Could Wyoming be the Answer?

Congressional districts are not performing as intended, and it is time for a change.  

When I first moved to New York, one of the first things I did was head over to to find out who would be my new representative.

I’m sure that isn’t exactly a list-topper on most people’s relocation  checklists, but I try to stay engaged in politics, and wanted to be sure I knew who purported to speak on my behalf on capitol hill.

Having identified my member, a Democrat named Grace Meng, I decided to take an additional step that I assumed- wrongly- would be fairly easy.

I wanted to meet her.  I wanted to meet my representative.

Now, I’m not talking about an hour-long meeting to advocate on my issues, debate policy, or lobby for a particular piece of legislation.  My goal was to get a quick handshake and perhaps a three minute conversation to introduce myself, express my support, and pay my respects.  My thinking was that I often write to my member about pending legislation, and my voice might be more effective if the member knows who the hell I am.

What I did not expect was the reaction from Congresswoman Meng’s office when I made this request; they were completely flummoxed.  They told me that she does not keep office hours to meet with constituents, and that if I wanted a meeting, I would have to be a member of a community or lobbying group.  Instead, they offered me a meeting with one of her aides.

I explained, per above, that my sole goal was to get a handshake and a few minutes of introduction.  They flatly told me this was not an option, but helpfully suggested that I could attend one of her town hall meetings, where she “sometimes” shakes hands at the rope line.

Now, one of the often-voiced criticisms of Congress is that lobbyists have too loud a voice, but I was certainly not expecting that unless I were a lobbyist, I could not even request a brief meeting with my member.    So, I did a little bit of research.

During the days of our country’s founding, when the whole legislative system was being designed, George Washington was known for being a peacemaker who seldom advocated for any particular outcome.  However, the one time he actually advocated a position during the Continental Congress, he argued that representative districts of 40,000 people were too large, and that 30,000 was a more appropriate number.  Consequently, the first congressional districts had approximately 30,000 people per member of Congress.

Today, there are on average over 700,000 people living in each district, with variations based on the population of the state.    This is over twenty times the original number, and has made constituent contact far more unwieldy.  How can a member of Congress adequately represent my issues if she doesn’t even have the time to meet with me, unless I belong to a lobby or group?

The rate of growth in Congress has not kept pace with other modern democracies.  We have picked a number of representatives- 435- and we stick with it no matter how large our population grows.  That number was established in 1912, when the population was only 92,000,000; today it has more than tripled.  As a consequence, our voices as voters are diluted in what is ostensibly the people’s house.

Among the competing proposals to fix this problem is what is known as the Wyoming plan.  Here’s how it works: every state is entitled to at least one representative, no matter how small.  Wyoming is currently the smallest state (population around 575,000).  That means your vote counts more in Wyoming than it does in a larger state, like California or New York.

The Wyoming plan would set the size of congressional districts at the population of the smallest state, as counted in the census. This would have the dual benefits of reducing the number of people per district, and making our individual votes more equal than they are today.  If the Wyoming system were currently in effect, there would be around 530 representatives, or 95 more than there are today.

In a healthy democracy, our voices are heard through our representatives.  The system is definitely broken when our representatives do not have time to meet with us, no matter how briefly.  Reducing the size of congressional districts will make the body more accessible, responsive, and responsible to the needs and demands of we, the people.


Published in: on November 7, 2013 at 11:00 am  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] I have previously discussed, our districts are too large, and should be made smaller and more responsive to constituent […]

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