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