Government & Law

Proportional Representation – A Necessary Part of the Cure?

March 25, 2019

Let’s start with a definition.  Wikipedia defines Proportional Representation as: “Proportional representation (PR) characterizes electoral systems in which divisions in an electorate are reflected proportionately in the elected body. If n% of the electorate support a particular political party, then roughly n% of seats will be won by that party. The essence of such systems is that all votes contribute to the result – not just a plurality, or a bare majority. The most prevalent forms of proportional representation all require the use of multiple-member voting districts (also called super-districts), as it is not possible to fill a single seat in a proportional manner. In fact, the implementations of PR that achieve the highest levels of proportionality tend to include districts with large numbers of seats.

We currently face an environment of extreme political polarization.  Politics has become combat, with a goal of winning any any cost and little to no interest in compromise.  We are seeing increasing efforts to deny the vote to large segments of the electorate, mostly non-white minorities and the poor, segments more likely to vote against the interests of the far right and the financial elite.  We also are experiencing extreme gerrymandering to minimize the impact of minority votes.  The result of such activity was apparent in the recent 2016 election, and the 2018 election to a lesser degree.  In 2016 the Democrats won 48% of the popular vote but only 45% of the House of Representatives seats.  In the 2018 election the Republicans won less then 45% of the popular vote but maintained control of 46% of the seats.

Our democracy is built on a 2 party concept.  Given our voting practices, rules and procedures it is incredibly difficult for a third, minority, party to become established.  But as a representative democracy w need to give a voice to all.  While a minority is unlikely to rule the day, their voice in debate can only strengthen the quality of the outcome, for the health of the democracy and the benefit of the entire Nation.  Absent a 3rd party, independent representatives are the best strategy.  As the 2 political parties become ever more extreme in their views and less likely to compromise, independent politicians/representatives are the best alternative to represent the political middle, the moderate views.  So the challenge becomes one of ensuring that the political playing field is accommodative to independent candidates.  This is where proportional representation, as defined above, becomes critical.  We must start the discussion and debate for super districts – districts with at least 3 representative – where each voter can vote for 3 (or the total number of representatives in the district) and the top vote getters win the seats.  The change will not be easy.  The first step is clear however, we must inject the topic into all of our political discussions and debates.  It is not a new concept.  We have data on how it works for others.  Let’s talk it up!

Photo by Roger Blackwell

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