What’s so special about 435?
Most students of American History recall that the US House of Representatives has 435 seats. Why is this the case? Jake Tawney ’00 recently gave an engaging presentation interweaving the history, mathematics, and politics that lead to this particular number that is so important to our democracy. It was surprising to learn that apportionment – the process by which House seats are distributed among voting districts – was always a contentious process dating back to Alexander Hamilton (from a small state) and Thomas Jefferson (from a large state). The issue was never truly resolved, cropping up ever 10 years or so after a census was conducted requiring reapportionment. The number 435 was set during FDR’s term, even though it did not solve all the issues of fairness. In 1983, mathematicians Balinski and Young proved that any apportionment will result in issues of fairness whenever there are three or more states involved! Thanks for the enlightening talk Jake!