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Proportional? It Depends

How the Mathematics of House Committee Assignments Favor the Party in Power


Rules adopted by House Republicans two decades ago – and affirmed by Democrats this year – are intended to prevent the majority party from stacking committees with its own members. The rules are intended to promote fair play and ensure the minority party will receive committee seats in roughly the same proportion as its overall representation in the 100-member chamber.

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But with fewer seats on committees, exact proportionality is often impossible. This is where rounding matters. Current rules favor the majority party by allowing them to round up the number of seats they hold in committees when proportionality yields a fractional number.

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The effects of rounding are even more pronounced for smaller bodies. The current rules give Democrats a 2-to-1 advantage on a six-member subcommittee.

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Note: Rule 16(a) of the House Rules describes the apportionment of committee and subcommittee seats.

Source: Virginia Legislative Information System.

Feb. 3, 2020