Members of the House of Representatives are apportioned among the states according to their populations in the federal census. Every state is entitled to at least one representative. States that are entitled only to one (currently Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming) have a representative at large, i.e., one elected by the whole state. The legislatures of those states entitled to more than one representative have been required since 1842 to divide their states into congressional districts. Representatives are chosen for two-year terms, and the entire body comes up for reelection every two years. A representative must be 25 or older, a U.S. citizen of at least seven years standing, and a resident of the state in which he or she is elected. Although without a vote (except on the committees on which they serve), one resident commissioner from Puerto Rico (elected for a four-year term) and one delegate each from the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands (elected for two-year terms) sit in the House. The presiding officer of the House, the speaker, is elected by the members of the House and may designate any member of the House to act in his absence. In 1910 a revolt against the powerful speaker, Joseph Gurney Cannon, resulted in the transfer of much of the power and influence of that office to the House committees. The reforms of the mid-1970s, however, modified seniority rules and gave committee members and the speaker more powers, and changes introduced in the mid-1990s by the Republicans further reduced the influence of seniority and concentrated more power in the speaker and other members of the majority leadership.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.