Reapportionment in the United States

Reapportionment in the Legislative Process

The process by which seats in the House of Representatives are re-allocated among the states to ensure that each state’s representation accurately reflects the size of its population. The Constitution requires reapportionment every ten years, following the publication of each United States Census (which obtains an accurate count of each state’s population). States that lose population may lose seats in the House, while states that gain population gain greater representation in Congress.

Another Reapportionment Definition in the Legislative Process

The following is a definition of Reapportionment, by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL): Redrawing legislative district boundaries to provide equality of representation.


Article I of the Constitution directs Congress to reapportion –redistribute–the seats in the House after each decennial census. Article I, Section 2, Clause 3. A decennial census is one taken every ten years. Until a first census could be taken, the Constitution set the size of the House at 65 seats. That many members served in the First and Second Congresses (1789-1793). The census of 1790 showed a national population of 3,929,214 persons; thus, in 1792 Congress increased the number of House seats by 41, to 106.


As the nation’s population grew, and as the number of States increased, so did the size of the House. It went to 142 seats after the census of 1800, to 186 seats 10 years later, and so on. 8 By 1912, following the census of 1910 and the admission of Arizona and New Mexico, the House had grown to 435 seats.

With the census of 1920, Congress found itself in a painfully difficult political position. The House had long since grown too large for effective floor action. To reapportion without adding more seats to the House, however, would mean that some States would have to lose seats if every State were to be represented according to its population.

Congress met the problem by doing nothing. So, despite the Constitution’s command, there was no reapportionment on the basis of the 1920 census.

The Reapportionment Act of 1929

Faced with the 1930 census, Congress avoided repeating its earlier lapse by passing the Reapportionment Act of 1929. That law, still on the books, sets up what is often called an “automatic reapportionment.” It provides:

  • The “permanent” size of the House is 435 members. Of course, that figure is permanent only so long as Congress does not decide to change it. Congress did enlarge the House temporarily in 1959 when Alaska and then Hawaii became States. Today each of the 435 seats in the House represents an average of some 650,000 persons.
  • Following each census, the Census Bureau is to determine the number of seats each State should have.
  • When the Bureau’s plan is ready, the President must send it to Congress.
  • If, within 60 days of receiving it, neither house rejects the Census Bureau’s plan, it becomes effective.


The exact size of the House of Representatives– today, 435 members–is not fixed by the Constitution. Rather, it is set by Congress. The Constitution provides that the total number of seats in the House of Representatives shall be apportioned (distributed) among the States on the basis of their respective populations (Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the text).

Each State is guaranteed at least one seat in the House, no matter what its population. Today, seven States–Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming–have only one representative apiece. The District of Columbia, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and American Samoa each elect a delegate to represent them in the House and Puerto Rico chooses a resident commissioner. Those officials are not, however, full-fledged members of the House of Representatives.

Concept of Reapportionment

In the U.S., in the context of Voting, Campaigns and Elections Reapportionment has the following meaning: A decennial adjustment in the number of congressional seats assigned to each state, based on Census data, with the goal of political equality (one person, one vote) – i.e., in areas where population grows in excess of the growth elsewhere, the number of Congressional seats is increased there to reflect that growth. (Source of this definition of Reapportionment : University of Texas)



See Also

  • Voting
  • Campaigns
  • Elections


See Also

  • Legislative Power
  • Legislative History
  • Legislative Ethics
  • Legislative Session
  • Legislature
  • Legal Aid
  • Legislative Commissions
  • Legislative Branch
  • Legislation
  • Executive Branch
  • Legislative Function

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Reapportionment: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Reapportionment. This part provides references, in relation to Reapportionment, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Reapportionment by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Reapportionment and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Reapportionment or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Reapportionment and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Reapportionment. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Reapportionment should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Reapportionment when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

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