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November 05, 2004

the "People's House"

Until 1913, with the passage of the 17th Amendment, Senators were selected by state legislatures. Since there was widespread corruption and class bias in state governments, Senators tended to be millionaires or puppets of specific corporations. The House of Representatives, however, was directly elected and much more accountable. It was the "People's House."

Today, the situation is almost precisely reversed. The Senate is imperfect because its "districts"--the states--vary enormously in size. Alaska has the same number of seats as California. However, Senate races are often competitive and unpredictable; Senators must pay attention to the voters or they can easily be defeated. In contrast, House districts are completely uncompetitive, thanks to the way state legislatures have drawn the maps. Indeed, according to the Center for Voting and Democracy:

The House of Representatives has reached a breathtaking level of non-competitiveness. More than 95% of seats were won by margins of more than 10%--a record. Only four incumbents outside of Texas [where the districts were redrawn] didn't win by at least 4%, and only three were defeated. The House has changed partisan control only once since 1954--and unless Republicans suffer major setbacks in the 2006 midterm election, it almost certainly won't change hands anytime soon.

In short, the House election was over many months ago, as soon as the state legislatures finished selecting who would serve. How depressing that we should have less direct democracy in the House than 100 years ago. It's time for a reform as bold as the 17th Amendment.

Posted by peterlevine at November 5, 2004 10:35 AM

Comments

What would such reform look like? How can we force some sort of non-partisan redistricting to create competitive House races?

Asking nicely doesn't seem like an effective strategy.

Posted by: niq at November 7, 2004 11:07 PM

I do think there's a legal strategy that might work. I posted about it earlier.

Posted by: Peter Levine at November 9, 2004 11:33 AM

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