Right now our state and federal legislatures are basically the same, they consist of a House of Representative and a Senate, collectively – the Congress (some states have different names but they all basically serve the same purpose). Locally we have city council members, city council is a legislative branch, but at the local level. All of the members of the Congress, both at the state and federal level, and of the city council, are elected by us, the people. The number of officials in each legislative branch varies, but right now, there are 435 in the federal House of Representatives and 100 in the Senate. Let’s have a quick jump into the history of why its like this.
Between 1790 and 1913 the number of representatives in the house grew from 65 to 435, to keep pace with the population growth in the country. In 1790 there were about 3.9 million people in this country, at 65 representatives that meant about 60,000 voters for every representative. In 1910, there were 92.2 million people in the US, or about 212,000 per representative. In 1929 the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 was passed and it basically locked our number of representatives at 435 for good, due to lobbying from rural voters who feared being overwhelmed by large populations in the cities. Today there are 318.9 million people in the US. Each of our elected representatives speaks for 730,000 citizens, on average. This is a far cry from the representation we enjoyed at the start, and honestly, we deserve better. It’s impossible for our representatives to be in touch with their people when they represent such a large number. There have always been 2 senators per state. Obviously it’s even harder for senators to stay in touch, but at least every state has exactly equal standing in the Senate. The Federal House of Representatives has been the same size since 1913, but it wasn’t always this way. It’s a good reminder that oftentimes things that exist in society today, that we accept as a given, as the way things have to be; are just laws someone made at some point. They can be changed, and throughout history – they have been.
One of the complaints about continuing to increase the number of representatives based on population is the cost associated with paying salaries for all these officials, their travel, and their staffs. There is some merit to this concern. On average, congressional representatives make around $174000 each in salary, not including their staffs or anything else. That’s about $92 million dollars a year we pay, just to the federal legislature. If we kept growing that office in line with population, we could have something around 1500 representatives today, costing us $261 million dollars. That is a lot of wasted money, considering how effective congress has been recently. I agree with this point, I think we should keep the number of representatives a bit lower to help with the budget and make it simpler for work to be done in Congress. I also advocate a better way to make the voice of the people heard.
This is where Hybrid Democracy comes into play. I believe that because its so difficult for our representatives to be closely in tune with the people in their districts, we should be able to speak for ourselves. If there are 700,000 people in a given federal district, let them speak on the legislation that is up for debate in either the house or the senate. There are already sites available to review the legislation, so it’s easy to access. We average about 30-40% voter turnout in non-presidential years. Rather than speaking on a district to district basis, let’s say 30% of voters (almost 70 million people) come out in support of a particular bill. That public opinion could count for something like 33 House votes, or 8 Senate votes.This allows the people to have a true voice in passing legislation in this country, provides our representatives with empirical data about public opinion, and is weighted to keep the majority of the voting power in the hands of the people we elected to be most knowledgeable about the topics at hand. I would start by saying I would weight it by taking a number that is 25% of the house or senate, and then attribute a number of votes based on the percentage of the population that voted a given way. For instance, 25% of 100 (Senate) is 25. 30% of 25 is 7.5, rounded up – 8. That way, even if 100% of people voted, it would still only weigh the legislative process in one direction or another, the representatives still have the majority of the control, but would need to operate in a more bi-partisan fashion if they want to get things done that the people don’t agree with. This is only speaking at the Federal level, because that is what most people know about, but this same approach can easily, and in a lot of cases more easily, apply to the local and state levels as well.
That’s it in a nutshell, Hybrid Democracy, it keeps the costs of the legislature low, while giving the people a true voice in the legislative process, backed up with a little bit of teeth, to encourage participation and build voter confidence in the political process again. Next we’ll have to talk about what I think is the best way to enable this voice. Obviously we’re not likely to get 238 million voters to independently navigate around bad websites to find information and then call their representatives to tell them their vote. We can do better.