Change the way we elect members of Congress


Every 10 years, the US Constitution conducts a census. The Founding Fathers authorized the census so that the number of members elected to the United States House of Representatives would be determined by the population of each state.

Nowhere in the original Constitution are states directed to establish regions within states to determine what we call congressional districts. Congressional districts (Connecticut currently has five, one for about 700,000 residents) are the reason states engage in the inherently biased reshuffling of district lines every 10 years after the new census. The congressional districts are also a major contributor to dysfunction in Washington.

There is a solution: eliminate congressional constituencies. Gerrymandering, or the manipulation of congressional constituencies, is fraught with biases, both racial and political, that are maintained once one party takes control of map-making. We don’t need it and the Constitution didn’t mention it.

The new congressional district map drawn in North Carolina, for example, is designed to return 10 Republicans and four Democrats to Congress, even though Democrats made up 49% of all voters in the 2020 presidential election. Republican-dominated Texas has drawn maps that are explicitly designed to dilute the growing Hispanic population in the state. In Mississippi, nearly 40 percent of the state is black, and only one of their four House members, Bennie Thompson, is black. Maps of congressional districts, even in Connecticut, will also feature similar structural, racial and ethnic biases by 2030

Similar maps are drawn in Republican-led states and, to be fair, in Democratic-controlled states. There are academic efforts and independent commissions trying to solve this thorny problem of how to draw fair maps of congressional districts. The historical and political fact is that we do not need congressional districts to be drawn or redrawn at all, and “fairness,” like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

In accordance with the Constitution, the number of seats in Congress should continue to be based on a state’s population. It doesn’t change. What would change is how we run congressional elections at the state level. Instead of voters being able to choose between the Democratic and Republican nominee in a precinct, voters could vote for as many candidates as determined by the census. In Connecticut, that would mean each registered voter could vote for five congressional candidates.

This change would have a drastic impact on the behavior and quality of politicians running for Congress. Needing statewide support, the candidates could not afford to be so parochial. They should have a strategy to attract a wider range of voters – urban voters, rural voters, voters of all races and ethnicities, etc. In addition, potential members should have recognized skills and experience that could benefit the people. Remind me what skill Matt Gaetz has other than his dad was an electrical broker? Now it’s all too easy for fraternity brothers and air chiefs to win seats as they run in districts designed to elect hacks, thieves, and incompetent thieves.

I can hear criticism of this approach. Some voters, perhaps voters in less populated areas, might fear being ignored by job seekers. Ignoring rural voters might work for some candidates, but not necessarily for all candidates who might choose to represent rural interests regardless of where they live in the state. Likewise, candidates who had an “urban” agenda would fight and only those who could muster the most support would win.

This approach of electing members of the House of Representatives would also reduce the power of the incumbent. Any member of the state House who does not actively represent the state’s broader voters would be likely to be challenged by a more creative and efficient job seeker. A member would not only defend their “safe” seat, they would face fierce competition if they turned out to be an ineffective member or simply a poor communicator.

I’m not a constitutional lawyer, I’m not even a lawyer, but it seems to me that this change would fix a house of Congress and make it a more responsive and representative body. The people would benefit, and America would benefit. The biggest challenge is fixing the Senate. And that can be done by eliminating the filibuster, something that is also not enshrined in the Constitution.

Fred McKinney is the co-founder of BJM Solutions, an economic advisory firm that has conducted public and private research since 1999, and is the director emeritus of the Peoples Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Quinnipiac University.


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