How to Fix Congress: Proportional Vote

Politics

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One of the most uttered complaints among voters is the lack of a third party in American politics. Many people complain that the two-party system is failing us because each party really represents a narrow view of a few select supporters.

It can be solved. And it would take a Constitutional amendment stated something like this:

Members of the House of Representatives shall be elected based on the proportion of vote they or their party receives in their respective state.

All elections at the United States federal level are based on winner-take-all. Even the Electoral College, which was created to prevent direct election of the President by the people, is designed on the winner-take-all principle. Even if a party wins 49.6 percent of the vote in a particular state and their opponent wins 50.4 percent, the prevailing party receives all electoral votes. Ironically, this has lead to some Presidents winning based solely on the electoral vote while losing the overall popular vote. Congressional elections, both House and Senate, are also winner-take-all with the lone candidate receiving the most votes serving the entire district or state.

While in America this is natural, the winner-take-all system is not really equitable because many people end up being represented by someone for whom they did not vote.

Winner-take-all elections favor a two-party system and that leads to parties having to take stances on many different issues. It also forces them to make strange bedfellows. Republicans support hardcore capitalists and they also support evangelical Christians. Democrats back organized labor but also fight to expand immigration.

Giving third, fourth or more parties a seat at the legislative table would give them a chance to show the public that they can be a force in politics. With no party holding a 50 percent majority, they would have to compromise with another party in order to pass legislation.

In all likelihood, the additional parties would be based on the existing factions within the two current parties. What sliver of compromise we see today in Republican and Democratic caucuses would likely play out the same way, except with different monikers.

With the way the Constitution is written, there is no real solution to solve the winner-take-all problem with regards to the President and the Senate. Each represents an entire state or an entire country.

But the House of Representatives however, can be fixed in order to allow new voices a chance to speak in Congress. There is a way to shift the House’s makeup to where most every voter can truly be represented by the person they cast their vote for.

Instead of winner-take-all elections for the House of Representatives, we could pursue a proportional vote. For instance, Texas has 38 representative seats. Instead of giving seats to Republicans or Democrats when they win their district by majority vote, statewide votes could be totaled together and then each party would receive seats proportional to the amount of votes they get. So if Republicans win 65 percent of the vote, Democrats 30 percent and Libertarians 5 percent, then Republicans would receive 25 seats, Democrats would get 11 seats and Libertarians would get two seats.

In some countries, a parliament is usually derived from a national vote in which a party receives a number of seats based on how many votes they received nationally. In the United States however, Congress is divided based on representation in each state. Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution dictates that the House of Representatives should be elected by the state they live.

This notion is not new. There are many American city councils, school districts and other local governments that award seats to candidates based on the number of votes they receive in a wide open election. In said cities and school districts, five candidates can vie for three seats and the three with the most votes win the seats. Because there are three seats, voters are allowed three votes.

This same process can be tweaked to possibly open up the House of Representatives to three or more parties.

Every vote would actually count because it would be tallied with the party’s proportion of vote. In the winner-take-all, a person’s vote means nothing unless their party wins. With proportional representation, it would go towards a party that better represents your ideals.

How exactly would candidates be nominated? Representative candidates could be nominated through a primary process in each district. With the new proportional representation, candidates can still be nominated in primary but through a statewide vote instead of by district. This would eliminate candidates being selected in back room straw votes among party elite. It would give voters a chance to participate in the primary process much like they do now.

Candidates could run in a primary and then be ranked according to the number of votes they receive. The candidate with the most votes would be the leader of that state’s party and would be the first to receive a seat based on the proportion of vote their party gets in the general election. Primary voters can vote for one person in a primary. A candidate would receive a seat in the House if he or she ranked high enough in the primary. For example, if a candidate ranked number 10 after the primary and his party wins 12 seats, they would become a representative. If they rank 15, they don’t.

Candidates who want to run independently without a party could still do so. They can win a seat in Congress so long as they receive enough of the overall vote.

There’s another aspect to the House of Representatives that would essentially be dispensed with a proportional vote: gerrymandering. In this past election, Republicans held on to the House of Representatives despite the fact that nationally, Democrats received the majority of the total vote. That’s because of redistricting. Republicans run the majority of state legislatures, who are charged with drawing Congressional districts every 10 years. It is only now that the districting pendulum has swung their way. Before 1994, Democrats had controlled Congress for more than 40 years using the same redistricting methods now used by Republicans.

If candidates are nominated on a state-wide basis, districts would not matter.

Some might argue that eliminating districts would open up another problem, whereby candidates with more statewide recognition would fare better than local candidates. This is true. It would also be more expensive to campaign because candidates would have to travel throughout the state and buy statewide advertising.

Many people also like having someone local represent them, even if they’re not of the same party. However, nothing in the Constitution currently requires candidates to live in the district they represent. A candidate in Dallas can run for a position in Houston (and such instances have happened).

The proportional vote also would mean nothing in places like Wyoming or Alaska, which has so small a population that they’re only allotted one seat in the House.

A proportional vote would no doubt have some negative effects. Lobbyists would still find a way to get their say. Special interests would still have a politician’s ear. Political strategists would find a way to take advantage of the system. There would be a little electoral chaos in the beginning and it would take possibly years before a third party would gain significant footing in the House.

But the thing is, it would eventually happen. The benefits of allowing other parties into the system would likely outweigh any new issues. Why? Because everyone would be represented and there would no longer be a feeling that your vote doesn’t count for much.

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