“For a place as diverse as Los Angeles, proportional representation could result in a City Council that is more reflective of the city and its interests.”
“A group of prominent political scientists wrote a letter. . . urging Congress to abandon the current electoral system for House races after the midterm elections this fall.”
“They noted that the current winner-take-all scheme—an inevitable feature of single-member legislative districts—has played a significant role in America’s current political malaise and that existing reforms have done little to address the underlying problem.”
WASHINGTON, DC – In case you missed it, Matt Ford recently reported in The New Republic on the Los Angeles City Council corruption scandal and how proportional representation would remove the perverse incentives that made it possible. The article points to last month’s letter from more than 200 scholars of democracy calling on Congress to end single-member districts, showing the way for Congress – and local governments like the Los Angeles City Council – to become more fair and representative.
“If you tried to invent a fictional scandal to make the case for abolishing single-member districts,” Ford writes, “you would be hard pressed to outdo the real scandal that is now consuming Los Angeles and its political elite.” A year-old audio recording of a conversation between council members revealed cynical attempts to gerrymander districts in their favor, at the expense of racial groups that the council members derided in the recording.
As The New Republic points out, corrupt politicians handpicking their voters through gerrymandering is only possible with single-member districts. With multi-member districts and proportional representation, every group in Los Angeles would win seats in proportion to its share of the vote. As the recent scholar letter to Congress said, “At the level of narrow, winner-take-all districts, only the majority opinion gets represented and we appear divided between fully Democratic and fully Republican districts. . . The vast—even overwhelming—majority of Americans don’t fit precisely into the ideology of their single-member congressional representation."
The full article in The New Republic is available here, and excerpts are included below. Read last month’s letter from 200 democracy scholars here, and learn more about Fix Our House and proportional representation here.
“If you tried to invent a fictional scandal to make the case for abolishing single-member districts, you would be hard pressed to outdo the real scandal that is now consuming Los Angeles and its political elite. . .
“[A] certain amount of factional strife is inevitable in any political group, and the necessity of redrawing single-member districts will produce perverse incentives for those in power to maintain it. . .
“[L]eaving the single-member district system intact wouldn’t necessarily produce more open or competitive races. . .
“Angelenos could instead consider replacing the single-member district system with one that runs on proportional representation. As its name suggests, this means that each electoral group or party receives a number of seats that is proportional to its share of the vote. This system has multiple benefits, as I’ve noted before, including ensuring that every citizen’s vote is actually reflected in the final makeup of a legislative body. . .
“In an interesting coincidence, a group of prominent political scientists wrote a letter this week urging Congress to abandon the current electoral system for House races after the midterm elections this fall. They noted that the current winner-take-all scheme—an inevitable feature of single-member legislative districts—has played a significant role in America’s current political malaise and that existing reforms have done little to address the underlying problem. . .
“As the country has sorted geographically, with Democrats concentrating in cities and Republicans in rural areas, it is often impossible to draw competitive single-member districts that offer any semblance of geographic continuity and that keep communities of interest together,” the political scientists explained. “In fact, maps drawn by nonpartisan commissions in this redistricting cycle had just as few highly competitive districts as those drawn by politicians. . .
“Another advantage of proportional representation is that it results in legislative bodies that better reflect diverse communities. . .
“For a place as diverse as Los Angeles, proportional representation could result in a City Council that is more reflective of the city and its interests. At the very least, it would save L.A. from its current single-member district system and all the corrupt incentives that come with letting lawmakers choose the voters and communities that they represent instead of the other way around. One need not take reformers for their word on the flaws in the status quo. The Los Angeles City Council members on the recording have done that more effectively and eloquently than any reformer ever could.”