Monday, November 28, 2011

Representation Apportionment and Redistricting! Oh My!

Congress is the most unique institutions within the American government. There is an upper house where each state elects two members to represent them. This upper house is known as the US Senate. The lower house is called the House of Representatives where the number of members for each state is determined by the population of the state. In this blog I will talk about the basic structure of representation, and how we determine the number of representatives in the House of Representatives for the US Congress. I will also discuss how we got the representation structure we have today, and the different kinds of representation. Finally, I will highlight how redistricting impacts congressional representation.  
            The number of seats a state gets in the House of Representatives is dictated by a census that is done every ten years. The results of the census determines if a state gains or losses seats in the House of Representative.  California has the biggest number of Representatives with fifty three. The minimum number of representatives a state can have is one.  The states with the least population in the US that have only one representative are Delaware, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.  The US has several territories which are island both in the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean plus the District of Colombia. They are not technically states, but their representatives in congress are known as delegates. These delegates cannot vote on major legislation, but they can sit in congressional committees.
            The number of Representatives a state has impacts the Electoral College that is used in order to elect the president of the United States.  The number of electoral votes a state has in electing a president is based on their number of representatives.  When the US government was being formed in 1787 one of the main sticking points, that almost derailed the convention, was the issue of representation. The current structure we have in Congress was based on two compromises.  The Virginia Plan set the foundation for the Current House of Representatives. The New Jersey Plan set the foundation for the US Senate. The Connecticut Compromise created a bicameral legislature that combined the Virginia Plan and the New Jersey plan into two houses of Congress.  The inspiration for the different plans was inspired by the British House of Commons and House of Lords.
In Congress there are many forms of representation. The first I will highlight is the Representation of the Individual Lawmaker. A representative's job, once he or she is elected to Congress, is to “faithfully present the views of his or her district or state in Congress.” There are three forms of representation for individual members of Congress. The first one is a delegate who has conflicting and ambiguous views or none at all about the issues. A trustee represents his or her constituents by exercising independent judgment about the interests of district, state, or nation.  And the final type of lawmaker representation is a politico which is one who behaves as a delegate on issues and has leeway in setting personal policy and priorities and casting votes.
            These categories of representation highlight how the different members of congress vote on legislation.  Sometimes categories of representation can go against each other. One prime example is Collective vs. Dydic Representation.  Collective is seem by most people in the general public as good in that their representative is doing their job.  Whereas dydic representation is seen as bad by the American public because the representative is not doing his or her job they were elected by the people to do. If a member of congress shows signs of Dydic Representation they will more than likely be voted out of office because they had failed to represent the viewpoint of their district. As a general rule of Congress a legislative body will be at least as good as the delegate for the nation as are individual members for their state or district.  For compromise to be possible members must retreat from their individual states and districts.
            All members of Congress identify themselves as either a Democrat or a Republican. During election season whatever party has the highest number of representatives in Congress has the power to push legislation agenda that is favorable to their political party’s political base. So members of Congress vote, for the most part, with their party either for or against legislation. All members of Congress belong to a caucus which represents the views of their constituents that elected him or her to office. These “Caucus” generally are partisan groups that either represents an ethnic minority like the Congressional Black or Hispanic Caucus. Or it can represent the extreme views of the political party spectrum like the Progressive and Tea Party Caucus.  These groups represent the extremes political ideology represented in Congress.
            There came a time, in the history of Congress, when Congress came to a consensus on legislation. The American Congress book states that tradeoffs in representation are unavoidable. The proposed legislation, depending on how popular or unpopular, can determine whether a member of Congress continues on to another term or get booted out of office.  Most members of congress have to make tradeoffs, knowing in their mind that he or she will be under fire by partisan interest groups for not adhering to the political viewpoints on their constituents or their supporters. The members of Congress who are more willing to compromise are members who represent a swing state. These members have paid attention to the views of their constituents because they didn't want to risk losing their job come election time.
            When the founding fathers were drafting the constitution they wanted a government to listen to public opinion and respond to the needs of the people.  At the time, the House directly elected representatives, and the Senators were elected by the state legislature. The framers of the constitution decided that the House of Representatives would serve for a two year term, and the Senate would serve a six year term.  Members of Congress can be elected and re-elected for as many time as he or she wishes, or unless he or she loses an election or dies of old age. Unlike the President of the United States who can only serve a maximum of two four year terms.
            The framers decided on having direct and indirect elections of members of congress, and having one of the houses of congress served for a longer term. It was not until 1913 that the seventeenth amendment was adopted to the constitution.  This amendment changed the indirect election of the US Senate a direct election. This allowed the people of the United States have a say on who would represent our personal states as a whole interests.   The Seventeenth Amendment only impacted on how senators were elected. It did not impact the structure of how Congress represented the American people, but it made both houses of congress to be elected by the people.
            One other impact in congressional representation is apportionment and redistricting. The Congressional principle of apportionment is caused by the decadal Census which is mandated under the US Constitution Article I. Section 2 of the US Constitution. The way apportionment works is that all 50 states get at least one representative in the House of Representatives.This allows small states with smaller populations can get the minimum representation of one member of congress. With large and medium states the numbers of representatives fluctuates with the population changes. If a state population increases, then the state adds a seat to the total of members they can have in the house. When a state population decreases by a significant percentage they will lose seats. Congress is required by law to come up with formula to calculate the apportionment of congressional seats. Major populations shift throughout American history have caused a redistribution of power in congress from various regions across the country.  Generally regions with the greatest number of people will have more influence in the congress. States are required, under the US constitution, after the release of the census results, are required to redistrict their states congressional districts. The state legislatures have to draw up and approve new Congressional districts. The state governors have veto power if they do not like to the way the state legislature has drawn up district lines.
            Redistricting practices must adhere to section 5 of the Voting Rights Act where the states that are redistricting must send the proposal to the D.C. Courts or the Justice Department for review so the new districts are not discriminating against minorities. But some states try to make the drawing up of districts favorable to one party. This process is called gerrymandering where the congressional lines that were drawn up are to make either a political party or racial group politically alienated. Some states try to avoid gerrymandering by forming non-partisan commissions. One state that uses commission in the redistricting process is California. The states are required by law to make the congressional districts that they draw up equal in population for every district that is drawn up. 
            When a state loses a district it pits 2 districts against each other in a primary for one congressional district. A prime example of this is happening now is in the state of Ohio.  Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Democratic Congresswomen Marcy Kaptur will have to use a congressional primary process in order to figure out who will represent their party in the race for the newly created congressional district.
The values of representation, redistricting, and apportionment are important characteristics that make our representative democracy greatest and most unique congressional bodies in the history of the world. Thanks to the framers of the constitution we the people have voices on which we choose to elect to go to Washington to represent our interest in government.  I have highlighted in this blog the different types of representation and how every ten years redistricting and reapportionment go into changing the political representation landscapes of Congress. Having a balance of representation that satisfied big and small states alike is the reason why the United States has stayed for the most part together for over 200 years.
Source: Smith, Steven S., Jason M. Roberts, and Ryan J. Vander Wielen. The American Congress. 6th ed. New York: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.

Storey , Tim. "Redistricting Update Washington Journal ." C-SPAN Video Library . Interview by Pedro Eschevarria . 27-09-2011. C-SPAN, Washington D.C.. 2011. Web. 

Perez, Myrna. "Legislative Redistricting ." C-SPAN Video Library . Interview by Steven Schully. 27-02-2011. C-SPAN, Washington D.C.. 2011. Web. .

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