MEDIA RELEASE: USApportionment.org Tracks House Size in Time for 2020 Apportionment Results

April 16, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contacts: Denice Ross, Denice.Ross@georgetown.edu ; Dan Bouk, dan@datasociety.net

Just in time for Congressional apportionment results, the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University today launched a new resource on USApportionment.org, which tracks the relationship between the historical size of the House of Representatives and the census. The Census Bureau will announce the 50-state population totals this month—the first results from the 2020 census—and the site provides crucial background for interpreting the history of Congressional apportionment and the size of the House. 

For the first time, USApportionment.org tracks the last 90 years of House delegations since the establishment of the automatic apportionment system froze the House at close to 435 members, and the site now provides a numerically concise and historically detailed overview of instances when the size of the House of Representatives changed. The site is separated into two eras: (1) “Count and Increase,” which was prior to the 1929 automatic apportionment law; and (2) “Announce and Transmit,” which followed. 

Key Findings:

  • In 10 of the first 13 censuses, the size of the House of Representatives increased with the size of the United States population. 
  • Until the 1920s, Congress decided the size of the House after the Census manually, often with heated debate over apportionment method and the numbers delegated to each state.
  • There were multiple instances in which the increase in the total number of seats was due to admittance of new states to the Union. However, the number of people per seat also increased over time, indicating that the number of people represented by each representative was increasing.
  • The “Count and Increase” tradition was common until the 1920s, excluding the years between 1840-1860, the decades leading up to the Civil War. Because many states seceded in the years leading up to the war, the “Count and Increase tradition” was interrupted. In the late 1920s, the House was permanently set at 435 through the automatic apportionment law.

Under current law, which has maintained the 435-seat House of Representatives since 1920, there has been a large increase in the number of people represented by each seat. The Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 set the House at 435 seats and removed the need for apportionment legislation for each decennial census. However, Congress still retains its responsibility under Article I of the Constitution for the census and congressional apportionment. Congress is within its power to change the size of the House in order to address the challenge of an increasing number of people per representative. The addition of new states, like the call for statehood for Washington, D.C., could also result in a need to increase the size of the House. 

Coinciding with the recent decennial Census, the updated USApportionment.org provides crucial analysis of the history of the House’s size. Through both historical and quantitative analysis, this site provides visual representation of how the size of the House of Representatives, census apportionment, and representation has changed over time.

About this project: USApportionment.org is the culmination of months of archival research by Georgetown student Nora Ma of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation, and Georgetown alumni Taylor Savell of the National Conference on Citizenship and Kevin Ackermann of Data & Society. The project was completed under the mentorship of Dan Bouk of Colgate University and Data & Society and Denice Ross of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University and National Conference on Citizenship.  

 

###

 

Connect with Us

Join us! Keep up on the latest news, events, and career opportunities.