116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Iowa will cling to its four U.S. House seats for at least another decade, per U.S. Census figures published this week.
The data show Iowa is growing but not keeping pace with the national rate. If that keeps up as expected, Iowa could lose a congressional seat in the next round of reapportionment, like seven states will this cycle.
House membership has been arbitrarily capped at 435 for more than 100 years, except for a brief expansion when Hawaii and Alaska joined the union. That means as the country grows, districts get more populous and Americans effectively become less represented. But there is an easy solution - Congress could simply expand the U.S. House.
When Iowa was recognized as a state in 1846, the population was estimated at less than 100,00 but quickly growing.
Iowans the next year voted in the state’s first districted U.S. House elections. Members for the newly formed 1st and 2nd districts represented about 50,000 people each, making Iowans overrepresented in Congress for a short time until the population caught up.
Until the early 1900s, House membership was regularly adjusted, usually increased, to reflect population changes. Our state topped out at 11 districts from 1883 to 1933 and our ranks in Congress have only dwindled since then under a fixed House size.
In 2020, with nearly 3.2 million residents, Iowa’s four U.S. House members represent an average of almost 800,000 people.
My congresswoman’s job is to represent everyone from Davenport to Lamoni - the quickest route between which is about 250 miles and takes you into two other congressional districts. I have made that drive and it’s not fun.
People on opposite sides of the district don’t think of themselves as living in the same economic and cultural region as the others. Their views and priorities, the things they want their federal representative working on, vary widely.
Campaigning to three-quarters of a million people is a lot different than campaigning to 50,000. The 2nd Congressional District where I live includes 24 county affiliates for each political party and parts of five TV markets. Candidates can’t possibly meet a sizable share of their constituents, so they rely on big-money campaigns and outside consulting companies.
Most people who have contacted their member of Congress can attest to the cold and impersonal constituent service we tend to get. The response is often a form letter, if there is a response at all. Unsurprisingly, most Americans can’t name their member of the House, polls show.
The Constitution does not prescribe a certain number of members in the lower chamber, only that districts can’t be any smaller than 30,000 people. Congress could expand the House by passing a law, no constitutional amendment required.
James Madison, called the “father of the Constitution,” proposed a failed amendment that would have limited districts to 50,000 citizens. Representatives with too many constituents “would not possess enough of the confidence of the people,” he said at the 1787 convention.
Those districts likely would be too small for modern American, necessitating more than 6,000 House members. But 750,000 constituents is surely too many.
firstname.lastname@example.org; (319) 339-3156