“While America has obviously become more democratic over the centuries. . . we haven’t kept up with innovations around the mechanics of voting.”
“Most democracies. . . use some form of proportional representation to allow multiple points of view to be represented in a legislature according to their strength in the public.”
“In September, more than 200 political scientists sounded these themes in an urgent open letter to Congress: ‘Our arcane, single-member districting process divides, polarizes, and isolates us from each other.’”
WASHINGTON, DC – In case you missed it, yesterday David Montgomery reported in The Washington Post Magazine on the growing momentum behind electoral reform as a way to reduce extreme polarization and protect democracy in America.
Most democracies, as the article explains, “use some form of proportional representation to allow multiple points of view to be represented in a legislature according to their strength in the public.” But the United States still uses single-member districts, which scholars say are a factor that “exacerbate[s] our stalemated dysfunction and may even enable a drift toward authoritarianism.”
The report references the recent letter from 200 scholars of democracy calling on Congress to adopt multi-member districts with proportional representation. America’s single-member districts, they wrote, have “effectively extinguished competitive elections for most Americans, and produced a deeply divided political system that is incapable of responding to changing demands and emerging challenges with necessary legitimacy.”
Fix Our House Co-Founder Lee Drutman was one of several experts interviewed by The Washington Post who spoke in favor of proportional representation and other electoral reforms. We are living in a crisis moment, Drutman said, like those “that happen every now and then in our history, in which it becomes clear that the way we’re doing democracy is undermining liberal democracy. We need to rethink how we do things.”
The full story in The Washington Post can be read here, and excerpts are included below. Read the recent letter from 200 democracy scholars here, and learn more about Fix Our House and proportional representation here.
“The central rite of American democracy — casting a vote — no longer seems to work. Odds are that your vote doesn’t much matter — only 14 percent of all 435 U.S. House races this year are competitive, and just 7 percent are considered toss-ups, according to the Cook Political Report — but the problems run deeper than that. . .
The country is in the grips of a phenomenon that political scientists call “pernicious polarization,” a downward spiral of democratic decay. We are living in one of those crisis moments, Lee Drutman, a senior fellow in political reform at the New America think tank, recently told me, “that happen every now and then in our history, in which it becomes clear that the way we’re doing democracy is undermining liberal democracy. We need to rethink how we do things.” . . .
“While America has obviously become more democratic over the centuries. . . we haven’t kept up with innovations around the mechanics of voting. It’s as if Detroit pioneered the automobile but stopped iterating with the 1955 Oldsmobile, while being lapped by Porsches, Maseratis and Mercedes-Benzes. . .
“Most democracies instead use some form of proportional representation to allow multiple points of view to be represented in a legislature according to their strength in the public. Flavors vary, from Australia and New Zealand to Ireland and Germany. What’s not in doubt, democracy theorists argue, is that certain features of our current system exacerbate our stalemated dysfunction and may even enable a drift toward authoritarianism. It’s no coincidence, they say, that Hungary’s populist strongman, Viktor Orban, and his political party centralized their grip and undermined that country’s democracy in part by instituting some American features, including greater reliance on gerrymandered single-member districts. . .
“It wouldn’t take much to reform our elections and thereby promote a more nuanced politics. There has been no shortage of proposals developed in this vein: from ranked-choice voting, to enlarging the size of the House of Representatives, to scrapping or radically altering primary elections, to placing House members in multi-member districts. None of these ideas would require amending the Constitution, nor have they been co-opted by one side or the other in our fractured political culture. . .
“In September, more than 200 political scientists sounded these themes in an urgent open letter to Congress. 'Our arcane, single-member districting process divides, polarizes, and isolates us from each other,' they wrote as they called for multi-member districts with a proportional-style representation method. . .
[Proportional representation] wouldn’t necessarily favor either party, according to FairVote, with potentially 200 likely Republican seats, 201 likely Democratic seats and 34 swing seats. Few, if any, congressional districts would be represented entirely by one party, according to FairVote’s modeling, because enough supporters of the minority party live in most places to be able to elect at least one member within a multi-member district. . .
“Consider that “[i]n 2020, there were more Trump voters in California than any other state and more Biden voters in Texas than in New York or Illinois,” the scholars wrote in their recent open letter to Congress. “The vast — even overwhelming — majority of Americans don’t fit precisely into the ideology of their single-member congressional representation.” . . .
“Multi-member districts with proportional voting could yield a Republican elected from currently all-blue Massachusetts and a Democrat from deep-red Oklahoma. “What that really does is make sure that every district is getting more than one partisan view represented in its delegation,” says Danielle Allen, a professor of political philosophy at Harvard University who co-chaired the American Academy’s Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship. “When the two caucuses go to their separate rooms, Democrats and Republicans, the whole country geographically would still be there.” . . .
“It breaks the binary psychology that every election is this fearsome, zero-sum, all-or-nothing fight for the soul of the country, in which 50.1 percent could somehow create total power,” [Fix Our House Co-Founder Lee] Drutman told me. “It basically captures this idea, which I think Madison intuitively grasped in Federalist No. 10, that the way to have legitimate political self-governance is to ensure that coalitions are never fixed. . . It means that people are able to make deals with each other in different arrangements.” . .
“Reformers know it will likely take some years before their changes have a chance of becoming law. We’re in an early stage of these ideas, [Yuval] Levin says — the phase “where you just hear serious people talk about this and start to say, ‘Maybe we can do this.’”