, 2011 10:35 pm

USeagle wrote:
The attachment 2nd Congress 1st sess 1792.gif is no longer available


President Washington vetoed the first aportionment bill, because Congress was not aloting uniformed Representation ratio between all the States.


1st apportionment bill copy2.gif
1st apportionment bill copy2.gif (8.32 KiB) Viewed 7241 times


New Hampshire / 5 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 141,885 (141,885/5 = 28,377 to 1 Rep)
Massachusetts / 16 representatives / 1790 Census Pop 378,787 (378,787/16 = 23,674 to 1 Rep)
Vermont / 3 Representatives / 1790 Census pop 85,539 (85,539/3 = 28,513 to 1 Rep)
Rhode Island / 2 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 68,825 (68,825/2 = 34,412 to 1 Rep)
Connecticut / 8 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 237,946 (237,946/8 = 29,743 to 1 Rep)
New York / 11 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 340,120 (340,120/11 = 30,920 to 1 rep)
New Jersey / 6 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 184,139 (184,139/6 = 30,690 to 1 Rep)
Pennsylvania / 14 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 434,373 (434,373/14 = 31,027 to 1 Rep)
Delaware / 2 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 59,094 (59,094/2 = 29,547 to 1 Rep)
Maryland / 9 representatives / 1790 Census Pop 319,728 (319,728/9 = 35,526 to 1 Rep)
Virginia / 21 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 747,610 (747,610/21 = 35,601 to 1 Rep)
Kentucky / 2 representatives / 1790 Census Pop 73,677 (73,677/2 = 36,838 to 1 Rep)
N. Carolina /12 representatives / 1790 Census Pop 393,751 (393,751/12 = 32,813 to 1 Rep)
S. Carolina / 7 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 249,073 (249,073/7 = 35,582 to 1 Rep)
Georgia / 2 Representatives / 1790 Census Pop 82,548 (82,548/2 = 41,274 to 1 Rep)

Do you see why, President Washington vetoed the first Apportionment Bill!
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby JEQuidam » Wed Sep 07, 2011 9:55 am

USeagle wrote:Do you see why, President Washington vetoed the first Apportionment Bill!
President Washington provided two reasons. The most indisputable reason was that the Constitution specified that the district population size (as calculated) could not fall below 30,000. In Congress's first apportionment proposal, eight of the states had districts smaller than 30,000.
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby USeagle » Wed Sep 07, 2011 11:55 pm

JEQuidam wrote:
USeagle wrote:Do you see why, President Washington vetoed the first Apportionment Bill!
President Washington provided two reasons. The most indisputable reason was that the Constitution specified that the district population size (as calculated) could not fall below 30,000. In Congress's first apportionment proposal, eight of the states had districts smaller than 30,000.


IMO…it was not the fall below 30,000 that were the concerns, it was the rise above 30,000 that he vetoed.

My first reason is in the words of the veto. “and the bill has allotted to eight of the States more than one for every thirty thousand” You will notice that in my example of the 1790 census there are actual 10 States with “more than one for ever thirty thousand” not 8. But, I am assuming that President Washington was taking into account that New York and New Jersey had a fraction over 30,000; in other words “8 of the States” had exceeded the 30,000 threshold by proceeding into a new whole number of 31,000 and above.

My second reason is in the words of Art 1 Sec 2 “but each State shall have at Least one Representative” this `but’ tells me that the F & F knew that as new State joined the Union the possibility of a State having less than 30,000 was possible.
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Re: What is the best size for a district?

Postby JEQuidam » Thu Sep 08, 2011 9:32 am

USeagle wrote: IMO…it was not the fall below 30,000 that were the concerns, it was the rise above 30,000 that he vetoed.
I now realize that the data you provided is incorrect (relative to this analysis), which is adding to the confusion here. Before I get to that, let me explain why President Washington and I are saying the exact same thing a different way.

In making his veto of the Congress's first apportionment act, President Washington identified the problem as follows: "the bill has allotted to eight of the States, more than one for thirty thousand" people. He is referring to the eight states which would have district sizes of less than 30,000 (I'll explain this below). He stated it that way because of how the constraint is worded in the Constitution, which is: "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand..." The Constitution is simply specifying that the minimum congressional district size is 30,000. Therefore, if the districts of any state are smaller than that, then that state could be said to have "more than one [Representative] for ever thirty thousand" people. This more than vs less than confusion happens often in this discussion because one statement is an obversion of the other.

Please read my little analysis of President Washington's first veto, The First Presidential Veto, which I wrote back in 2004. I would like to re-write that when I have time (to make it more complete). However, the full text of George Washington's veto can be found on that page. This takes us to the problem with the data you provided. Please see the data table in Section d of the page I just cited. In particular, focus on column "A". That is the population data they actually used in computing the apportionment. The reason it is different than the data you cited is explained in the footer of that table, as follows: "These are the representative population numbers, not the total population numbers. They are calculated in accordance with the method proscribed by the Constitution for apportioning Representatives and Taxes. Specifically, these totals include only 'three fifths of all other Persons' (referring to the slave population of the United States)."

You'll see the results of the first apportionment act under the column labeled "March 6, 1792". Note that eight of the states would have had districts less than 30,000; those are the eight states referenced in Washington's veto. Note that the next apportionment act which passed (April 14, 1792) did not have any districts smaller than 30,000.
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