House of Representatives Term and Election

Size and Terms

     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.

     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.

    Article I, Section 2, Clause 1 of the Constitu­tion provides that "Representatives shall be ... chosen every second Year"-that is, for two-year terms. This rather short term means that, for House members, the next election is always just around the corner. That fact tends to make them pay close attention to "the folks back home."

     There is no constitutional limit on the number of terms any member of Congress may serve. In the 1990s, people tried to persuade Congress to offer a constitutional amendment to limit con­gressional terms. Most versions of such an amendment would put a three- or four-term limit (six or eight years) on service in the House and a two-term limit (twelve years) for the Senate.

Congressional Elections

According to the Constitution, any person whom a State allows to vote for members of "the most numerous Branch" of its own legis­lature is qualified to vote in congressional elections-


     Congressional elections are held on the same day in every State. Since 1872 Congress has required that those elections be held on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November of each even-numbered -year. Congress has made an exception for Alaska, which may hold its elec­tion in October. To date, however, Alaskans have chosen to use the November date.

In that same 1872 law, Congress directed that representatives be chosen by written or printed ballots. The use of voting machines was approved in 1899. Today, well over half of all the votes cast in congressional elections are cast on some type of voting machine.