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Four-hundred Thirty-Five Representatives Can Not Represent 300M Americans (thirty-thousand.org)
84 points by SubiculumCode 10 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments

I like the premise, but I don't think 6,300 representatives makes a lot of sense.

I like the proposed "Wyoming" rule. That each representative will represent no more than the population of the smallest state.

Today that would mean about 562 reps, which is manageable, in line with most of the other major world democracies, and would make the electoral college much more fair and balanced as originally intended.

Another option is to let each state have as few or as many representatives as they want, but instead of going with one vote per representative, you weight the votes by the number of citizens that representative represents.

You could even go one step further and allow the top two or three vote-getters from each district to have a seat in the House, but their voting power is weighted by the number of votes they got.

I like the idea of weighted representation, though I think you'd have to take at least the top two to avoid disenfranchising a significant fraction of the population under a winner-take-all approach, given our two-party politics. Taking the top 3 might make things interesting. You could imagine the dominant party's candidates finishing 1st and 4th, for instance, resulting in the minority party having more representation than the majority.

If the party finishing 2nd and 3rd had more votes than the party finishing 1st and 4th, they wouldn't be the minority party. I find it more likely that the 3rd and 4th places would be taken by third parties, and you'd have something like this:

1st: Republican

2nd: Democrat

3rd: Green

4th: Libertarian

...in which case the Dems would be the minority party, but the left in general would still hold a majority of the votes (assuming 2nd + 3rd > 1st + 4th).

If I may offer my opinion as an outsider from the EU: something like this may actually open up the traditional Left vs Right spectrum to something that is more closely resembles the existing diversity of opinions and values. For instance, here in Germany, these days coalitions between 2-3 parties is the rule rather than the exception. An interesting side effect of this has been that issues which at any given time were not the focus of the major parties can still be addressed by the smaller (often junior) party of the ruling coalition, e.g. the Green party who pushed the topic of environmental protection as a junior coalition member already in the late 90s/early 2000s.

Not true. The top vote getter might siphon off enough votes from their party's second place finisher that it drops them to fourth overall. Some of the voters will have "wasted" their vote on the party leader who would've been elected anyway even if they voted for the next highest party candidate. Think of two parties splitting the vote 60/40 overall. One party's votes are split 45/15, the other's 20/20. In a "top 3" scenario, the minority party gets two spots to the majority party's one.

Why encourage those who cannot prioritize making their minds up against a common enemy? Effectively, this scheme looks to empower any majority no matter how comprised. Clarity of purpose should matter.

The funny thing about "should" statements is that we get to disagree on them without justification. I see no reason clarity of purpose across multiple humans should matter, nor any reason that people should be corralled into picking between two corrupt options.

Clarity allows governance. Otherwise we're just reacting.

Hopefully a number within reason. I could see some states protesting congressional salaries by having thousands of representatives.

Surely the salaries are also divided up in this scheme...

That seems like a reasonable solution. Perhaps if a state with a high representatives-per-constituent ratio wanted their representatives to be paid well, they could make up the difference out of their own budget.

There's the cubed-root rule that is pretty sensible, where representation is related to the cubed root of the population. From 2010 census there would be 676 representatives


What exactly is the manageability problems you foresee? 562 seems kind of a pointless change which doesn't address any of the named issues. The first paragraph:

> The framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights intended that the total population of Congressional districts never exceed 50 to 60 thousand. Currently, the average population size of the districts is nearly 700,000 and, consequently, the principle of proportionally equitable representation has been abandoned.

I don't think adding 100-odd representatives would do much to fix the problem, which is essentially that the individual vote has been devalued by an order of magnitude. With modern technology, it might not be so difficult to manage thousands of representatives. It would be a huge change, though, and if we're making changes at that scale, a constitutional convention is probably in order.

"The individual vote has been devalued by an order of magnitude." Well, that's true, if you think about an individual voting for a representative. But what do representatives do? They vote in the House. And no matter how you slice it, you can't make each individual's vote matter more in the House. If it matters more in electing a representative, then there are more representatives, and each representative's vote matters less in the House.

Look at it from the candidate's perspective: the more voters they represent, the less any individual voter's opinion matters to them. Very similar to the utility of money, the more you have, the less a dollar is worth to you. And the less the individual voter matters, the more monied special interests matter. Money in politics is always a problem, but it's multiplied by the devaluation of the individual voter.

Fair point. And perhaps one additional step: The more voters they have, the more money they need for the campaign.

> and would make the electoral college much more fair and balanced as originally intended.

That was not originally intended, in addition to not trusting the people to directly elect leaders the electoral college was intended to give smaller states more power than they would have as a result of their population size alone. This was part of the deal, and it made the union agreeable to smaller states. If you wanna back out of the deal, it seems only fair to give any states that want to a chance to back out of the union.

>the electoral college was intended to give smaller states more power than they would have as a result of their population size alone.

Thanks to the 3/5's compromise...

Would you have preferred 0/5ths or 5/5ths?

I'd also have preferred no slaves.

But "0/5ths" for slaves would have been consistent with them being slaves. It's not like they were 60% free.

I'd have preferred we not have slaves.

The Three Fifths Compromise had nothing to do with the Electoral College. Slave states gained more power in the Electoral College from the extra 3/5 votes, but a) the compromise itself had nothing to do with the Electoral College's creation or design, and b) 3/5 of a vote gave less power to slave states than their preference, a full vote for each slave.

>the compromise itself had nothing to do with the Electoral College's creation or design

Then what were they compromising on? The formation and continuation of the US Government. Without the compromise there is no Electoral College.

That's not true at all. The 3/5s compromise affected the resulting balance of power, but the system itself was about preventing any one state from dominating the federal government. (New York was the concern at the time.)

Even if slavery didn't exist, the small state / big state dynamic still required a mechanism to balance the voting power between states. (This is often referred to as the Connecticut compromise.)

What were the population differences between the small and large states back then compared to now?

Why is 6,300 unamanagable? >500 and 6,300 both cross over the Dunbar number threshold. (interestingly, the per-party size in the US House of Reps is about the upper limit of the Dunbar number, 2 x 250 ~= 500)

6,300 is manageable with modern technology; the capabilities are there to organise and make transparent large public voting system for thousands of politicians that would have been impractical even as recently as the 60s.

It's not the voting (which has been possible for millions of people, for ages). It's the horse-trading to figure out what to put to a vote, or ideally to find the right compromises. Surely that's the point of having few enough people that many can know each other.

Just think of the filibusters with thousands of representatives...

There is no filibuster rule in the House.

We are in the modern era of electronic communication. 435 or 6,300 makes little difference, but it does make a big difference in term of representation, making it more likely you know the congressman or his family from personal interactions in your community. This lessens the need to rely on campaigns ads and campaign money to run expensive campaigns that sell your soul.

> The framers of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights intended that the total population of Congressional districts never exceed 50 to 60 thousand. Currently, the average population size of the districts is nearly 700,000 and, consequently, the principle of proportionally equitable representation has been abandoned.

Non sequitur, and in the first paragraph. I mean, yes, if we had more districts, you could get closer to exactly equal population per representative, but a difference of a factor of two in a few districts is not an "abandonment" of the principle. It's the principle not working perfectly, which is perhaps not ideal, but is far less end-of-our-democracy than this tries to make it sound.

And if we did expand the House to 6,000 members, what would we get? We'd get 1000 self-important committees, or we'd get more members per committee, or both. Can you imagine the impeachment hearings if the committee had 500 members, each demanding their 5 minutes to grandstand with each witness?

Right, a house of 6000 can't discuss anything.

Isn't the obvious answer to devolve more powers? Decide fewer things federally, and let states (or perhaps there should even be formalised voluntary groups of states?) diverge more in their approaches?

> Right, a house of 6000 can't discuss anything.

Perhaps not in the ceremony-heavy, grandstanding inviting format we currently use, but that sounds more like a problem that lies with the format, not the size of the governing body.

Well what's your proposed new format? If it relies on humans not wishing to grandstand, then I'm not optimistic.

If if divides up the 6000 into smaller numbers, maybe with some hierarchical structure... then that's not one body of 6000.

A few hundred seems like the biggest room in which you can have something like a debate. And perhaps more importantly, many of them can know each many of the others, so that they can talk directly outside in the hallways, make deals, figure out who will support what.

I don't know. Designing governments isn't generally my forte. I'm just saying that "we can't have more representatives because nothing will get discussed correctly in our current format" is limiting for no real reason. It's entirely logical if you change the size of the Governing body, you'd have to change some other things, too.

The framers were smart enough to know their vision for the Government wouldn't be the best forever, or even the best a few decades from when they designed it. It was designed to be replaceable and update-able as needed.

OK, but isn't it the other way around? A re-design may be a good idea, and a particular design may imply that you want a different size.


Far from being outdated and past their time, the ideas behind the electoral college are greatly underutilized. The electoral college is thought by many to be somehow uniquely American, but this is not the case. Similar mechanisms — sometimes called "double-majority" systems — have been used in many different times and places in political history.

The current confusion about the mechanics of the electoral college appear to be largely a function of the fact that it is now widely forgotten that the United States is intended to be collection of independent states, and not a unitary political unit.

For an illustration of why a system like the electoral college is so essential, we can look to the European Union. Consider, for example, if the European Union were to hold a union-wide election for a single chief executive. (The EU does not hold such an election, however, because the EU is controlled by appointees, and because there is no president in the conventional sense.)

If the EU were to do this, we would immediately notice that a small handful of large and populous member countries could dominate election and policy decisions union-wide. Without some sort of mechanism to even out these disparities, smaller states wold continually be at the mercy of the larger ones.

For instance, Germany, France, and Italy by themselves constitute 47 percent of the population of the European Union (not counting the UK). The member countries with interests at odds with the large dominant states would be at a lopsided disadvantage. Small countries like the Czech Republic, for example, contain a mere two to five percent of the EU population and would be largely irrelevant to building a majority coalition in any sort of majority-rule system.

In the US, there is a similar imbalance with the 4 largest states (California, Texas, New York, and Florida) constituting one-third of the US population. The top-ten largest states total 54 percent of the US population. Thus, a citizen of, say, New Mexico, might find himself in a similar situation to the Czech voter if ever national political trends go against local needs and preferences.

In both the US and in our theoretical EU, double majority requirements have been — or could be — constructed to enhance the importance of small and medium-sized states. Wyoming's population for example — because of the way the electoral college is constructed — is more than four times more influential in the electoral college than in a nationwide popular vote. While being a small minority is always a problem when it comes to projecting political power, a system like the electoral college lessens the minority's disadvantage. Voting schemes like the electoral college, in other words, function as a check on overwhelming numerical advantages while giving a nod to geographical, cultural, and economic diversity across a large confederation.

Not surprisingly then, double-majority systems (or variations on the theme) have long been used to prevent the centralization of political power. A current example is the double-majority system used in Switzerland. Under the Swiss system, voter ballot initiatives must win both an electoral majority, and a majority vote in more than half of the member states (i.e., cantons).

Were such a system employed in the US, for example, any winning candidate would have to win both a popular majority and more than 25 states (or D.C.).

As it is, the electoral college rests on a modified "multiple-majority" system which nonetheless somewhat evens out population differences between small states and large states.

This could, of course, be extended to the states themselves. Politics would be quite different in California, for example, if gubernatorial candidates had to win both a popular majority and a majority of the state's counties.

Expand the Electoral College to Other National Contests Double-majority and multiple-majority systems mandate more widespread support for a candidate or measure than would be needed under an ordinary majority vote.

Unfortunately, in the United States, it is possible to pass tax increases and other types of sweeping and costly legislation with nothing more than bare majorities from Congress which is itself largely a collection of millionaires with similar educations, backgrounds, and economic status. Even this low standard is not required in cases where the president rules via executive order with "a pen and ... a phone."

In response to this centralization of political power, the electoral college should be expanded to function as a veto on legislation, executive orders, and Supreme Court rulings.

For example, if Congress seeks to pass a tax increase, their legislation should be null and void without also obtaining a majority of electoral college votes in a manner similar to that of presidential elections. Under such a scheme, the federal government would be forced to submit new legal changes to the voters for approval. The same could be applied to executive orders and treaties. It would be even better to require both a popular-vote majority in addition to the electoral-vote majority. And while we're at it, let's require that at least 25 states approve the measures as well.

Those laws, regulations, and treaties that fail to obtain widespread geographical approval from a large number of states will automatically fail, and the elites in Washington will take to condemning elections and public political engagement as "cumbersome," "costly" and contrary to the wise decisions of the "experts" who know better.

> It's the principle not working perfectly, which is perhaps not ideal, but is far less end-of-our-democracy than this tries to make it sound.

When Civil War is being unironically thrown around by pundits, elected officials and the electorate itself, I don't think we should be saying any problem is not "end-of-our-democracy" worthy.

One of the few things both sides agree on is feeling that their votes don't count and that their beliefs are not represented. Whether this perception is based in reality or fantasy is irrelevant; the fact that so many who disagree on so much agree on this gives it credibility in my mind.

But I'm not sure you can fix it this way. If the House had 6000 members, I might feel much more strongly that my representative actually represents me. I might also feel that my representative had no real voice in a House that size. That shifts the problem, but doesn't really change it.

I was confused about the unsourced claim of 50-60,000 but they answer it in the questions section. Apparently it comes from this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Apportionment_Am...

Agreed. This solution can not scale.

I think we have so many people right now that feel like they're not well represented by the folks who are currently representing them. And they feel like broad changes to the system we currently have will give them that representation.

I challenge the validity of the problem. Why do we believe they're not currently represented? I have a small state, but I do feel like we have had the opportunity to elect a representative as a group that mostly represents and is tied to our interests.

I think we're just lacking in decent representatives. Can we find people who are able to model conflict resolution instead of perpetuating this cultural war? As a leader, I'm responsible to represent everybody. Not just the people who put me in that position. And there are bound to be hard choices.

(disclosure: I intend to run for office and I'm currently putting together my plan)

> Can you imagine the impeachment hearings if the committee had 500 members, each demanding their 5 minutes to grandstand with each witness?

You have to assume that if you changed the size of the committees, their behavior would change, too.

That's one possible outcome, yes. It is not the only one. I'm not even sure it's the one I would assume would happen.

It's insane that the Democrats didn't significantly increase the size of the House in 2009, when they had a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate.

It probably would have given them a lock on the House, and the presidency too in close elections such as 2016.

The Democrats had 60 votes only very briefly, and that included Joe Lieberman.

It doesn't matter. The Filibuster is just a Senate rule, and the party in power can rewrite the rules any way they wish when organizing after each biennial ekection.

They eventually did exactly that but only for judicial confirmation.

Their corporate donors don't want power concentrated into the hands of cityfolk with too much of a social conscience.

That's pretty interesting! What do you think might have happened in the short term? The 2010 elections were fairly unkind to Democrats, and a large wall of opposition might have impeded the Obama administration even further...

They were "unkind" in large part due to the exaggerated impact of less populated (typical Republican leaning) states described in this article, and the very effective job Republican state legislatures have done gerrymandering their states. The difference between the popular vote and the resulting representation in Congress was pretty substantial.

60 democrats is not 60 votes.

That's the insane part. That they wouldn't take a vote so plainly in their political self interest, that was also in the spirit of the Constitution by increasing representation.

They very briefly had 60 votes, for about 4-5 months total, July-Aug 2009 and again in Sept-February 2010. They started with 55 seats in January 2009. As someone else mentioned, one of those was Joe Lieberman who was one of the most conservative of approximately 12 "blue dog" democrats in the senate. "Blue dog" democrats are were/are basically very centrist/moderate to the point that you could consider some of them moderate or even right leaning republicans.

Fast forward and Arlen Specter, a fairly moderate republican.. actually arguably more liberal than Lieberman, switched parties in April 28, 2009 and gave the democrats +1 (to 57 +2 independents who caucus with democrats). Al Franken didn't get seated until about 8 months after he was elected due to it being contested with lawsuits. And then Ted Kennedy died. Again then there was always that issue that there were about 12 democrats in the Senate that called themselves "blue dog" democrats

It was during time when they did have 60 seats that they passed Healthcare reform, known as Obamacare. It was the best reform they could do to get everyone in the democratic party to sign on, with the moderates blocking a public option. The rollback of which (which includes medicaid expansion) has (arguably) helped cause the recent losses for republicans seen in Louisiana and Kentucky.




April 30, 2009

57 + 2 independent (Specter)

July 7, 2009

58 + 2 independent (Kennedy in the Senate still, but at home sick, as he had been for sometime)

August 25, 2009

57 + 2 independent (Kennedy died)

September 25, 2009

58 + 2 independent (Kennedy's Replacement, seated - Paul G. Kirk (D))

February 4, 2010

57 + 2 independent (Paul G. Kirk, a Democrat was defeated in a special election, in Massachusetts.. you know that same state where Elizabeth Warren is a sitting Senator)

So considering all that, especially that the democrats lost a seat in an election in Massachusetts, you better believe the public sentiment was against democrats at the time and those that were moderates didn't want to do sign onto anything that would have them lose their seat in a purple-ish state.

I found a slightly more in depth commentary on this here:


Great summary.

An increased House would have led to Gore over Bush, but would not have led to Clinton over Trump.

The reasoning behind it is a little confusing and when I try to remember it I usually state it wrong, but I think it's because the states won by Trump had more people (not voters, people) than the states won by Clinton.

This is the kind of thing that happens in third world countries and leads to violent riots. When politicians use their majority power to block out any kind of power for another party, its anti democratic and dangerous.

It is anti-democratic to make a democracy more representative ? What kind of backwards logic is that.

The Democrats have ran the country like idiots, where they have repeatedly made good faith assumptions about the republicans and been betrayed every time.

When the system is broken, the least you do is fix it.

We could dive into a whole political argument here. I am to add, not a republican either, I just think both sides have massive failings and need to be disrupted.

It's anti-democratic to have some votes count for more than others, which is what the status quo is.

Also, blatant gerrymandering (Which is a far more anti-democratic version of this phenomena) has been heavily practiced in the US for many, many decades, and has, to my knowledge never resulted in bloody riots in the streets. [1]

[1] Most recently, the Supreme Court has ruled[2] that if you're not happy with how your government gerrymanders, you should vote it out. It's a wonderfully ironic non-solution...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gill_v._Whitford

One of the basic tenets of the founding fathers was that small groups can have out sized power. A flaw in democracy is when some group gets a majority vote and only votes for their own self interest (see Plato).

States rights and the phenomenon of some small states having large sway in elections was originally intended to stop highly populated cities from dominating the rural plantation/farming states way back when. We continue to see this now, California is left partly because of the huge amount of international immigration it has seen in the last 50 years. I want to emphasize that I am not anti immigration, I am just pointing out that it has a massive effect on the future of elections, and ignoring this effect is intellectually dishonest. Using electoral college as a voting system acts as an aqueduct from any one area completely dominating the national voting. Without the electoral college, all the left would need to do (which they are trying to do now), is to flood California with poor people from mexico, and then capture their children's votes/their votes in national elections. We will still see this play out in 20 or 30 years, but the system so far has stopped anti democratic attacks like this

> One of the basic tenets of the founding fathers was that small groups can have out sized power

This all sounds very reasonable, but if this is the case, why was the House of Representatives ever supposed to be proportional to population size?

> One of the basic tenets of the founding fathers was that small groups can have out sized power.

That's what the Senate is supposed to be for. We aren't talking about the Senate.

> Without the electoral college, all the left would need to do (which they are trying to do now), is to flood California with poor people from mexico,

People aren't cattle, and nobody is 'flooding California with them' to win elections.

Sure my language was a bit inflammatory, and regardless of your opinion of their intentions, a massive shift in the voting base will be the effect of their immigration policies

It is also the effect of the immigration, economic, and social policies of red states. When they hound, or allow discrimination against people who are just trying to live and mind their own fucking business, is it any surprise that this drives people out of them?

Ironically, for some reason, they are allowed to benefit politically from disenfranchised people (Stripped of their voting rights due to crime, or due to inability to demonstrate sufficient documentation, or due to being permanent residents, as opposed to citizens), while not allowing them to vote. For some reason, though, the right rarely takes issue with this idea (While harping non-stop about legal and illegal immigrants skewing California's representation.)

If you truly want to be fair, the number of seats each state gets should be determined based on voter turnout, as opposed to population. If a person is not permitted to, or does not care enough to vote, why should their state benefit from their representation? [1]

Consider how morally reprehensible, and hypocritical the three-fifths compromise was.

[1] This would, of course, make efforts at voter suppression delightfully counter-productive. If that's the can of worms we want to open, I'm fully behind it.

By "that kind of thing" you mean more democratically elected representatives per voter? But I don't disagree, there are some really good democratic countries in the "third world" (e.g. Mauritius).

blocked out by democracy?

Its similar to one party impeaching another for political purposes, the rules of our government allow it, but is it democratic?

As a random bit of trivia, while George Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention, this was the only issue on which he expressed an opinion, in favor of lowering the original ratio from 1:40k to 1:30k.

More representatives would mean more precise representation, since otherwise local tyrannies of majorities can drown out some viewpoints entirely. For example, if each congressional district has 55% of people with one view and 45% with another view on some controversial topic, it is possible that only the winning 55% view is represented in Congress because every district is won by a representative who advocates for the majority view. With more representation and finer-grained districting, the likelihood of those other 45% of constituents feeling disenfranchised is reduced. We may end up with something closer to 55-45 representation of this hypothetical issue in Congress, instead of 100-0.

Furthermore, it is a lot harder/more expensive to lobby (or bribe) thousands of representatives versus a few hundred. It is harder for unethical activity to be undertaken without scrutiny.

While we're at it, let's also have runoff voting of some sort and get closer to issue-based voting rather than coalition/party-based tribalism.

As for those calling out the downsides of a direct democracy and exposure to uninformed voters - I would say we are already exposed to the risks of uninformed voters, and we are also exposed to all sorts of expensive political gamesmanship. To me it feels like our current democratic process (in the US anyways) is more of a popularity contest reflecting who has the biggest expenditure of [time/effort/money] and strongest populist ground game.

A problem with having a large number of seats in the House is that there's no way everyone with something to say on any particular topic is going to be able to say it in an in-person physical meeting. In other words, meetings don't scale, and the problem would get worse if you added seats.

An alternative to live meetings is to move any procedures involving the full House to a web-based medium, similar to HN. Policy discussions can happen in comment threads. Representatives can travel to DC for committee meetings, but otherwise they can stay in their districts where the constituents they are representing actual live, and comment and cast votes online. Any representative can introduce a bill, and they can be passed quickly if they have the votes without a whole lot of procedural scheduling nonsense.

This assumes that Congress accomplishes anything in "meetings".

Legislation is created and negotiated behind the scenes usually by a small number of lead sponsors who then build a political coalition of support before the bill ever gets to a Committee hearing. Many(most?) committee hearings are perfunctory nonsense attended by just a handful of members and the vote count is an open secret beforehand.

I agree that Congress should explore online voting, but I don't know that the ultimate equilibrium would look that different than what we see today. The typical Member spends Monday to Thursday in DC, Thursday evening to Sunday + August recess + multiple weeklong recesses in district or on the road.

If online voting was adopted, smart Members would still strike a balance between spending time in DC building relationships with their colleagues (and raising money) and campaigning back in the district.

My impression is that we have committees for introducing legislation because congress can only debate so much legislation in the time they have. If any representative could introduce and vote on any legislation, most of it wouldn't go anywhere because the support wouldn't be there. However, congress could have many bills in-progress at any time and no bill would be blocking any other for bureaucratic reasons, or because some committee was stacked with people who hate that bill.

Perhaps committees are an outdated idea, that when you get down to it they're only a roadblock to getting stuff done and an impediment to democracy. (We can still have committees for hearings, and things like that. That's fine.)

I feel like this would never work because of, well, all of the politics.

Most of the 'work' they do happens in hallways and outside the actual committees.

And that's hard to do if you can't just call Joe or walk to his office to see him.

I've never understood why legislatures don't move to something more like modern code review. It would have to dramatically simplify their lives.

I'd love this. Imagine if you could also commit incremental changes, so if someone pushes a 'pork bill' you could push changes to pull out some of the pork and 'trim the fat' so to speak. You can have the defense of women act without making prisons worse for minorities by pushing changes.

I mean, I think you'd still need someone with commit rights to actually push the change (presumably our elected officials), and you would need to have some way of tracking merges well, but that's all seemingly pretty solvable.

yeah it'd need approval by heads of committees maybe and some sort of consensus algorithm. Then of course the bill would need implemented by the specific departments that do those things.

Because they're all extremely old. Most of them didn't know what Facebook even was when Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress. Go look it up, it's embarrassing.

Because the incentive of the actual legislator is to write smelly code. Gotta get them kickbacks.

>An alternative to live meetings is to move any procedures involving the full House to a web-based medium, similar to HN.

Can't wait for $PARTY party to yell "Conspiracy!" when their comments aren't showing up on the congressional web message board, while $OTHER_PARTY says they were simply "accidentally" deleted by the spam filter. Also something about Russian bots and hackers.

Maintaining such a website in a way that everyone involved thought was fair would be hard, but at least it's somewhat simplified if you restrict posts to only members of congress.

If some third party wants to mirror the site and let ordinary citizens post comments on their mirror, they could do that.

I personally don't think the problem is "lack of representation", it is that the representatives are far more beholden to their party than to the members of the district.

This isn't solved by having more representatives. It could best be solved by having a voting method that actually elects the "consensus candidate", which I would define as the first choice of the median voter.

As it is, Duverger's law forces it into a binary choice. (Parties arise mostly as a defense against the vote splitting that happens in plurality, and it inevitably converges on two dominant parties)

Exactly. They are more beholden to the party because they need lots of campaign money to run a big campaign in a big district. Compare that to a campaign the size of small town city council...you probably met them at your kid's school or on the playground while growing up.

Yes, well money is a big part of it but not all if it. The forcing into two parties, two binary choices, left or right, is such a solvable problem.

I don't understand this focus on the House. If we accept the axiom that 435 representatives can't represent 300M Americans, what are we supposed to think of 100 Senators?

The federal government was never supposed to be this important. Four-hundred thirty-five representatives only have a hand full of responsibilities outlined in the Constitution. Somehow though they're concerned about who I'm married to and what I grow in my garden. The obvious solution is not to expand representatives, but to push power down to the local level where it belongs.

Senators dont represent people, they represent States. More States, more Senators. The same rule should apply to the house. More people, more representatives.

I feel the senate shouldn't be state based but grid based. Split the country into 300 equal-size-squares. Each square gets a senator.

Our representation system is pretty messed up. Montana has 2 senators with a population of 577,000. But New York state has 2 senators with a population of 19.5 million. And the entire midwest is like that, with tons of representation for very sparely populated areas.

Montana has a population of more than 1 million.

And two senators per state regardless of population is a feature not a bug.

I've often felt this way myself. Representatives should be more local, and should really know their constituents so that they can represent them. I wonder how it would work in practice, though. That's a lot of Representatives to manage.

I also wonder what it would be like to give more power to the states, and strip power from federal government so the states can have more power to manage themselves.

I think the European Union is a lot closer to what the founders imagined than the current situation in the USA.

In the UK at least, that's not really how it happens. Representatives in a representative democracy are representatives in name only, they're the "chosen voter" for that constituency (in parliamentary votes), but usually they're voted in because they represent a particular party and we have first part the post. Their representation of the constituents is tenuous; and often only extends to doing enough to get elected.

Such a system can work well: some MPs are noble, forthright people, genuinely working for a better society. Plenty are just in it for themselves and private interests so far as I can tell, and happy to pay off the electorate with promises of milk & honey, better services and simultaneously low taxation.

Before Brexit I was very much for a more direct democracy, but honestly it seems that too many voters won't put in the work needed to wade through the mire of misinformation; really they are voting for three benefit of themselves only; or just lack the intellect to properly address the complex issues.

Until we get lobbyists and politicians locked up for lying, or purposeful misrepresentation then things can't improve.

That all said I still think something like the Swiss system (other places have similar) whereby referenda can be triggered by the people without backing of "representatives" is necessary.

Also, greater reflection of the breadth of the population through proportional representation is essential (but because it weakens the power base of those already in power is very hard to achieve).

If it was 1 rep per 30k then you've likely met him, went to school with him or his kids. Campaign money becomes less important, relationship to the community becomes more important.

The biggest problem with a fixed number of representatives is unequal representation. Even a relatively small increase i the number of representatives could even things out substantially (and this affects the electoral college as well.

I think the biggest problem is that thr representative becomes a remote entity that you know mostly from campaign ads and not as a member of your local community.

My proposition has been take all the support staff of Congress and convert them to Representatives(by firing them, yes). It works out very close to the ~60k citizens per House Representative. My idealistic vision is that this will force the representatives to work together to create our laws.

Before the American Civil War, members of Congress did not have staff assistance or even offices, and "most members worked at their desks on the floor." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_staff

I assume this is showing up on HN because of the recent CGP Grey "footnote" video.


This wouldn't work, or rather, it would work quite differently than the idea. This would just create a new level of middle managers in the house tasked with herding the foot soldiers. There are only so many hours that they can be in session or in committees, an ordinary representative will be lucky to get the microphone for a minute here and there. And there is no way the party's leadership can give them all individual time and attention. So there will naturally arise a management level or two between the leadership and the ordinary representatives to bridge this gap.

Perfect! It breaks the stranglehold of party leadership.

With the Freedom Caucus, we've seen what that a relatively small (approx. 30 members) coalition can buck leadership and drive their own agenda. If you expand Congress, I'd guess the likelihood of these coalitions increases (for better or worse).

If you regard that as "breaking the stranglehold of party leadership", I don't think you understood kryptiskt's comment. The point (as I understood it) was that it strengthens the party leadership over the bulk of the members.

...unless they elect your candidate.

Coordinating 435 people to get meaningful work done is really hard. Coordinating 30k would just transfer even more power to centralized coordinating structures like the parties without any corresponding increase in democratic representation. Next...

Does representative democracy break down at some point? What happens when America has 1B people?

At some point, you can't fit enough people into a chamber usefully. What do we do then?

Did you read the whole thing? You can't fit 6000 in a chamber... The idea is that reps stay local. Don't go to washington. Thus it makes D.C. less of a national security target. I could work for FB or Google remotely as a developer, why can't our reps work remotely? It'd even allow people w/ full-time jobs like developers to run for office if it was more a part-time thing because they didn't need a presence in Washington.

If they had a platform like reddit where members could weigh in on bills by 'channel' and have discussion online -- they could do 95% of their jobs remotely maybe even 100%. They may need to travel for small things but that's a non-issue.

I'm not sure anybody would suggest that, who's had to negotiate via online chat etc. Its a terrible medium, lacking completely in persuasive body language, intonation, physical signaling etc. Politicians are professional persuaders. I'm sure very few would think this is a could idea.

That's the point if we increased to 6000 members, it would be more 'normal' people running the country, and less about persuasion. It shouldn't even be about politicians/persuasion. It should be about getting a fucking job done that helps people, not gets their 'pet' project accomplished because 'narcissism'. How do you think narcissistic persuasion is good for government? Have you looked at how far mired in shit we are?

Why people are so afraid of change when ANYTHING is better than what we're currently dealing with in Washington. The entire system is one fucked up Republic just waiting for the fate of Rome to befall it. If it's not already too late. We've already lost our place as the #1 country in the world on SO many levels where it really matters: Education, Healthcare, Freedom, Journalistic Integrity, Propaganda, Human Services, etc...

Let me also add by moving things online where there isn't 'body language' people can actually read between the lines on issues, they can have deeper thoughts on things. Plus it's all public for the world to see the process unfold (except in cases where it's private for security reasons). More transparency would be a good thing.

Just think of the average online discussion. Not HN, but other fora. Its not a pretty place. The impersonal nature of typing at each other, makes it easy to rant and be extreme.

solution: 9,500 representatives, lol....

I also don't take dissenting opinions from a 1920s Missouri representative seriously

or that Geocities website

but in the spirit of not immediately discrediting the sources or ad hominem attacks, it does at least makes me wonder if the 435 cap was arbitrary and capricious

More representatives is not the solution. They are already paying too much. We don’t need have more so they come up with new ideas to spend more money.

The solution is keep representatives local. At the age of internet, there is no reason why they need to be in DC to allow lobbyists to access all of them in 1 place.

Transition to self-government. https://theadvocates.org/

I generally agree with the premise, but I disagree that any form of representative government is a good idea.

Direct democracy is the only real democracy, and there's no good reason why we don't have 100% direct democracy in 2019 aside from the fact that a bunch of wannabe celebs would lose their jobs (aka politicians).

Politics is mostly about self service, and boosting your own ego and influence. Politicians have historically not voted on legislation in ways that are aligned with their constituents. Instead, they vote on legislation which helps keep them in their positions of power (i.e., to appease lobbyists and campaign contributors).

There's a good podcast about this very issue: https://www.npr.org/podcasts/481105292/more-perfect

Having worked at reddit, I can tell you first hand that direct democracy would never work.

Imagine all of the low information voters you know being asked to vote on complex technical issues that even most representatives can't grasp, most of whom have completed many years of post-graduate college.

Direct democracy is great in theory but the representative part play an important role in balancing the flighty whims of the masses with reality.

There is a better solution between direct democracy and (fixed) representative democracy. It is called LIQUID DEMOCRACY.


Even without having to resort to elitism, the theoretical advantage of representative democracy is that it slows down the pace of change. It attempts to keep legislation from being a reactionary yo-yo.

But, of course, it also allows the government to lose touch with the will of the people.

Do you want to be tried by a jury of people with no critical thinking skills? Do you want these same people making political decisions about which they don't understand anything?

Depends if I'm guilty or not.

If you're innocent and the prosecution has still decided to go to court you ought to be really scared.

> Imagine all of the low information voters you know being asked to vote on complex technical issues

Now imagine that you were expecting the sorts of people who become Reddit moderators to do that on behalf of all the low information voters. Well, actually, you don't have to imagine it because that's basically what we have with congress.

So you're saying only white male college graduates should get a vote? I mean you might as well say that. How about we give college away free so our 'masses' become high information voters instead?

The House of Representatives is only 75% white, which is less than the nation as a whole. So if anything, direct democracy would have more white voters.

And I agree college should be government funded. But that still doesn’t solve the problem of lack of interest.

My point was you're trying to limit who has a seat at the table of democracy. All should be allowed that right. Whether they're 'smart enough' or not. Shouldn't be for you or me to say. It's the same as allowing women the right, or blacks, or any other minority. When you consider a 'low-information' voter someone who shouldn't be 'allowed' to vote you denigrate them to a second-rate citizen, which causes resentment, which causes mistrust, which causes them to become the sort of people who disregard any truth in the media and put on foil hats.

If we instead focused on bringing MORE people to the table, increase diversity, you'll find diverse views want more/better education. Better education brings progress. I mean it's the educated who are touting climate change and it's effects not the uneducated. The uneducated believe everything on Fox news, while the rest of the world watches in disbelief.

But if those Fox news watchers wanted to run for one of 6k seats more power to them because they might learn something as a representative, maybe they'd even change their view points as they get mire in politics. Maybe they don't change. Warren, Scarborough, many on the left once were on the right and moved their entire view points. So it's possible to change political outlooks.

I don't think direct democracy would work but MORE representative would. direct would just be hard to control. Liquid democracy would be the ideal, but also a hard system to implement.

In essence you are saying “low information” votes are harmful and should be discounted. Would you agree the vast majority of potential voters targeted with “get out the vote” campaigns are “low information”?

But they are voting for a representative,not.policy directly, and that is an important difference.

This bill would simply call for more representation. Not giving everyone a vote. Just increasing by a factor of 10 the number of reps in D.C. and spreading them out via remote work-at-home gigs instead of relocating them all to D.C.

That's a symptom of the system, not voters. Reddit doesn't exactly lend itself to informing people properly before asking their opinion on an issue, and it doesn't provide any way to vet or verify facts and information aside from crowdsourcing opinions via the up & down arrows (the "hive mind").

I agree with this. We'd be on a slippery slope to idiocracy.

(Maybe we're already there!)

Have you met our politicians?

I have. Most of them are much more intelligent than the average citizen.

Being intelligent isn't enough, especially if they have their self-interest in mind rather than the will of their constituents.

Yet they manage to invent and vote for absolutely atrocious laws. I bet their intelligence is highly concentrated on improving their own agenda whatever that be rather than well being of general populace.

Sure, but they are similarly self-interested, if not more so.

Are you sure? I mean have you been watching the impeachment proceedings? Intelligence doesn't seem a virtue of congress at the moment or Trump would have senators from BOTH parties with pitch forks outside his door.

Direct democracy works well in Switzerland. It's shocking to claim that people are simply to dumb to know what's best for them. Given the opportunity many will educate themselves on the matter.

May as well be advocating for a benevolent dictatorship.

Switzerland doesn’t have direct democracy. They have representatives combined with a referendum system.

Just like California. And that system has arguably caused many problems in California. The budget is a mess because of the referendum system. And California has a population four times that of Switzerland.

small highly intelligent populace works well for direct democracy, a largely stupid one does not.

A small dumb group of people works better in your opinion?

Voter apathy and lack of knowledge on the issues is one of the biggest hurdles to direct democracy, in my opinion. Voter apathy could be combated through easier voting methods and by simply required voting. The lack of knowledge is a far more complex issue.

There are many issues that our representatives vote on that are impacted by knowledge that the general public does not and likely should not have. Top secret information does have purpose, even if, in many cases, it has be twisted for a small group to maintain power.

May be worth reading the Federalist papers. I’m doing so now and the Founders go into why they didn’t think direct democracy would work at any scale. Didn’t even really work at the city-state level in Greece.

Who picks what we vote on in this scenario?

So individuals should be expected to understand and vote on every issue that comes up?

Yes. That's the actual definition of democracy, and what the term and the institution was created for (in ancient Athens).

Citizens should be expected to keep up with affairs, understand issues, and vote on every issue that comes up.

They don't have to be experts on issues: actual experts can present the different sides of an issues. Judges are not experts on the things they decide over either (neither are jurors), and a CEO is rarely an expert on the technicalities of the stuff their company produces.

Besides, it's irrelevant whether they "correctly" understand an issue or not. Since the result of a vote affects them too, they should get a say, like everybody else.

Democracy is not some process to select the "right" decision. It's a process so that everyone participates with their choice in the decision.

It's great idea in practice but will never come to fruition..some people don't want to participate...or maybe they're overworked and don't have time to vote on everything but still want a voice...

Liquid democracy works better...where I trust Bernie Sanders so I delegate my vote to him. Say he has 50 million votes, and Nancy Pelosi has 25 million... Sander's votes in congress on issues would be 2x more effective/powerful than Pelosi's.

If a politician votes against someone's interest they can revoke that person's voting power. It doesn't even have to be politicians..I could give my vote to a neighbor or friend or Bill Gates or Elon Musk.

That's your definition of democracy. It's not how it is generally used today, because it doesn't work in anything of any size.

As for the meaning of the word, it simply means that the people are ultimately the ones that are answered to. Just because you can imagine some ideal that you consider "more democratic" doesn't mean the rest of us have to use the word that way.

>That's your definition of democracy. It's not how it is generally used today, because it doesn't work in anything of any size.

Interesting. Did people actually tested this and showed that it doesn't work? Was anybody asked what system to use? Did anybody vote for it not to be applied (even through representative democracy)?

Where's the proof that it "doesn't work in anything of any size"?

And why can't this "anything of any size" be broken down on smaller pieces where it works?

Who said once in four years is ideal? Who asked for N congressmen and not more, and who tried it experimentally to find the right number?

>As for the meaning of the word, it simply means that the people are ultimately the ones that are answered to.

It was coined to refer to a specific system. Not any system where "people are ultimately the ones that are answered to".

In fact, in modern "democracy" people are not "ultimately the ones that are answered to". They're just the ones who get to select candidates put forward to them, once every four years. Nobody answers to the people. At best, you can do what you like, break promises, etc, and you just wont be re-elected.

In the original version you could be immediately thrown out of power, exiled, or even executed if the people didn't like any particular action you took at any moment.

>Just because you can imagine some ideal that you consider "more democratic"

It's not some "ideal", it's an actual instance of the thing as it was put in practice.

In fact it's earlier, more original, and more pragmatic than the current system.

Yeah ok. Write down your rules, maybe make a computer simulation or something. Then see if you can get anyone on board your plan.

I'd think a good starting point would be a local club or something. Don't elect officers, just vote on every issue. If you're lucky, you'll find that every issue you'd want to vote on easily distills down to a binary choice, and it will be obvious what the two choices will be, and what issues there will be to vote on. If not, maybe you can come up with some way to vote on what will be on the ballot. Maybe you'll find yourself rapidly descending down a rabbit hole, or maybe it will work out swimmingly. I'm sure we'd like to see.

Good luck!

>Yeah ok. Write down your rules, maybe make a computer simulation or something. Then see if you can get anyone on board your plan.

As if the current plan asked people to get "on board"?

You just go with the system that was there when you were born and what you were told to accept, and even learned to justify it as if God given.

"As if the current plan asked people to get "on board"?"

Well, the US system didn't happen without some degree of public support, but that's neither here nor there. A significant number of people had to be convinced that it was a good idea (i.e. better than what had existed before), and they were willing to hash through the details. Generally if the end result is to be a radical change in government, a whole lot of people are going to have to die. Historically, anyway.

"You just go with the system that was there when you were born and what you were told to accept,"

Well I've got a public history that goes back nearly 20 years that says otherwise. (see a few samples below). I am happy to say our current system is very broken. But any system I propose, I go to effort to show it is fairly well thought through. Notably, my proposals don't try to redo everything, but concentrate on something that actually could be changed realistically. Without a war, would be my preference. (and even if you are the type who says "I'm ok with war", well, you still kinda have to convince more than a few people to join your side)

So...I am very curious how you address some of the questions about how democracy (or, what I would call "direct democracy" as opposed to "representative democracy") would actually work. How do you decide what is on the ballot? (do you vote on that too? How?) Do you turn everything into a binary choice, and use a simple majority vote? Do you have more than two choices, and just pick the one with the most votes, plurality style? Or, better yet, rank them or do Approval voting?

And possibly most importantly, to what granularity are you going to go? When a decision is needed, such as whether to put up a traffic light (or just stick with stop signs) at a particular intersection, does everyone need to vote on it? How about a sick tree on the sidewalk, that needs to be removed or treated? Do you hire employees (i.e. representatives) to make decisions? Or does everybody need to vote on it? And again, what if there are more than two options?

My view is that all proposals for direct democracy I have seen are poorly thought through. (and tend to be proposed by dichotomous thinkers) I challenge you to write a detailed proposal up and defend it. (if you prefer, base it on a "starting from scratch" premise, here's one you can use: http://www.karmatics.com/petridish/ )

I suspect there is a reason it's never been tried at scale, because anyone who suggests it tends to run for cover when they are asked "what exactly do you want us to try?"










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