The latest attempt at redistricting reform – a constitutional amendment by Voters First on the recent ballot — failed.

We know this loss was disappointing to a lot of Progressives, but maybe not totally surprising.  The proposal was open to criticism (both fair and unfair) that it was complicated and difficult to understand.  Voters may also have been sympathetic to concerns about placing redistricting powers in the hands of judges.

The problem is easy to understand.  Both parties have gerrymandered congressional and legislative districts designed to help win future.  The last election illustrates the problem.  Nationally, Democrats seemingly won a majority of votes, yet ended up without a majority in the House of Representatives.  Here in Ohio, Joe Hallet of the Dispatch put it simply:

In a state where Democrat Barack Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney by more than 100,000 votes in the presidential race, and where Democratic candidates for the Ohio House received 56,000 more votes than their GOP opponents, Republicans now are looking at majorities of 60-39 in the Ohio House, 23-10 in the Ohio Senate and 12-4 in Ohio’s congressional delegation.

(Aside: who says we can’t say nice things about the Dispatch?)

Reform is needed.  One proposal we have heard addresses the problems of the last proposal with radical simplicity.

Congressional and Legislative seats could be apportioned statewide proportionately by party.  In other words, no more districts.  People vote by party.  Elections are statewide.  The parties announce their slate of candidates before the election.  If a party gets 55% of the vote throughout Ohio, the party gets 55% of the Congressional seats or seats in the General Assembly.  For Congress, for example, where there are 16 seats, each party submits a list of 16 names.  If the party wins 50% of the vote, it gets 8 seats and the first 8 people on the list are put in office.

This is permissible.  Nothing in the Constitution requires that Representatives to Congress be assigned by District.

Here in Ohio, geographic diversity could be insured by not allowing a party to have more than one representative from a single county.  Also, Ohio could experiment within this system, by, say, implementing the system for the Ohio House, but retaining the old system for the Ohio Senate.

The benefits of this system are easy to see.  There would be no more fights over congressional and legislative districts.  All areas of the state would be assured of equal representation and participation in truly competitive elections.  Most importantly, elections would actually lead to representation that matches votes.

Two other benefits seem possible.  First, the parties would be encouraged to nominate moderate candidates who can attract the most votes state-wide, as opposed to the most votes in a predominantly one-party district.  Second, third parties (like the Greens or, shudder, the Tea Party) would have an opportunity to compete for votes, and could obtain a voice in the Legislature even if they can’t win more than 50% of the vote anywhere.

Potential downsides include the possibility that party leaders would become much too powerful, and primary fights would become impractical.

This has been done successfully elsewhere.  Most notably, Israel has an electoral system based on nation-wide proportional representation. In Israel, the number of seats a party receives in the Knesset is proportional to the number of votes it received.  Israel uses a qualifying threshold, currently 2%, to try to partly limit fringe parties.

This is similar to a proposal from a group called Fairvote.  (H/T David Wiegel at Slate for bringing this group to our attention.)

The Proportional Vote idea makes some sense – at least enough to consider it some more.  And – this is most important — it is simple enough that it could pass.

Is this better than what we have now?  Certainly, there are benefits and concerns that we are missing?  Would you miss having “your” representative?  Please let us know in the comments.  And please also let us know if you are interested in pursuing this as a real reform.

Evangelize!
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  • Mike Evans

    Certainly our current redistricting process (gerrymandering; closed-door meetings in “the bunker”; backroom deals; etc.) is horrendous. But this proposal would never fly with the voters, primarily because we would be losing “our locally-elected representative” to “one of the representatives on the list”. Would these new representatives be assigned to represent an area of the state, even if they don’t live in that area? If so, how would those areas be determined (we’re back to the question of “how to redistrict?”). If not, who would I call when I have an issue that I want addressed … every single representative, hoping that one of them will take up my cause, even though they feel no obligation to represent me? This plan would also likely result in even greater out-of-state money being poured into our election process, since the politicians wouldn’t have that connection to their local community any longer. This is a bad proposal for Ohio.

  • mrgavel

    I think that Mr. Evans correctly points out some problems with this idea. I can also think of another one and that is basically the cost of running state-wide campaigns would be tremendous, much more than they would be in a district based system. Although an upside would be that each party would have a reason to try to get as many voters as possible to the polls.

    A better idea might be to simply require that redistricting be done with a 80% majority on the reapportionment board. Right now, for General Assembly, the Board I believe is composed of the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Auditor, and the majority and minority leader of each House of the Assembly. This means that the Rs have six votes on the board and the Ds have two votes, or, in percentage breakdowns, a 75/25 split, which is the most lopsided it can be. By changing the majority requirement to 80%, the majority party would have to get at least one minority vote to create districts. Thus, the majority party could not completely cut out the minority party.

    Such a change would be much easier to explain and would take a lot less space on the ballot. You would be essentially changing only one or two parts of the state constitution. Much harder to demonize in political ads.

  • danngoingdown

    interestingly enough, federal law allows for a variation of this type of election for congressional seats if the state legislature has not acted to redraw the congressional districts after a census, all candidates run at large statewide. this type of at large election has not been used in the united staes since the ealry 1960s, though.

    there is serious question about whether or not that old federal law originally passed at the turn of the 19th century is still viable given the subsequent passage of the voting rights act, which does actually dictate that distrticts must be drawn a certain way if certain conditions are met. there is no case law on this conflict though because all states that can have drawn districts for along time now

    so yeah, this type of proposal, which really is a variation on a parliamentary election in other countries, would likely be in violation of feeral law and would damage african american minorities in the state

    outside o fhte box thinking thoug

  • xx

    I think this opens the door to allocating the electoral college votes proportionally, which I am against.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740014081 Paula Garfield

    Dont like it because it states if repub or t party etc gets 55percent of votes then the 1st 6-8 repubs get in? So they r groupn them? So, in a similar situation, NO districts, ‘grouping?” that could backfire big time…I say u list a team of Repubs/Dems etc…equally running for counties, but no districts: gerry mandered but Counties. They run and whomever wins the specific county, wins…Its quite clear that the POLITICIANS are using the redistrictn in their, each others benefit for personal gain. The candidates for Rep/Senator on Repub Tparty side u never see. They manipulate votes, throwing some out, making certain groups vote provisional because the DEM early voting notices n locations to vote were misaddressed….not the Repubs JUST the Dems, right Cuyohoga? We need fair elections with no voter supression, allowing the citizens to vote. We need REAL people in office. Real Dems who represent the people and Im sure repubs want reps who represent them n not the big corps. We also need to change for example: whatever the legislators laws or bills that they pass, they TOO must follow, no exemptions, no exceptions, they are not above the law. There health care must line up with what they pass, their retirement age, the same, total number of years> same, We need LEGISLATOR REFORM…they need to get evaluated with 50 percent coming based on “progress ” meeting the needs of the constituents they serve. . They must be accountable for they are representing and leading/our state for the best interest of the people. . If they are attackn citizens, greasing palms of corps, and clearly are not making any improvement, or gains for the people of Ohio, , then they should be evaluated , . The people should have or state should have some kind of “check” so that “dirty tricks are not played n corruption, deceipt, and theft of the peoples money . I always thought a perfect world would have equal number of reps/senators from each state, and a “regular” citizen which would serve 2 years of their life to watch over Congress. If the Repubs r so concerned about “overspending, budgets and cost, we seriously need to look at their pay, benefits, pension, hours worked per week, month, in relationship to their pay. If they deem it necessary to hold the public hostage over the pipeline, entitlements to our elderly, n jealth care, THEN WE SERIOUSLY NEED TO EVALUATE THEIR PAY< ETC…They r suppose to b lookn out for what best serves the people, not the billion dollar corps who have made the biggest profits in history as they steal from our elserly, veterans, and citizens. This isnt rocket science!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740014081 Paula Garfield

    the repubs will rig, find loop holes, manipulate …we MUST VOTE THEM ALL OUT IN 2014. Or put Real people in their that actually represent repubs…take thepower n control from corps, limit campaign money for both sides. to 1million each period… the amount of money spent on the elections couldve put every American back to work…lol…Icould u imagine the jobs? But to throw millions away…on nothn…air time, full of lies..Thats another thing…no lies must have facts, proof and not just slander and make up lies..without proof.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=740014081 Paula Garfield

    WHAT would prevent what happened with SB 5? and legislators replaced, if didnt vote in way Kasich wanted. or locked out people to do what they want, Ohio/Now Michigan….i say u gotta vote for every one…list by name and each one voted on individually …period…lol..chuckling…here these legislators r creating laws to make illegal things legal, n yet they r suppose to b professional,legislators..n yet they spend more time creating schemes…if theyd only apply the time/money n energy on whats best for we the people…In 2014, gonna b real clear what the people think is best…VOTE THEM OUT…

  • http://twitter.com/BruceMcF Bruce McFarling

    The door is already open to allocating the electoral college votes proportionally. It is also open to allocating the two Senate electoral college votes statewide and the sixteen House electoral college votes proportionally.

  • http://twitter.com/BruceMcF Bruce McFarling

    Except there are no longer any VRA mandated majority-minority districts in the state. There was previously one in the Cleveland area, but with loss of population share, that is no longer the case.

  • http://twitter.com/BruceMcF Bruce McFarling

    I would flip the suggestion ~ rather then the State House of Representatives, have it in the State Senate, so that just like the US Senate races, the Ohio Senate races cannot be gerrymandered.

    16 State Senators elected alongside the Governor, with a quota of 1/17th of the vote plus 1, 17 in the Presidential year election, with a quota of 1/18th of the vote plus 1.

    Each party puts up a party list, up to the number of seats in the Senate. Voters vote for the person they want. The party gets a share of the seats at stake in proportion to their share of the vote, with the candidates selected in order of their vote.

    You could say at most one per county, but under that system, the parties will include substantial geographic diversity, otherwise they lose seats.

    In order to avoid granting excessive power to minor parties, most European systems have a threshold for election in proportional elections ~ 5% is a common threshold.

  • mrgavel

    The change that I outlined above would be done through a constitutional amendment and therefore wouldn’t be subject to such tactics.

  • danngoingdown

    wrong, the new cleveland-akron district is majority-minority. check the stats

  • Jane

    How do I get involved in redistricting reform. I now see the severe danger in not having it. This stalemate is all about this issue at heart. You don’t have to do the will of the people anymore.

  • Jane

    To be clear, I want a system that fosters having to be a moderate to be elected not an extremist of any caliber.

  • Noah Kennedy

    I feel the same way- you could start following handsoffredistricting.net. Take a look at youtube.com/watch?v=xwE5twJj4Kw

  • Noah Kennedy

    Your idea is not too dissimilar from what they do in Germany and it works pretty well. One advantage is that it is conducive to multiple parties and makes political debate multi-dimensional instead of binary.

    But, as I referenced below, there are a lot of ways to have actual districts that are fairly drawn if it is treated as a simple geometry problem. Dems and Reps should have no involvement AT ALL in drawing district boundaries!

    Take a look at handsoffredistricting.net or on youtube at youtube.com/watch?v=xwE5twJj4Kw

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