As House Republicans threaten to shove our nation's economy off the "fiscal cliff," it's important to remember that they do so with absolutely no popular mandate. Yes, Republicans managed to hold on to a 242-193 majority in the House, but they did so even while Democratic House candidates collected a million more votes than Republicans nationwide.
Yeah, I know, that's how congressional elections work. We elect representatives by district, not divvied proportionally to the popular vote. But the Republican hold on the House is largely made possible through gerrymandering, sometimes to a bizarrely anti-democratic extent. For example, in my native Pennsylvania, Republicans lost the aggregate congressional vote by a 2.7 million to 2.6 million margin, yet hold a lopsided 13-5 advantage in the House delegation.
One solution might be to set a federal, nonpartisan standard for redrawing districts, along the lines of Washington State's bipartisan redistricting law, but hopefully better. But an even simpler approach would be to double the size of the US House, resulting in smaller, more uniform districts that would be harder to gerrymander.
Surprisingly, there's nothing unconstitutional about this proposal. Indeed, up until the 1920s, the House routinely added seats after the census. In the decades since this arbitrary 435-seat freeze, the population size of each congressional district has grown to the point where it's easier and easier to pack Democrats into a handful of urban districts, while leaving the rest of the districts majority Republican—even in a majority Democratic state. And if the Republicans control the legislature in a redistricting year, that's exactly what Republicans do.
And that's really the secret to the House Republicans' success: Democrats tend to live in densely populated cities where their votes can be easily ghettoized into a gerrymandered district. Whether that's constitutional or not is up for debate. But it's certainly outside the spirit of the Constitution.
No doubt you can still gerrymander an 870 seat House, and no doubt both Republicans and Democrats would still try. But the smaller the size of the district the harder it is to achieve the same effect without resorting to ridiculously outrageous boundaries.
Increasing the size of the House is not an original idea. The proposal is made from time to time, and as the "fiscal cliff" deal unraveled today, I've seen a number of Tweets on the topic. But as Congress once again displays its dysfunction—a dysfunction that is the direct result of a minority party seizing control of one house through a blatant and undemocratic manipulation of the electoral process—it is important to remind ourselves that our dysfunctional political system is not written in stone, let alone in the Constitution. Calls for more comity, collegiality, and bipartisanship in the other Washington are all well and good, but if the system is broken—and it is—then it is stupid not to try to fix it. And in a nation that embraces the principle of one person/one vote, any solution that diminishes the impact of gerrymandering is a solution that should be seriously considered.