Vote NO on Proposition 77;
Say "Yes" to real electoral reform
Proposition 77 -- the measure on the November ballot that would change the way
legislative district boundaries are drawn -- isn't real election reform. The Peace
and Freedom Party opposes it. But at least it gives us an opportunity to talk about
what real reform would look like.
We don't need a different way of drawing boundaries around single-member districts.
We need multi-member districts and proportional representation.
Proportional representation means majority rule combined with representation of
minority groups and political parties roughly proportional to their size. A party
supported by 60 per cent of the population should have 60 per cent of the seats
in legislative bodies. A group representing 10 per cent of the voters should have
10 per cent of the seats.
It's that simple, but the United States and many other countries continue to elect
their legislative bodies by a different method -- one that almost guarantees that
minority points of view are not adequately represented. It is called
"winner-take-all", because there is only one winner in each legislative
district. The winner frequently gets less than a majority of the votes.
Winner-take-all voting in single-member districts is one of the main props holding
up the two-party system. This method of electing representatives generally means
that only two candidates have a real chance of winning. Over time, both public
opinion and the politicians are forced into one of two broad coalition -- Republicans
and Democrats -- neither of which offers voters a coherent philosophy.
The political map that people see shows only part of the terrain.
Even without the gerrymandering that the backers of Prop 77 claim they want to
eliminate, winner-take-all elections also lead to safe seats and entrenched
incumbents. In districts where voters are more evenly divided and elections are
closer, the winners represent the views of fewer constituents. Winner-take-all
makes competition and representation a zero-sum game.
There are a several ways to elect state legislatures and Congressional delegations
that represent nearly all voters, not just those who vote for a single plurality
winner. All rely on electing at least some legislators from multi-member districts.
Ways to do it
In one form of proportional representation, voters choose candidates from party
lists, and each party wins seats in proportion to its share of the total vote.
In another, voters choose both a candidate to represent a small single-member
district and a statewide or national party list. Enough candidates are elected
from each party list to ensure overall proportionality. In a third method,
voters rank individual candidates in large districts that elect from 5 to 9
members each. The rankings are used to maximize the number of voters who help
elect one of the winners and insure that minorities get their fair share of
All of these methods do more than ensure minority representation. They also
reduce or eliminate the possibility of gerrymandering, make elections more
competitive, and reduce pork barrel politics.
The Peace and Freedom Party has not taken a position favoring one method of
proportional representation over the others. Each has different strengths and
weaknesses. But all are far better than the winner-take-all formula that is
standard in the United States.