ELECTIONS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Development of the Apportionment Issue in RI

from "Representation FAIR?" published by the League of Women Voters of RI in 1964

One of the oldest political questions, if not the oldest, in Rhode Island is "When will there be reapportionment?" The question has lost none of its timeliness. The issue dates back to the granting of the Royal Charter in 1663. The Charter provided for a lower house with 18 assigned seats: 6 to Newport, and 4 each to Providence, Portsmouth and Warwick. Each new town was to receive two seats upon its establishment. Other than this, however, there was no provision for reapportionment of the lower house, known as the House of Deputies. The upper house consisted of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and one "assistant" from each town. The assistants were elected at-large, so, of course, there was no reapportionment problem.

By 1800 the population of Providence had exceeded that of Newport, and three of the newer towns (Glocester, North and South Kingstown) had populations larger than Portsmouth and Warwick. Early efforts of the groups, eventually to be known as the Dorrites, were devoted to correcting the injustices of malapportionment. Once the issue was combined with that of the extremely restricted suffrage, the monumental effort known as the Dorr Rebellion took place, and the result was that in 1842 Rhode Island adopted its first and only Constitution.*

The Constitution provided for a House and Senate. The House was to be based on population, but a maximum of 72 seats was set (the number already in use) and each town and city was to have a seat. However, no more than the maximum of 1/6 of the seats, or 12 was to go to any one town or city. At that time, Providence already had 1/5 of the population.

With the growth of the industrial areas in the latter half of the 19th century, pressures arose for additional House seats. Finally, in 1909, the maximum number was raised from 72 to 100, and the maximum number for any one city to 1/4. Although this might seem generous on the face of it, it appears otherwise when it is realized that Providence had then over 40% of the population of the state. Under the 1909 Amendment, the General Assembly reapportioned the House in 1923 on the basis of the 1920 census figures. Except for the shift of three seats after the 1930 census, no House reapportionment has taken place since the early 'Twenties. Throughout the 1940's and 1950's there have been efforts to bring about reapportionment, but none has taken place. House apportionment remains, at the beginning of 1964, based on 1930 census figures.

The Senate, on the other hand, has been reapportioned in accordance with the Constitution, in the early 30's, 40's and 60's, by the addition of 7 seats to cities with the necessary number of qualified voters. Since there is no maximum of Senate seats under current provisions, it is not necessary to take a seat from one community in order to give it to another newly entitled to it, as is the case in the House. It will be noted from the attached chart, however, that 24 Senate seats, a majority of the 46, represent but 18% of the population, and that 18 seats, enough to prevent the overriding of a governor's veto (requiring a 3/5 vote) represent but 9% of the population. It is in the House where reapportionment has failed: it is in the Senate where the apportionment system itself is most at fault. (See tables) Editor's note: the complete tables and chart were not included in the reprinting of the article,- only a representative table is included.

*The 1843 Constitution was updated in 1986 incorporating amendments and eliminating all language that had been superseded.

Representation in 1960

City

Population

% of State Pop

# Senate Seats

# House Seats

New Shoreham

486

0.1

1

1

West Greenwich

1,169

0.1

1

1

Little Compton

1,702

0.2

1

1

Charlestown

1,966

.02

1

1

Richmond

1,986

.02

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Foster

2,097

0.2

1

1

Jamestown

2,267

0.3

1

1

Exeter

2,298

0.3

1

1

Glocester

3,397

0.4

1

1

Narragansett

3,444

0.4

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Hopkinton

4,174

0.5

1

1

Scituate

5,210

0.6

1

1

East Greenwich

6,100

0.7

1

1

North Smithfield

7,632

0.9

1

1

Portsmouth

8,251

0.9

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Warren

8,750

1.0

1

1

Burrillville

9,119

1.1

1

1

Smithfield

9,422

1.1

1

1

Tiverton

9,461

1.1

1

1

South Kingston

11,942

1.4

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Middletown

12,675

1.4

1

1

Lincoln

13,551

1.6

1

2

Barrington

13,826

1.6

1

1

Westerly

14,267

1.7

1

2

Bristol

14,570

1.7

1

2

 

 

 

 

 

Coventry

15,432

1,8

1

1

Johnston

17,160

2.0

1

1

North Providence

18,220

2.1

1

1

Cumberland

18,792

2.2

1

2

North Kingstown

18,977

2.2

1

1

 

 

 

 

 

Central Falls

19,858

2.3

1

4

West Warwick

21,414

2.5

1

3

East Providence

41,955

4.9

1

4

Newport

47,049

5.5

1

4

Woonsocket

47,080

5.5

1

8

 

 

 

 

 

Cranston

66,766

7.8

2

5

Warwick

68,504

8.0

2

3

Pawtucket

81,001

9.4

2

10

Providence

207,498

24.1

5

25

 

 

 

 

 

Total Population

859,488

100.0

46

100

 


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