At the time this article was
written James Fryman was Assistant Professor if Geography at the University of
While the Canadian system of
apportionment is somewhat more complex than that of the United States there are
still many parallels between the two systems. Implications for states in the
United States, in most instances, are valid for Canadian Provinces. The effect
of population change on reapportionment is also similar between countries. An
exception being that the Canadian House of Commons has not maintained a fixed
number of seats for a sustained period of time. This article will give an
overview of the apportionment/reapportioninent process in the U.S., its
relationship to population redistribution and a few words about redistricting.
1 First, however, a brief overview of the U.S. federal system of government for
those not familiar with this system. The United States has a tripartite system
of government. Members of the legislative and executive branches are elected
while the judiciary is appointed by the President and confirmed by the
The executive branch consists of a
President elected every four years and limited to running for only two terms.
The President is indirectly elected by popular vote every four years. The
"indirectness" of the Presidential election lies in the fact that the
electoral college is the official body to elect the president, although each
electoral college member is elected by popular vote. The college is composed of
535 members. Each state has as many electoral college members as it has
The legislative branch (Congress)
is composed of two parts; the Senate and the House of Representatives. While
both branches share many duties and functions, each chamber has certain
exclusive duties; the Senate has sole responsibility for ratification of
treaties and confirmation of Presidential appointments, while the House of
Representatives appropriates funding. All bills, regardless of where they were
initiated must be approved by both houses of Congress and the President.
The House of Representatives
consists of 435 members, each representing a portion of the population and,
serving a two year term. The Senate consists of 100 members, two elected at
large from each state, serving six year terms. Whereas all members of the House
of Representatives run for re-election on even year's, Senatorial elections are
staggered so that every two years one-third of the Senators stand for election.
The fifty state governments are in
most cases modelled after the federal system. All have a Governor, Senate, and
all but one state has a House of Representatives. The representatives at the
state level outnumber the senators roughly in a two to one ratio.
Apportionment Among States
Historically, the constitutional
convention of 1788 made the first apportionment of seats in the House of
Representatives. The Constitution required that members of the House of
Representatives be equally divided among the states according to population.
The Constitution allocated one representative to all states and thereafter
awarded states additional representatives based on population. Since population
counts were critical to the apportionment process the Constitution mandated
that a census of the population be conducted within three years of the
constitutional convention and thereafter at ten year intervals. The first
census was taken in 1790 and was the basis for assigning 65 individuals to the
House of Representatives in the first U.S. Congress.
Five different methods of apportioning
have been used since 1790. First, the fixed ratio method with rejected
fractions was used from 1792 to 1832, second, the fixed ratio with major
fraction method was used, but only in 1842, third, the Vinton method was used
from 1850 to 1901, fourth, the major fractions method was used from 1911 to
1929 and finally the equal proportions method from 1941 to date. In accordance
with congressional requirements all five methods included a minimum of one
representative for each state. The equal proportions method, which is currently
in use in the United States, allocates one seat to each state and then assigns
a series of priority numbers to each state by dividing the state's population
by the square root of n(n-1), where n is equal to two, three, or more House
seats being claimed. The priority numbers are then ranked and the top 385
priority numbers are awarded House seats.(2) These, plus the automatic fifty
House seats mandated by the Constitution, equal the 435 House seats in the U.S.
House of Representatives today.
Over the years the ratio of number
of population per representatives has increased from 30,000 in 1790 to 521,000
in 1980. However, not all representatives 'represent" exactly 521,000
people. Unevenness of representation exists between states because each state's
population must be divided by the number of House seats. The deviation of the
number of people represented by a state from the U. S. average does however
follow a pattern. In general those states with a large population will be
relatively close to the U.S. mean representative population and those states
smaller in population size vary widely both above or below the mean. The ratio
of population to representative by state, based on 1980 population statistics,
varied from a high of 652,717 in North Dakota to a low of 401,851 for Alaska.
While the Constitution required
even distribution of representatives among the state it did not mandate the
number of House seats to be assigned or the method of allocating those seats
among the states. Therefore, following each census it was necessary for
Congress to pass an apportionment act specifying how many seats the House of
Representatives would have as well as the method of apportionment to be used to
assign those seats. The first apportionment of representatives allocated 65
House seats among the 13 colonies. In subsequent decades the number of
representatives increased in response to an increasing population and the
admission of new states. In 1911 Congress established a fixed number of seats
at 435. This number has remained except for a brief three-year period from 1959
to 1962 when it was temporarily expanded to 437 to allow the inclusion of
Alaska and Hawaii.
Reapportionment Between States
If the 50 states were all equal in
population, all growing at the exact same rate, and no disproportionate
movement of population occurred between states, then there would be no need for
reapportionment. However, such an "[ideal]" situation does not exist.
A state's population responds to a number of factors including natural growth
rates (birth rate over death rate), migration of persons between states, and
net immigration from abroad. Although the natural growth rate of states is
somewhat similar across the country it has been declining during this century.
Net immigration too has decreased since the beginning of the century and has
stabilised as a result of governmental controls. Because of the general
stability across states of these two measures of population change most of the
shifts in reapportionment occurring within this century have been the result of
Interstate migration in the U. S.
can be characterised by four major trends during the past century. These trends
can be seen by mapping the decade in which each state achieved maximal
representation. 3 Figure 2 shows the overall pattern of maximum representation
for states. The first and oldest major migration trend has been the movement of
the population to the West. In 1980 all the western states were at their
maximum representation. A second major trend, that of rural to urban, peaked
between 1890 and 1920. Many of the rural midwestern and southern states
experienced their maximum representation in 1910 mainly as a result of
out-migration to more urban states. The movement of Black Americans out of the
South constitutes a third trend. Between 1920 and 1960 an estimated 3.5 million
blacks resettled in the larger urban centers of the north central and
northeastern United States. This movement of blacks from southern states coupled
with rural to urban migration gave most of the southern states greater
representation in the early part of the century. A more recent trend has been
the movement of population to the sunbelt states, those states in the South
plus Arizona, New Mexico, and southern California. This trend, based more on
climatic advantages than economic gains, is a more recent phenomena, and while
seen in the western states, as well as Louisiana and Florida, it does not
appear in the Deep South possibly because of continued black out-migration.
The result of these migration
trends is uneven population growth between states relative to the U.S. average.
Between 1910 and 1980 the United States population increased 146 percent, with
all states experiencing some increase in absolute size. Population growth for
individual states ranged from a maximum increase of 1,231 percent for Arizona
to a low of 13 percent for North Dakota. States such as California with high
growth rates and large populations gained a substantial number of House seats.
Arizona, because of a relatively small absolute population gained only a few
House seats even though it had the highest growth rate of all states. States
such as Louisiana and Virginia having growth rates similar to the national
average remained the same in number of House seats.
Eighty-seven House seats shifted
among states between 1910 and 1980. Only seven states experienced neither a net
gain nor loss of House seats. Western states were the principal recipients of
House seats, their gain being at the expense of states in the Midwest,
Northeast, and South. Overall, 17 states gained representatives with California
recording the largest gain with an addition of thirty House seats. Florida and
Texas also registered substantial gains with an increase of 15 and 9 House
seats respectively. A greater number of states lost House seats than gained
seats. Altogether 27 states experienced a loss, with Pennsylvania leading all
states in losses with 13. The most recent U. S. reapportionment, 1980, displays
patterns similar to those of the past 70 years.
Shifts of population from the
northeastern and north central regions to the South and West have a wide range
of implications for those regions. The impact of population change on communities
can be extensive. Population gain or loss affect the labour force, income tax
base, and major institutions of a community. In addition several implications
for states are a direct result of the number of representatives in Congress.
These include (a) the ability of states to initiate and lobby for programs in
Congress that will directly benefit their state or region; (b) the number of
electoral votes assigned to a state; and (c) redistricting within each state.
While federal allocation of funds to
states is primarily based on population figures, some funds are allocated
directly as the result of special programs conceived and passed by members of
the House of Representatives. For instance, funds for local water projects such
as irrigation and dam projects are more likely to survive a House vote with a
greater representation by western states. Also a stronger vote in such debates
as divestiture of federal lands in the West to private investors could be aided
by increased numbers of seats in the western states. The East-West conflict
over allocation of federal funds also involves federal aid to cities. Many
western cities are in need of federal funds to cope with rapidly increasing
population while cities of the East require federal assistance to deal with
rapid population decline.(4)
A state's Electoral College votes
are determined by the number of seats in the House of Representatives plus two
votes for each state's U.S. Senate seats. The shift of 17 seats in the 1980
reapportionment could mean a maximum swing of 34 electoral votes between
political parties. Although no presidential election since 1916 has been
decided by such a narrow margin it is possible that the shift could be a factor
in a close election.
Redistricting, or the redefining of
House of Representative district boundaries within states, is also necessitated
because of population shifts. The degree of redistricting, however, depends
upon whether a state must only adjust boundaries to reflect population shifts
within the state or whether a major adjustment of boundaries must be made to
account for a reapportionment of House seats. Regardless of the degree of
redistribution occurring within a state the redistricting process is often a
political one. In 41 states the State legislature must establish acceptable
state reapportionment plans, while in the remaining states a board of
commissioners has responsibility for creating equitable districts. (It should
be noted, however, that in six of those states the boards are politically
appointed). 5 Often legislatures establish districts that are favourable to the
party in power, either by placing two well known office holds into the same
district or by structuring district boundaries to favour the party in power.
The building blocks of House districts
are units, such as countries, townships; and census tracts, which have accurate
population statistics available. The actual building of districts is now often
supplemented by computer programs. However computers may often produce strange
shaped and sized districts, thus the human element is still a very important
factor in redistricting. Ideally congressional districts should be contiguous,
compact, racially balanced and of equal population size." Currently 29
states require contiguity and 22 require compactness. Seventeen states require
state supreme court review of the redistricting plan. Since the Baker vs. Carr
Supreme Court case of 1962, all states are required by law to maintain even
population numbers, across all districts within a state. Court interpretations
of the law allow only a one to two percent deviation of district population
from the state average.
While U. S. states, like Canadian
provinces, may not be able to directly change their population growth patterns
or influence migration trends to any great extent they should be aware of past
reapportionment trends and potential implications. Shifting representation in
the House of Representatives over the past seventy years has given the West and
South a greater influence in federal legislation and possible federal funding.
In addition they will have a greater impact in electoral votes in U. S.
1. Portions of this article
previously appeared in "National Reapportionment: Geographic Patterns and
Implications for States", State Government, Vol. 58 No. 3, Fall
2. All apportionment statistics
were taken from The 1983-1984 Official Congressional Directory of the 98th
Congress, Government Printing Office, Washington D.C., p. 438.
3. U.S. Department of Commerce,
Bureau of the Census, "Estimates of the Population of States 1970 to
1983", Current Population Reports, Series P25, No. 957, 1984.
4. James L. Newman and Gordon E.
Matzke, Population Patterns, Dynamics and Prospects, Prentice-Hall Inc.,
Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1984, p. 230.
5. Richard L. Morrill, Political
Redistricting and Geographic Theory, Association of American Geographers,
Washington D.C., 1981.
6. Morrill, Ibid., p. 137.