The United States Congress is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. The House of Representatives allows for no more than 435 officials to be divided among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, Northern Marina Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Each of the 50 states is guaranteed two senators regardless of population size. However, neither Washington, D.C. nor the U.S. territories have representation in the Senate.
Officials from the House are commonly referred to as congressmen, congresswomen or representatives. How the 435 seats are split is contingent on the population size of the states, and D.C. and the U.S. territories are allowed one seat apiece.
To illustrate how representation is divided, consider New York: The geographical size of New York is hardly a third of the size of Montana, but New York’s population is 19 times greater than Montana’s. This explains why New York (27 representatives) has far more representatives than does Montana (one representative).
Does it matter how many representatives a state has? Yes, for a few important reasons. The first reason is that if a state has a large population and few representatives, then it is likely that not all constituents are being represented fairly. Similarly, if a state with a small population has a disproportionately large number of representatives, then the state will be overrepresented in Congress. The second reason is that the number of representatives plus the two senators in each state is equal to the number of electoral votes the state has in elections. That is to say, the more representatives a state has, the more influence the state can have on the election outcomes. The U.S. House of Representatives website lists the number of officials in each state.
Depending on a state’s population, officials may be assigned congressional districts. For example, Alaska has only one representative for the entire state, while California is split into 53 congressional districts with one representative speaking on behalf of each district. Officials for specific congressional districts can be found here.
The public elects members of Congress to two-year terms to serve in the House of Representatives. It is important to remember that these elected officials are in place to serve their constituents. Asking government officials to support global poverty reduction bills and other important issues is as simple as emailing or calling Congress. It is a representative’s job to listen, so constituents should make their voices heard.
– Catherine Ticzon