United States House of Representatives facts for kids
Quick facts for kidsUnited States House of Representatives
|118th United States Congress
Seal of the House
Flag of the United States House of Representatives
New session started
|January 3, 2023
|435 voting members
6 non-voting members
218 for a majority
Length of term
|Plurality voting in 46 states
|November 8, 2022
|November 5, 2024
|State legislatures or redistricting commissions, varies by state
|House of Representatives Chamber
United States Capitol
United States of America
The United States House of Representatives is a part of the United States (U.S.) Congress. Congress is the legislature of the U. S. government and makes federal laws. The other part of Congress is the U. S. Senate. There are maximum 435 members in the United States House of Representatives. These members are called U. S. Representatives or just representatives.
The number of representatives from each state depends on the number of people in that state, the population, but there is at least one U. S. representative from each of the 50 states. Every 10 years, the United States Census Bureau counts the population of the United States. States gain or lose Representatives based on the count. The House of Representatives is in one of the two wings in the U.S. Capitol building. The other wing is for the Senate. Sometimes the House of Representatives is informally called the House. The chairman/chairperson in the U.S. House of Representatives is called the Speaker of the House.
According to the U.S. Constitution, all bills about raising revenue, which includes taxes, must start in the House of Representatives. Also, the House of Representatives has the sole power to impeach certain officials, such as the president or federal judges. According to the U.S. Constitution, the House of Representatives can expel, or impeach, one of its representatives by a vote of at least two-thirds of its members.
Membership, qualifications, and apportionment
Under Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution, seats in the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states by population, as determined by the census conducted every ten years. Each state is entitled to at least one representative, however small its population.
The only constitutional rule relating to the size of the House states: "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative." Congress regularly increased the size of the House to account for population growth until it fixed the number of voting House members at 435 in 1911. In 1959, upon the admission of Alaska and Hawaii, the number was temporarily increased to 437 (seating one representative from each of those states without changing existing apportionment), and returned to 435 four years later, after the reapportionment consequent to the 1960 census.
The Constitution does not provide for the representation of the District of Columbia or of territories. The District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are each represented by one non-voting delegate. Puerto Rico elects a resident commissioner, but other than having a four-year term, the resident commissioner's role is identical to the delegates from the other territories. The five delegates and resident commissioner may participate in debates; before 2011, they were also allowed to vote in committees and the Committee of the Whole when their votes would not be decisive.
States entitled to more than one representative are divided into single-member districts. This has been a federal statutory requirement since 1967 pursuant to the act titled An Act For the relief of Doctor Ricardo Vallejo Samala and to provide for congressional redistricting. Before that law, general ticket representation was used by some states.
States typically redraw district boundaries after each census, though they may do so at other times, such as the 2003 Texas redistricting. Each state determines its own district boundaries, either through legislation or through non-partisan panels. "Malapportionment" is unconstitutional and districts must be approximately equal in population (see Wesberry v. Sanders). Additionally, Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits redistricting plans that are intended to, or have the effect of, discriminating against racial or language minority voters. Aside from malapportionment and discrimination against racial or language minorities, federal courts have allowed state legislatures to engage in gerrymandering to benefit political parties or incumbents. In a 1984 case, Davis v. Bandemer, the Supreme Court held that gerrymandered districts could be struck down based on the Equal Protection Clause, but the Court did not articulate a standard for when districts are impermissibly gerrymandered. However, the Court overruled Davis in 2004 in Vieth v. Jubelirer, and Court precedent holds gerrymandering to be a political question. According to calculations made by Burt Neuborne using criteria set forth by the American Political Science Association, about 40 seats, less than 10% of the House membership, are chosen through a genuinely contested electoral process, given partisan gerrymandering.
Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for representatives. Each representative must: (1) be at least twenty-five (25) years old; (2) have been a citizen of the United States for the past seven years; and (3) be (at the time of the election) an inhabitant of the state they represent. Members are not required to live in the districts they represent, but they traditionally do. The age and citizenship qualifications for representatives are less than those for senators. The constitutional requirements of Article I, Section 2 for election to Congress are the maximum requirements that can be imposed on a candidate. Therefore, Article I, Section 5, which permits each House to be the judge of the qualifications of its own members does not permit either House to establish additional qualifications. Likewise a State could not establish additional qualifications. William C. C. Claiborne served in the House below the minimum age of 25.
Disqualification: under the Fourteenth Amendment, a federal or state officer who takes the requisite oath to support the Constitution, but later engages in rebellion or aids the enemies of the United States, is disqualified from becoming a representative. This post–Civil War provision was intended to prevent those who sided with the Confederacy from serving. However, disqualified individuals may serve if they gain the consent of two-thirds of both houses of Congress.
Elections for representatives are held in every even-numbered year, on Election Day the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. Pursuant to the Uniform Congressional District Act, representatives must be elected from single-member districts. After a census is taken (in a year ending in 0), the year ending in 2 is the first year in which elections for U.S. House districts are based on that census (with the Congress based on those districts starting its term on the following January 3). As there is no legislation at the federal level mandating one particular system for elections to the House, systems are set at the state level. As of 2022, first-past-the-post or plurality voting is adopted in 46 states, ranked-choice or instant-runoff voting in two states (Alaska and Maine), and two-round system in two states (Georgia and Mississippi). Elected representatives serve a two-year term, with no term limit.
In most states, major party candidates for each district are nominated in partisan primary elections, typically held in spring to late summer. In some states, the Republican and Democratic parties choose their candidates for each district in their political conventions in spring or early summer, which often use unanimous voice votes to reflect either confidence in the incumbent or the result of bargaining in earlier private discussions. Exceptions can result in so-called floor fights—convention votes by delegates, with outcomes that can be hard to predict. Especially if a convention is closely divided, a losing candidate may contend further by meeting the conditions for a primary election. The courts generally do not consider ballot access rules for independent and third party candidates to be additional qualifications for holding office and no federal statutes regulate ballot access. As a result, the process to gain ballot access varies greatly from state to state, and in the case of a third party in the United States may be affected by results of previous years' elections.
In 1967, Congress passed the Uniform Congressional District Act, which requires all representatives to be elected from single-member-districts. Following the Wesberry v. Sanders decision, Congress was motivated by fears that courts would impose at-large plurality districts on states that did not redistrict to comply with the new mandates for districts roughly equal in population, and Congress also sought to prevent attempts by southern states to use such voting systems to dilute the vote of racial minorities. Several states have used multi-member districts in the past, although only two states (Hawaii and New Mexico) used multi-member districts in 1967. Louisiana is unique in that it holds an all-party primary election on the general Election Day with a subsequent runoff election between the top two finishers (regardless of party) if no candidate received a majority in the primary. The states of Washington and California use a similar (though not identical) system to that used by Louisiana.
Seats vacated during a term are filled through special elections, unless the vacancy occurs closer to the next general election date than a pre-established deadline. The term of a member chosen in a special election usually begins the next day, or as soon as the results are certified.
Historically, many territories have sent non-voting delegates to the House. While their role has fluctuated over the years, today they have many of the same privileges as voting members, have a voice in committees, and can introduce bills on the floor, but cannot vote on the ultimate passage of bills. Presently, the District of Columbia and the five inhabited U.S. territories each elect a delegate. A seventh delegate, representing the Cherokee Nation, has been formally proposed but has not yet been seated. An eighth delegate, representing the Choctaw Nation is guaranteed by treaty but has not yet been proposed. Additionally, some territories may choose to also elect shadow representatives, though these are not official members of the House and are separate individuals from their official delegates.
Representatives and delegates serve for two-year terms, while a resident commissioner (a kind of delegate) serves for four years. A term starts on January 3 following the election in November. The U.S. Constitution requires that vacancies in the House be filled with a special election. The term of the replacement member expires on the date that the original member's would have expired.
The Constitution permits the House to expel a member with a two-thirds vote. In the history of the United States, only six members have been expelled from the House; in 1861, three were removed for supporting the Confederate states' secession: Democrats John Bullock Clark of Missouri, John William Reid of Missouri, and Henry Cornelius Burnett of Kentucky. Democrat Michael Myers of Pennsylvania was expelled after his criminal conviction for accepting bribes in 1980, Democrat James Traficant of Ohio was expelled in 2002 following his conviction for corruption, and Republican George Santos was expelled in 2023 after he was implicated in fraud by both a federal indictment and a House Ethics Committee investigation.
The House also has the power to formally censure or reprimand its members; censure or reprimand of a member requires only a simple majority, and does not remove that member from office.
Comparison to the Senate
As a check on the regional, popular, and rapidly changing politics of the House, the Senate has several distinct powers. For example, the "advice and consent" powers (such as the power to approve treaties and confirm members of the Cabinet) are a sole Senate privilege. The House, however, has the exclusive power to initiate bills for raising revenue, to impeach officials, and to choose the president if a presidential candidate fails to get a majority of the Electoral College votes. Both House and Senate confirmation is now required to fill a vacancy if the vice presidency is vacant, according to the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment. The Senate and House are further differentiated by term lengths and the number of districts represented: the Senate has longer terms of six years, fewer members (currently one hundred, two for each state), and (in all but seven delegations) larger constituencies per member. The Senate is referred to as the "upper" house, and the House of Representatives as the "lower" house.
Like the Senate, the House of Representatives meets in the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. At one end of the chamber of the House is a rostrum from which the speaker, Speaker pro tempore, or (when in the Committee of the Whole) the chair presides. The lower tier of the rostrum is used by clerks and other officials. Members' seats are arranged in the chamber in a semicircular pattern facing the rostrum and are divided by a wide central aisle. By tradition, Democrats sit on the left of the center aisle, while Republicans sit on the right, facing the presiding officer's chair. Sittings are normally held on weekdays; meetings on Saturdays and Sundays are rare. Sittings of the House are generally open to the public; visitors must obtain a House Gallery pass from a congressional office. Sittings are broadcast live on television and have been streamed live on C-SPAN since March 19, 1979, and on HouseLive, the official streaming service operated by the Clerk, since the early 2010s.
The procedure of the House depends not only on the rules, but also on a variety of customs, precedents, and traditions. In many cases, the House waives some of its stricter rules (including time limits on debates) by unanimous consent. A member may block a unanimous consent agreement, but objections are rare. The presiding officer, the speaker of the House enforces the rules of the House, and may warn members who deviate from them. The speaker uses a gavel to maintain order. Legislation to be considered by the House is placed in a box called the hopper.
In one of its first resolutions, the U.S. House of Representatives established the Office of the Sergeant at Arms. In an American tradition adopted from English custom in 1789 by the first speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg of Pennsylvania, the Mace of the United States House of Representatives is used to open all sessions of the House. It is also used during the inaugural ceremonies for all presidents of the United States. For daily sessions of the House, the sergeant at arms carries the mace ahead of the speaker in procession to the rostrum. It is placed on a green marble pedestal to the speaker's right. When the House is in committee, the mace is moved to a pedestal next to the desk of the Sergeant at Arms.
The Constitution provides that a majority of the House constitutes a quorum to do business. Under the rules and customs of the House, a quorum is always assumed present unless a quorum call explicitly demonstrates otherwise. House rules prevent a member from making a point of order that a quorum is not present unless a question is being voted on. The presiding officer does not accept a point of order of no quorum during general debate, or when a question is not before the House.
During debates, a member may speak only if called upon by the presiding officer. The presiding officer decides which members to recognize, and can therefore control the course of debate. All speeches must be addressed to the presiding officer, using the words "Mr. Speaker" or "Madam Speaker". Only the presiding officer may be directly addressed in speeches; other members must be referred to in the third person. In most cases, members do not refer to each other only by name, but also by state, using forms such as "the gentleman from Virginia", "the distinguished gentlewoman from California", or "my distinguished friend from Alabama".
There are 448 permanent seats on the House Floor and four tables, two on each side. These tables are occupied by members of the committee that have brought a bill to the floor for consideration and by the party leadership. Members address the House from microphones at any table or "the well", the area immediately in front of the rostrum.
Passage of legislation
Per the Constitution, the House of Representatives determines the rules according to which it passes legislation. Any of the rules can be changed with each new Congress, but in practice each new session amends a standing set of rules built up over the history of the body in an early resolution published for public inspection. Before legislation reaches the floor of the House, the Rules Committee normally passes a rule to govern debate on that measure (which then must be passed by the full House before it becomes effective). For instance, the committee determines if amendments to the bill are permitted. An "open rule" permits all germane amendments, but a "closed rule" restricts or even prohibits amendment. Debate on a bill is generally restricted to one hour, equally divided between the majority and minority parties. Each side is led during the debate by a "floor manager", who allocates debate time to members who wish to speak. On contentious matters, many members may wish to speak; thus, a member may receive as little as one minute, or even thirty seconds, to make their point.
When debate concludes, the motion is put to a vote. In many cases, the House votes by voice vote; the presiding officer puts the question, and members respond either "yea!" or "aye!" (in favor of the motion) or "nay!" or "no!" (against the motion). The presiding officer then announces the result of the voice vote. A member may, however, challenge the presiding officer's assessment and "request the yeas and nays" or "request a recorded vote". The request may be granted only if it is seconded by one-fifth of the members present. Traditionally, however, members of Congress second requests for recorded votes as a matter of courtesy. Some votes are always recorded, such as those on the annual budget.
A recorded vote may be taken in one of three different ways. One is electronically. Members use a personal identification card to record their votes at 46 voting stations in the chamber. Votes are usually held in this way. A second mode of recorded vote is by teller. Members hand in colored cards to indicate their votes: green for "yea", red for "nay", and orange for "present" (i.e., to abstain). Teller votes are normally held only when electronic voting breaks down. Finally, the House may conduct a roll call vote. The Clerk reads the list of members of the House, each of whom announces their vote when their name is called. This procedure is only used rarely (and usually for ceremonial occasions, such as for the election of a speaker) because of the time consumed by calling over four hundred names.
Voting traditionally lasts for, at most, fifteen minutes, but it may be extended if the leadership needs to "whip" more members into alignment. The 2003 vote on the prescription drug benefit was open for three hours, from 3:00 to 6:00 a.m., to receive four additional votes, three of which were necessary to pass the legislation. The 2005 vote on the Central American Free Trade Agreement was open for one hour, from 11:00 p.m. to midnight. An October 2005 vote on facilitating refinery construction was kept open for forty minutes.
Presiding officers may vote like other members. They may not, however, vote twice in the event of a tie; rather, a tie vote defeats the motion.
Representatives use the prefix "The Honorable" before their names. A member of the House is referred to as a representative, congressman, or congresswoman.
The common abbreviations of "member of congress" are either "MOC" or "MC". A small number of representatives have elected to use the latter, "MC", as a post-nominal after their names, a reflection of the Westminster system's usage of "MP".
Images for kids
United States House of Representatives Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.