America’s Rotten Boroughs

On October 7, 2007, in General, by Neil Stevens

“The county of Yorkshire, which contains near a million souls, sends two county members; and so does the county of Rutland which contains not a hundredth part of that number. The town of Old Sarum, which contains not three houses, sends two members; and the town of Manchester, which contains upwards of sixty thousand souls, is not admitted to send any. Is there any principle in these things?”

So asked Thomas Paine in Rights of Man, and while I would disagree with the central premise of that work, I believe we all can see the problem with having a legislative body meant to represent the people having such gross inequities in its representative apportionment.

So why, now, do we continue policies that are creating rotten boroughs in our own United States?

We’re a ways from the worst of England’s old rotten boroughs, such as Old Sarum, in which seven voters elected two members of the House of Commons, but illegal immigration is creating inequities that run counter to our one man, one vote principle. Compare these results from the election of 2006:

DistrictWinnerTotal Votes
California 46 (Rancho Palos Verdes, Huntington Beach)R+22.9195,052
California 8 (San Francisco)D+69.6184,639
California 45 (my own; Riverside, Palm Springs)R+21.4164,251
California 27 (San Fernando Valley)D+37.6134,724
California 34 (Los Angeles)D+53.674,818
California 31 (Los Angeles)D+10064,952

We may as well call the House of Representatives the new Senate, if the number of voters getting to choose members of Congress is any guide. Despite the fact that we had a large number of ballot measures and statewide elections at stake, with Barbara Boxer and Arnold Schwarzenegger seeking re-election, some ostensibly equally sized districts saw only a third of the voters that others saw.

Why does Xavier Becerra (D-California 31) get the same vote as Dana Rohrabacher (R-California 46)? The answer is clear: illegal aliens in Los Angeles have created a district where the US Citizens in that state get far more influence on the Congress, than those areas with more legal residents. This trend will continue, too, affecting not just districting but Congressional apportionment. Says MediaNews’s

Congressional seats have been migrating South and West for decades, as a result of the Sunbelt’s rapid population growth. But the new report by a University of Connecticut demographer is an early take on how the nation’s growing population of illegal immigrants would amplify that trend when seats in the House of Representatives are next divided up. It could foreshadow a partisan political fight over the results of the 2010 Census. While illegal immigrants can’t vote, the report says their growing numbers are affecting the nation’s political balance because they are counted in the once-a-decade Census. That population tally determines how seats in the House of Representatives are split among the states and is also used to distribute more than $180 billion in federal aid each year.

The Connecticut report predicts that California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and New Jersey will gain seats in Congress after the next Census because of their illegal immigrant populations. Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, and Ohio will each lose a seat because they have relatively few undocumented immigrants. New York, which would lose two seats under the current system, would lose only one seat if illegal immigrants were excluded.

If the numbers above don’t disturb you, consider these numbers from other state, ones without an illegal alien invasion in progress:

DistrictWinnerTotal Votes
Iowa 1D+11.9207,478
Iowa 3D+5.4223,082
Massachusetts 4D+76.6215,101
Utah 1R+30.6178,474

If Barney Frank’s district can turn out the voters, despite the fact that the district and the state were not in any doubt for much of anything, then I’m forced to conclude that there’s only one reason for California 31 to be the way it is. Our lax immigration law enforcement, when combined with our apportionment and districting rules in this country, is creating systemic inequalities in the House of Representatives. It’s time we fixed them.


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