Copyright
Social Science Courses / Course / Chapter

Reapportionment and Redistricting for Congressional Districts

Shannon Scotece, Jennifer Williams
  • Author
    Shannon Scotece

    Shannon has taught at the college level for over 13 years. They have a PhD in Political Science from the University at Albany- State University of New York and a Masters in Instructional Design from Western Governors University.

  • Instructor
    Jennifer Williams

    Jennifer has taught various courses in U.S. Government, Criminal Law, Business, Public Administration and Ethics and has an MPA and a JD.

How is the House of Representatives apportioned? See the reapportionment definition, the redistricting definition, and learn congressional reapportionment. Updated: 10/06/2021

Reapportionment Definition

Reapportionment is the process of allocating seats in the House of Representatives to the states after each census. Reapportionment occurs in the House of Representatives because it has proportional representation, which means as a state's population increases relative to other states, so does its number of representatives. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution describes reapportionment: "Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective numbers." While the Constitution does not mention how many total representatives should be in the House, Congress passed the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 to set the number at 435, so there are currently 435 House seats that are apportioned to the states.

Representatives in the House serve congressional districts. Each state is divided up into districts that must be approximately equal in population so that representatives are representing about the same number of people. The reapportionment process determines the number of representatives given to each state and, therefore, how many congressional districts they will have. For example, Kansas has four representatives serving four congressional districts, while the state of Virginia (which has a bigger population) has eleven representatives and eleven congressional districts. If there is only one representative, such as in the state of Wyoming, the whole state is the representative's district.

The system of representation in the House was the result of the Great Compromise, which came about during the Constitutional Convention in 1787. The Constitutional Convention was called to fix the problems with the Articles of Confederation, America's first constitution, which gave most government powers to the states. Instead, the Virginia Plan was introduced, which called for the Articles of Confederation to be replaced by a stronger national government. The Virginia Plan said this government would include a bicameral Congress (meaning two chambers) and representatives would be assigned based on a state's population. The larger, more populous states, such as Virginia, would have more representatives in the legislature. The smaller states, however, did not want to be overpowered by the larger states, so they introduced a different proposal called the New Jersey Plan. This plan created a unicameral Congress with one chamber and equal representation for each state. After some debate, a deal was reached called the Great Compromise (also called the Connecticut Compromise). The Great Compromise established a bicameral Congress with two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives would have proportional representation, which was from the Virginia Plan, and the Senate would have equal representation , which was from the New Jersey Plan.

Due to the Great Compromise, the process of reapportionment only affects the House since the number of Senators will always be the same for each state. If a state sees faster growth in population than other states, it could acquire a new representative in the House. If a state sees slower growth or a decrease in population, it may lose a representative. The Constitution states that each state must have at least one representative and that the number of representatives for every 30,000 people shall not be more than one. One way to think about reapportionment is to picture dividing pieces of birthday cake among children: while everyone gets at least one piece, the older kids are bigger, so it is fair that they get more pieces of cake, while the younger kids are smaller and receive less cake. In the House of Representatives, the idea is that the states with more people should have more representatives and influence in Congress. The Senate balances things out because in it, the smaller, less populous states have just as much say as the larger states.

To allocate representatives, the Constitution mandates the enumeration of the U.S. population every ten years, which is counted through a Decennial Census. The Census Bureau calculates the results of the census and then gives this information to the President, who must provide a report to the Clerk of the House of Representatives. The Clerk then notifies the governor of each state how many representatives they will receive. This data is used to apportion the 435 representatives, as well as draw legislative districts, determine the Electoral Votes for each state, and allocate federal funds. The states encourage their residents to participate in the census, and many people remember receiving mail, phone calls, or even personal visits from census workers about completing the forms.

The method used to apportion representatives fairly among the states is called the Equal Proportions Method, which was set by law in 1941. The Census Bureau explains the rationale of using this approach, saying that the "goal of the Method of Equal Proportions is to minimize the relative (or percentage) differences in representation (the number of people per representative) among the states." After each state gets its constitutionally-mandated one representative, the Equal Proportions Method is then used to calculate how many of the 385 remaining seats are allocated to each state.

Reapportionment Example

Below is a map of the 2020 reapportionment results, showing which states are seeing an increase or decrease in their number of seats in the House. California is losing a representative for the first time, going from 53 representatives down to 52, while the state of Texas has seen such population growth, it is gaining two representatives (increasing from 36 representatives to 38).


The Makeup of Congress

The United States Congress is the national federal legislative body of the United States of America. The main job of Congress is to make the laws for the United States that affect our everyday lives and protect our rights! There are individuals in the House of Representatives that come from each of the 50 states. It is the job of each state to determine the boundaries of each congressional district, or geographical areas within the state of approximately equal population.

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Party Nomination to Congress: Process to Become a Candidate

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 The Makeup of Congress
  • 0:40 Apportionment
  • 2:06 Redistricting
  • 3:14 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Speed Speed

This map shows the results of the 2020 reapportionment process

Map of 202 Reapportionment results

Redistricting Definition

Once again, a congressional district is the portion of a state that is served by a representative in the House. Redistricting is the re-drawing of the district boundary lines within a state. It occurs when a state experiences an increase or decrease in its number of representatives and must add or remove a district (or districts). It often follows reapportionment, but can also happen when a state has to alter the boundary lines so that the districts are balanced in terms of population. Generally, it is the state legislatures that draw the district maps, but some states use commissions to create the maps or provide a "backup" plan if the state government cannot come to an agreement.

Along with requiring districts to be equal in population, states often have other standards for district maps, including compactness (the district lines should encompass voters living near each other in the same area of a state), continuous borders that connect, and that counties, cities, and towns are kept intact.

Here is a map of the congressional districts for the state of Colorado. While this map shows seven districts, after the 2020 census and reapportionment, Colorado will be gaining a representative and will need to draw in a new 8th district.


Apportionment

The number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives has been set at 435 members since 1912. Each state is apportioned, or allocated a number of seats in Congress in accordance with how big its population is. At the very least, each state is given one seat. This is dictated by the United States Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3. This apportionment is done pursuant to a statutory formula that has been changed several times since the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

A decennial census, a census taken every ten years, determines how many seats the state will have. After the results of this census are determined, the districts will be reapportioned according to what the population of the state is at the time. Then, the number of representatives will be determined.

Most recently, the formula used to determine the apportionment of seats is the method of equal proportions. This formula uses the state's population divided by the geometric mean of that state's current number of seats and the next seat and then allocates the remainders amongst the states in a way that provides the smallest relative difference between any pair of states in the population of a district and in the number of people per representative. The Clerk of the House of Representatives then will notify each state government the number of seats they now have.

Redistricting

After the number of seats in each state has been reapportioned, the process of redistricting begins and each state will then determine what the boundaries of congressional districts are. The goal is to make each district approximately equal. In some states, a bipartisan committee is set up in order to draw these districts. The committee tries to keep communities all within the same district and to prevent political advantage by one candidate over another.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Video Transcript

The Makeup of Congress

The United States Congress is the national federal legislative body of the United States of America. The main job of Congress is to make the laws for the United States that affect our everyday lives and protect our rights! There are individuals in the House of Representatives that come from each of the 50 states. It is the job of each state to determine the boundaries of each congressional district, or geographical areas within the state of approximately equal population.

Apportionment

The number of members in the U.S. House of Representatives has been set at 435 members since 1912. Each state is apportioned, or allocated a number of seats in Congress in accordance with how big its population is. At the very least, each state is given one seat. This is dictated by the United States Constitution in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 3. This apportionment is done pursuant to a statutory formula that has been changed several times since the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

A decennial census, a census taken every ten years, determines how many seats the state will have. After the results of this census are determined, the districts will be reapportioned according to what the population of the state is at the time. Then, the number of representatives will be determined.

Most recently, the formula used to determine the apportionment of seats is the method of equal proportions. This formula uses the state's population divided by the geometric mean of that state's current number of seats and the next seat and then allocates the remainders amongst the states in a way that provides the smallest relative difference between any pair of states in the population of a district and in the number of people per representative. The Clerk of the House of Representatives then will notify each state government the number of seats they now have.

Redistricting

After the number of seats in each state has been reapportioned, the process of redistricting begins and each state will then determine what the boundaries of congressional districts are. The goal is to make each district approximately equal. In some states, a bipartisan committee is set up in order to draw these districts. The committee tries to keep communities all within the same district and to prevent political advantage by one candidate over another.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Frequently Asked Questions

What is government redistricting?

Government redistricting is the process of re-drawing the boundary lines of congressional (or state legislative) districts in a state. This process is usually carried out by state governments.

What does Reaportioned mean?

After each census, the 435 seats in the House of Representatives are reapportioned to the states based on population changes.

What is the purpose of reapportionment?

The purpose of reapportionment is to allocate the 435 seats in the House of Representatives based on population changes in each state.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Resources created by teachers for teachers

Over 30,000 video lessons & teaching resources‐all in one place.
Video lessons
Quizzes & Worksheets
Classroom Integration
Lesson Plans

I would definitely recommend Study.com to my colleagues. It’s like a teacher waved a magic wand and did the work for me. I feel like it’s a lifeline.

Jennifer B.
Teacher
Jennifer B.
Create an account to start this course today
Used by over 30 million students worldwide
Create an account