The Quota Rule in Apportionment in Politics

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  • 0:01 Introduction to the Quota Rule
  • 1:38 Calculating Quotas
  • 3:53 Quota Rule Determination
  • 4:33 Example
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Maria Airth

Maria has a Doctorate of Education and over 20 years of experience teaching psychology and math related courses at the university level.

The quota rule refers to the strict use of calculated quotas in apportionment. If a method of apportionment allows a state to have more (or fewer) seats than its quotas determine, then the method is said to be in violation of the quota rule.

Introduction to the Quota Rule

When talking about state representation in Congress, the quota rule refers to a method of apportioning voting seats that relies on upper and lower quotas. This seems really complicated, but if we break it down a bit, it becomes easier to understand. Apportionment is literally the portion of representatives each state receives. Can you see how the word 'portion' is right there inside apportionment? That makes it really easy to remember.

So, we are really just talking about portioning out representatives. Why is that important? Well, let's look at this family having a dinner:

This family consists of members of different ages.
picture of family members of different ages

Their ages range from really small children through teens and adults. There is a limited amount of food to go around, so how should they decide how much food each person gets? Should they all get an equal amount?

It seems obvious that the smallest children would not need as much food as the teenagers and adults. And, honestly, the adults probably don't need as much as the teenagers do, either.

So, would it be fair to give the teenagers the largest portions, the adults' portions slightly smaller and the younger children the smallest portions instead of equal shares for all? Yes, that would probably be fair.

That is also how the House of Representatives apportions out its voting seats to the states. However, instead of age, populations are used to determine each state's proper portion of seats in the House; that is their quota.

Calculating Quotas

Obviously, the most important thing about the quota rule is finding out the actual quota of seats each state should be apportioned. To do this, first we need to find the standard divisor.

To get the standard divisor (or SD), you divide the country's total population by the number of seats available.

Consider the U.S.A. We would take the total population (which is about 319 million) and divide by the number of seats in the House, which is 435. This gives us an SD of around 733,333.

The standard quota (SQ) sets the actual number of voting representatives for each state by dividing the state's population by the SD.

To really illustrate how apportionment uses population, let's look at two states that are about the same size geographically, but drastically different in population: Florida and Idaho.

Assuming a population of 19.89 million for Florida, what is the state's quota?

SQ = 19890000/733333 = 27.1227

Well, the state quota, based on what we've just learned, is the state's population divided by the standard divisor, which would come out to about 27.12. Whereas, for Idaho there is only a population of 1.64 million, giving an SQ of only 2.24, rounded up.

You can see how much population size impacts standard quotas when you compare these two states.

But, did you notice that neither of these standard quotas is a whole number? A state could not send a fraction of a person to Congress, so how do they determine an actual number of representatives?

You might round the number down. That would be called its lower quota.

Or, you could round the number up, finding the state's upper quota.

Each method of apportionment deals with this issue differently. If you are interested in finding out how each does it, please review the other lessons in this chapter.

Quota Rule Determination

Determining if the quota rule has been violated is actually quite easy. If any state is apportioned fewer seats than its lower quota, or more seats than its upper quota, then the quota rule has been violated.

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