There are 100 Senators in the Senate
The number of Senators per state remains at two and the total number only changes when a new state is admitted into the union.
There are 435 Representatives in the House of Representatives
The number of members in the House of Representatives is a different story and is based on population. The process by which seats in the House are distributed to the states is called “Congressional apportionment” and starts with the U.S. Census which is conducted every ten years. The number of seats depends on the population of each state which in turn determines the number of districts. However, every state is constitutionally guaranteed at least one seat no matter how small its population. The number of seats in the House is currently 435.
How are state districts determined?
According to federal law, the clerk of the House of Representatives is required to notify each state government of the number of seats assigned to represent it in the federal government after the Census is complete. States then have to determine the borders of their congressional districts. Each district must have a population that is approximately equal to all other districts in order to provide that each state has representation that is somewhat proportional to its population. This process is called redistricting.
What is redistricting and how does it effect representation?
Laws that dictate the method in which states redraw districts are determined by the state's own laws. However, there are some federal guidelines that states must meet when redistricting:
- ensure that the population in each district is equal
- attempt to create compact and contiguous districts that try to keep political units and communities within a single district. This is mainly to make sure that districts are not divided by other districts.
- avoid drawing boundaries for partisan purposes or to create an advantage for the incumbent or specific political parties or groups.
In many states the legislatures create the redistricting plans themselves. Five states (Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, New Jersey, and Washington) give this responsibility to an independent or bipartisan commission in order to reduce the likelihood of political games being played by the state legislature’s majority party.
For example, districts can be completely redrawn to include specific races or groups (by using information collecting in the census) that are expected to vote a certain way. This is called gerrymandering and is most likely to occur in the states where the legislatures have the authority to create the new redistricting plans as stated above. This can cause a lot of partisan battling in states where the majority of the legislature and the governor are from different political parties.
Gerrymandering can also be used to create new districts for the incumbent when it looks like the incumbent will lose his or her next election. This can be done as long as the incumbent’s main address is located in the new district. Gerrymandering often creates districts with odd shapes in order to incorporate certain demographics. As long as the districts are continuous and not broken apart by bordering districts, the federal government will most likely approve the plans.
How long do Senators and Representatives serve?
As many of you probably know already, Representatives (and also Senators) can run for an unlimited number of terms, and committee chair positions are not based on merit or the representative’s experience in the area in which the committee specializes in, but instead, it is based on seniority -- those that have served longer.
Every two years is considered one Congress (today’s Congress is the 112th Congress. Each year is considered one legislative session. Therefore, we are currently in the first session of the 112th Congress).
Do non-states such as Puerto Rico get representation?
Five delegates are considered non-voting members. They represent the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands (first representative elected in 2008), and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico elects a resident commissioner every four years. While these six members don’t vote, they are allowed to debate and sponsor legislation. With the exception of Puerto Rico’s resident commissioner, every representative’s term lasts for two years.
Proposals to give at least one voting representative to the District of Columbia have been created but never passed. These plans would have permanently increased House membership to 437. One new member would be from DC while the other would be from the next state in line to receive another district: Utah, which was probably selected because of its population. The likely reason for the failure to pass the bill in both chambers is because of the fact that Congressional leadership has been trying to pass it by using a regular bill signed by the president while it should be passed using a joint resolution to amend the Constitution and approved by two-thirds of the states. One possible reason for DC’s lack of representation is because of the simple fact that it did not exist as our nations capital at the time the Constitution was written and no Congress has ever really bothered to start up the process that would amend the Constitution. However, for a number of years, the city of Washington and the part that holds the Capitol and the rest of the federal government was split between Virginia and Maryland. However, today, DC is considered its own “district” but not a state.
How can representation laws be changed?
An amendment to the Constitution is necessary because the Constitution explicitly states that only actual “states” can be represented. This was meant to keep territories from having voting members, who do not get represented based on population. The likely reason for the failure to pass bills attempting to change representation, particularly in DC's case is because of the fact that Congressional leadership has been trying to pass it by using a regular bill signed by the president while it should be passed using a joint resolution to amend the Constitution and approved by two-thirds of the states.