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.
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.