LET'S LECTURE: Seat Allocation In The House of Representatives

By: 
Harry Greaves Jr.

There are currently 73 seats in our House of Representatives. The present configuration resulted from the 2010 Electoral Threshold Act. It followed a great deal of negotiating, with the president vetoing the first version of the bill that was passed.

Under our Constitution, electoral districts for seats in the House of Representatives are supposed to be configured in such a way as to ensure that every district has approximately the same size population. The reason for this is so that there is equal representation across the board. The Constitution set a threshold of 20,000 people per electoral district. If seats were apportioned accordingly, Montserrado County would have 56 seats, for example, and Grand Kru County would have 3. There would be 173 seats, 100 more than the 73 we currently have. That's a tall order.

The reason the Constitution stipulates a certain threshold is so that we don't get into a situation where some constituents are over-represented, while others are under-represented. The allocation is supposed to be based on the census that is carried out every 10 years. The last census was done in 2008 by LISGIS. That census showed total population of 3.5 million people, broken down county by county.

The population of Montserrado County was 1.1 million, while that for Grand Kru County was 58,000. With an allocation of 17 seats, each Montserrado County district represents 65,000 people, whereas the 3 seats allocated to Grand Kru mean that each Grand Kru district represents only 29,000. A Montserrado County electoral district requires twice as many people as a Grand Kru district. This is clearly inequitable and a violation of our Constitution.

The Constitution recognizes that population will not be evenly distributed throughout the country, that some counties will have a greater number of people, and therefore more seats in the lower house, than other counties. It compensates by giving all the counties an equal number of seats in the upper house, the Senate. Thus, in the Senate, Grand Kru has 2 senators, the same as Montserrado County. This ensures that every county has the same voice in the Senate.

But let's get back to the House of Representatives. We need to remove the anomaly described above whereby some counties have more seats than they should and others do not have as many seats as they should have. And the way to do that is to return to the Constitution. Now, the 20,000 threshold was set back in the early 1980s when the population of the country was much smaller. A 173-seat House might not be affordable. Therefore, a higher threshold might make more sense. The point is that whatever the threshold, seats should be allocated on that basis, not for other reasons.

A 40,000 threshold, for example, would mean increasing the total number of seats in the House to 87, fourteen more than at present. The counties with large populations----Bong, Grand Bassa, Lofa, Montserrado, Nimba----would get more seats, while the smallest counties----Bomi, Gbarpolu, Grand Kru, River Gee----would lose seats. Others would retain their current allocation. One county, Grand Kru, would be reduced to 1 seat in the House, but it would have 2 seats in the Senate.

That may seem odd, but in the United States Congress, which is the model on which our Legislature is based, there is a similar situation. The State of Montana, which is one the largest states in the US in terms of land mass, has a relatively small population. So, it has only 1 representative in a 435-member House of Representatives but 2 senators. So, there is precedent here.

How, then, do we get from where we are to where we need to be? The answer to that is reform of our election law. The National Elections Commission should take the lead and draft the appropriate legislation for presentation to our Legislature upon their return in January 2016 so a law can be passed to bring about a more equitable distribution of seats in our House of Representatives before the next elections in 2017.

The writer is a certified public accountant and a businessman. He can be reached at (hagreaves49@gmail.com).

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