Restoring the U.S. House of Representatives: A Skeptical Look at Current Proposals

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The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,propelled issues of security onto the nationalagenda. One area of debate is the continuity ofgovernment in the event of a cataclysmic attackthat destroys Congress. The Senate can be quicklyreconstituted via the Seventeenth Amendment,but filling House vacancies requires specialelections. The average House vacancy takesfour months to fill.

In this paper, a variety of proposals for thequick reconstitution of the House are examined,and an effort is made to inform this debate fromthe perspective of federalism. Information on theconduct of special elections, the filling of statelegislative vacancies via appointment, and theelectoral success of appointed state legislatorsand appointed senators is presented to inform the prospects for popular control of an appointedHouse. Proposed amendments to theConstitution are then evaluated in terms of theprospects for popular control, efficiency inimplementation, triggering mechanisms, andunintended effects.

The case for a constitutional amendmentconcerning reconstituting the House is weak,especially given the risk of unintended consequencesposed by such a major change.Legislative changes are preferable if action is necessary.In light of the costs of rapid special elections,the questionable benefits of rapidly electingHouse members after a disaster, and the verylow probability that such a disaster will occur,the case for keeping the status quo remainsstrong.

Ronald Keith Gaddie

Ronald Keith Gaddie is a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma and a litigation consultant in redistricting and election law cases. Rowman and Littlefield published his newest book, Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career, in December 2003.