Since 1929, the House of Representatives has stood at 435 voting members for all but four years. As the United States has grown by over 200 million people over this same span of time, the number of people per district has risen at an equally high rate.
With the nation continuing to grow in population each decade, some scholars and voting rights advocates have suggested expanding the size of the House to more accurately reflect population, and one of the most popular ideas for expansion is the Wyoming Rule.
What is the Wyoming Rule
The Wyoming Rule is a method for expanding the house that relies on a simple formula. Rather than fixing the number of House districts at 435, the Wyoming Rule lifts that cap and instead fixes the representative ratio to the population of the nation’s least-populated state. Currently, that state is Wyoming, which has a population of 576,851 people as of the 2020 Census.
The result of this in the current cycle would be the House expanding to a total of 573 districts. No states would lose districts, and the majority of states would actually gain seats. Only the four least populous states (Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Vermont) would have a single at-large House district, and large states would also see a major increase in districts. The net result is that smaller states would gain additional representation while bigger states would gain a higher share of seats; this would likely please both sides.
Wyoming Rule Project
For the purposes of this project, we used a helpful guide from Sabato’s Crystal Ball that features the change in representation per state. Both of these projects were done independently from each other, with the exception of some smaller states with only two districts; all maps were drawn in Dave’s Redistricting App.
Because a mix of election data was used, the exact number of districts each party receives should be considered an estimate rather than a set fact. Some states like Colorado, Florida, and Nebraska saw major shifts from 2016 to 2020 that would likely result in some districts flipping from one party to another.
Eric Cunningham’s Map
With my map, I attempted to meet a few criteria. First and foremost, I aimed to satisfy VRA requirements. This means that states like South Carolina and Mississippi gained additional majority-black districts. Second, I attempted to avoid splitting cities and counties when possible. Finally, I tried to ensure relative partisan parity if the result was off by a large margin from the statewide vote. Despite this, some states like Wisconsin and Georgia have results that are slightly off from the statewide vote; however, Wisconsin has three highly competitive seats and Georgia’s median seat is extremely competitive, so I felt these were acceptable discrepancies. On the whole, this map actually matches the nationwide popular vote almost perfectly.
On the whole, I found the Wyoming Rule provides a more proportional approach to partisanship in most, but not all, states. North Carolina is a great example of this; in a 13 or 14-seat map, it’s hard to not have a mild Republican edge. However, in this 18-seat map, the result becomes a 9-9 split, with a decent number of highly-competitive swing seats. Similarly, states like Idaho, Delaware, and Massachusetts all gain seats that are highly competitive and potentially winnable by the minority party. New York is another example, as a second Republican seat is created in the city that could potentially elect an Orthodox Jewish representative.
Texas is a great example of another benefit: competitive seats. Donald Trump won 26 of 51 seats in this map, but in the Senate race, five of these seats flip to Cornyn. Add onto this the marginally Republican seats and that means a solid chunk of Texas would have highly-competitive seats. Despite this benefit, I’ve found there are some downsides. Smaller districts means that you need more districts, which can actually have the counter-intuitive effect of requiring splitting more communities of interest. This was not an issue in most states, however.
Overall, I think the Wyoming Rule could be a great idea to implement nationally. It would benefit both large and small states and, when paired with gerrymandering reform, could ensure more competitive and proportional redistricting. There are downsides, but overall I think the benefits far outweigh the risks.
Joe Szymanski’s Map
When I decided to start this, I wasn’t expecting to do a project. I was just making these Wyoming Rule Maps as a slight hobby in my off time. But now I get to share them with all of you. My methodology was simple: keeping COIs together, whether that be through race or location and compactness. That does lead to some funky shapes, but none of them are done so maliciously. There are no gerrymanders on this map. My determination to keep racial communities together does have some funky shapes, but they are so to keep those communities together.
States that I think get the most benefits are actually the larger states. It makes gerrymandering much harder to accomplish under the Wyoming rule, as there’s less land to give. Meaning you have to give more areas fair representation. California, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, Florida and Illinois benefit from this greatly. Some smaller states also heavily benefit, specifically Delaware and Idaho. The southern portion of Delaware gets an incredibly competitive congressional district that would be one of the tightest in the nation. And Idaho gets a growing and becoming competitive Boise based seat. It helps those states gain fairer and more competition in its seats, which is in my opinion a crucial and key item in creating fair maps.
Overall, I have come to like the Wyoming rule. It would expand our house without going too big and makes it harder to gerrymander. It also creates more competitive seats, which is a good thing for our house in general. I think it would be smart for our country to consider this move and look to expand the House for the first time in almost a century.