Civic Literacy Curriculum
Question 24: The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
Q24: The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
The Constitution created the legislative branch, part of which would consist of representatives who would be the voice of the people through a large house based on population.
How to determine representation in the legislature was a contentious issue at the Convention. The Virginia Plan sought to allocate representatives by population, while the New Jersey Plan wanted to allocate them by state.
The solution was the Great Compromise (or Connecticut Compromise), offered by that state’s Roger Sherman and Oliver Ellsworth. They took the two plans and created a bicameral legislature, representing both objectives.
The two different houses are apportioned differently because each represents a different constituency. In order to reinforce federalism, the Senate is designed to represent the interests of the states, and thus each state, regardless of population, has the same number of senators. By way of contrast, the House of Representatives aims to represent the people more directly. Thus, states with more people (a larger population) have more Representatives than other, less populous states.
The number of voting members has changed over time, and the apportionment of those representatives among the states changes after every census to reflect shifts in population.
There have been 435 voting members of the House of Representatives since 1911. Today the House of Representatives still has 435 voting members, representing all fifty states.
According to the Constitution there can be no more than one representative for every 30,000 people, although the Constitution allows representatives to represent more than 30,000—that part is up to Congress. Today they represent a little more than 750,000 constituents on average. The question of how many representatives a state should have continues today. There are significant benefits to adding to the House, just as there are significant drawbacks. This activity challenges the students to think about those pros and cons.
- Provide each group/student with a copy of the What If Worksheet.
- Provide each group/student with a copy of the reading.
- Print a copy of the answer key.
The Teaching Materials for this exercise includes an answer key.
- Divide the class into groups of 2-3 based on the students’ individual levels. Group A is the group that needs some extra support. Group B is the core group that has the core knowledge to complete the activity. Group C is the enrichment group who have mastered the material and are prepared to extend their knowledge. Ideally, each group of 3 should have at least one student from Group A, one from Group B, and one from Group C.
- If students are in pairs rather than groups, divide them based on ability as well, pairing those who need support (Group A) with those who have core knowledge and/or have mastered the material (Groups B and C).
- This activity works equally well on the individual level.
- Instruct the students to begin by reading the handout provided and thinking about the content provided. Suggest that they make notes on the paper as needed.
- Once they complete the reading, they should begin to develop a list of pros and cons regarding the size of the House of Representatives.
- If students are working individually, but appear to be struggling with the examples/non-examples, encourage them to talk to their peers and brainstorm.
- Circulate throughout the room as the students complete the worksheets to check for understanding.
- Once the students are finished, use the lists to springboard into a discussion on the House itself. You can use points that the students bring up, or you may wish to discuss:
- The importance of diplomacy (defined as the art of dealing with people in an effective manner). How does diplomacy affect the ability of the House to function?
- How compromise sometimes affects how legislators do their job. Sometimes legislators will agree to support each other to get their
respective bills through -- or agree to oppose someone else’s bill. Is this a good idea?
- What might happen if a bill that the people support also contains a clause that they do not support? Is it better to vote for or against a bill such as that?
Below are two discussion prompts that can be used by teachers in a classroom setting.
- The first discussion prompt will be one that is designed to support students that are not really understanding the content in a way that would help them to answer the test question.
- The second discussion prompt will be one that is designed to further student understanding of the content by making real-world connections, including connections to current events, and historical events.
Having more members in a legislative body has its benefits. It’s far easier to reach a representative who oversees 700,000 constituents than one who has 4 million. However, as the nation grows, there are those who wonder if 435 representatives - a number set in 1911 - is effective.
According to the Constitution, the number of representatives for each state will be determined every 10 years. Changes to a state’s population may result in changes to the number of representatives that state has. However, there is a maximum limit to representatives, as set by the Apportionment Act of 1911. How many representatives are in the House and do you think a cap is a good idea? Why?
In 1911, Congress limited the number of representatives to 435. Do you think that we may need to someday reconsider the limit set by the 1911 act? If so, why? Can you think of real-world situations, either in the present or the past, where it would benefit the people to have more representatives? What about situations where too many representatives may actually be detrimental?