This is Day 2 of “Wish Week.” I am devoting this week to presenting far-out crazy ideas that just might make the world better than it would otherwise be. Yesterday, I proposed creating local clubs that I called “Logic Circles” for the purpose of promoting critical thinking in one’s community.
Today’s wish is for an experiment in proportional representation
I am a scientific-minded person. This means that I do not think in terms of creating wonderful ideas that I then insist must work and then try to get everybody adopt. Instead, I can form a hypothesis that I think might work and suggest that it might be worthwhile to experiment to see if the hypothesis is correct.
Today’s hypothesis is to replace the “one representative/one vote” model of the legislature that is used throughout the world with one in which each representative has as many votes in the legislature as he had votes in the last election.
Let us assume that a state government decides to conduct this experiment with one of its legislative chambers. Furthermore, let us assume that the chamber in question holds 100 representatives – simply because it is a nice round number. The experiment would look like this:
• Legislative districts would be abolished. The legislative election would be a state-wide election without districts.
• All candidates run for the legislature on the same ballot. All names appear on one list.
• Each voter picks one legislator to represent him or her.
• The top 100 vote-getters in the election each get a seat on the legislature.
• Each legislator gets one vote in the legislature for each person who voted for him or her in the election.
To illustrate this, imagine a legislative body with 10 legislators. There is a statewide election. The official tally for all of the votes turns out to be:
Candidate01: 145,456 votes
Candidate02: 128,600 votes
Candidate03: 99,161 votes
Candidate04: 87,254 votes
Candidate05: 86,517 votes
Candidate06: 55,857 votes
Candidate07: 42,982 votes
Candidate08: 40,221 votes
Candidate09: 26,951 votes
Candidate10: 25,821 votes
Candidate11: 24,412 votes
In this election, Candidate01 through Candidate10 have each won a seat in the state legislature. Each candidate enters with the number of votes equal to the number of people who voted for him. Thus, on any measure that Candidate01 votes for, he will cast his full 145,456 votes. If Candidate06 votes against a bill, his vote counts for 55,847 votes.
What Will This Accomplish?
The End of Gerrymandering
First, it will do away with the art of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a process whereby legislators lock up their seats in the legislature and guarantee their re-election by selecting those who get to vote in his campaigns. In an exaggerated form, through gerrymandering, a politician says, “The only people who can vote in my district are those who would vote for me. If you would vote against me, I am going to push you into some other district.”
More importantly, gerrymandering is a procedure whereby a political party can hold on to a majority of the seats in the legislature even though a majority of the population supports the other party. They do this by concentrating the voters for the majority party into a few districts, while designing the rest so that their candidate will win. Ideally, a political party can use gerrymandering to control the government even though as little as 26% of the population supports their position, and the remaining 74% support their opponent.
In this system, there is no gerrymandering. There is one legislative district. Consequently, there is no way for a candidate to manipulate the borders to include only those who support him and squeeze out those who oppose him.
With this system, every vote cast for a candidate does, in fact, count. If I like Candidate 08, and I decide that I am too lazy to go to the polls and cast my vote for Candidate08, this means that Candidate08 has one fewer vote to cast on the floor of the legislature. He is that much weaker as a result of my decision not to vote.
Every Vote Counts
In our current political system, much of what we believe about democracy is a myth. We tell ourselves a long list of lies because we do not wish to see the truth.
I was forced to see the truth a few years ago in Maryland. I went to vote, and my name was not on the roster of registered voters. I was not the only one. I was asked to wait around until they found out what the problem was, but I could not wait. I never got to the polls.
I read what happened in the paper. The Clerk and Recorder’s Office did not select all registered voters when they printed off the list. If I remember correctly, over 200 of us in Prince George’s County might have lost our opportunity to vote because of this mistake. However, the local judge decided that the mistake did not matter, because no ballot initiative failed by less than 200 votes.
In other words, the judge said that those 200 votes did not matter.
The fact is, he was right.
At the start of the day there was a small chance that those 200 votes would matter. However, at the end of the day, we discovered that those 200 votes were irrelevant – the election is as good without them as it would have been with them.
This is a fact about the current system that our culture forces us to suppress. We moan and complain about the fact that voter turnout is low because we refuse to admit to ourselves that those votes really do not matter.
Under this system, each vote does, indeed, count. Those 200 voters would have had a right to pick which legislators would carry their vote, and that would affect how much leverage those legislators had in the legislative body.
Because “every vote counts” would no longer be a myth, but would be fact, I suspect that voter turnout would soar. There would be no argument for staying home because the voter who stayed home would have actually and unmistakably cost the legislator he or she would have voted for some strength in the legislature.
Restructuring of Political Parties
We have two political parties in this country largely because we have a “winner take all” political system. In our system, 51% of the voters get 100% of the political power. Because of this, our society has organized itself into two factions – two Great Alliances – each of which control about 40% of the votes. They fight each other for the 20% of the voters who remain unaligned.
In such a system, it is foolish to have a third party. A third party is a dream come true for the major political party that is furthest away from its political views. The third party will drain votes from the major party that is closest to it. This means that the nearest major party must make a choice. It must move closer to the extreme, abandon the moderate voters, and lose the election; or it must move closer to the opposite party to try to capture more of the middle. Either way, the third party will end up doing more harm than good for the principles they believe in.
We saw represented in the 2000 election where the Green Party gave the election to the candidate that produced the greatest corporate advantage and the greatest environmental destruction of any President in history. Many of them still refuse to admit that their actions helped to produce the current result, and the world would have been a better place on their own terms if they had worked within the Democratic Party in the year 2000 instead of weakening it by pulling out of its Great Alliance.
Now, let us assume instead that a situation like that of the 2000 election were to occur in a statewide race for legislative seats. Al Gore would have become a legislator with the most number of votes. George Bush would have also gotten a seat on the legislature with fewer votes. Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan would have become legislators with their relatively fewer votes. The power structure in the legislature would have actually been a power structure that represented the people.
Also, because every vote counts, we could well have expected that those who voted for Nader or Buchanan, who selected a majority party President only as a “second best option”, would have been able to give their support instead to who they truly thought was the best candidate, without running the risk of handing the government over to who (from their perspective) would have been the worst candidate.
In such a system, there will be third parties, fourth parties, fifth parties, and so on. Voters would actually have the opportunity to vote their convictions, and there will be far less of a need to vote for “the lesser of two evils.”
Of course, this is a benefit only to the degree that one actually thinks that voters can cast intelligent votes when faced with a situation where their votes really do count.
The Case of Legislative Districts
The concept of the Legislative District was popular 200 years ago because of difficulties in communication. The only way that a perspective legislator could talk to the people would be to visit them in person. They would travel on horseback or by carriage.
Later, they would travel by train. However, railroad conductors were reluctant to travel to regions that did not have any railroad tracks.
Now, we have television, radio, telephone, automobiles with roads that go anywhere, and airplanes for long hops. We now live in an age where any candidate can run a state-wide campaign. The old arguments for legislative districts do not apply any more. They provide no objection to having one statewide district.
There would be other programs to work out in such a system. How would a legislature organize itself and make appointments if it could not do so on the basis of political parties? What is the risk of a single charismatic individual gaining a majority of all votes and, thus, gaining the power to dictate the passage of all legislative bills? Do we really want a system where Muslims, Communists, and Atheists each might find representation in the legislature? If not, how can we rig the system so that we can continue to call ourselves a “Democracy” while denying these minority groups any substantive political voice? (Trick question.)