What do you think about proportional representation in the US House of Reps?

What do you think about proportional representation in the House of Reps?

Do you think this is a decent overview of how Proportional Representation can alter the pattern of two party politics?
WikiWisdom Overview of Proportional Representation

What would it take to implement this system?
Would this require a constitutional amendment?
Is a proportional representation system good for the US, at least in the house of representatives where it seems the easiest to implement?

In an article in The Atlantic Monthly, August 1992, “A Radical Plan to Change American Politics” (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/congress/lindf.htm), Michael Lind floated the idea that the House might be changed to the multi-member district form of PR by simple legislation, with no constitutional amendment:

As for the likely practical results, Lind speculates later in the same article:

And consider this: In a multiparty, PR-based political system, ideas that are now considered “fringe” ideas will be able to get a fair hearing in the public forum – but they still won’t be enacted as law or policy unless they garner multipartisan support. Consider the following scenarios:

CONGRESSCRITTER A: I’d like to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. How do you think I should go about it?

CONGRESSCRITTER B: You’re joking, right?

CONGRESSCRITTER A: I’d like to introduce a bill to legalize marijuana. How do you think I should go about it?

CONGRESSCRITTER B: Well, the Libertarians will back it for sure, you don’t even have to ask. Ditto with the Greens. The Constitution Party will be dead against it. So will the America First Party, and probably the Populist Party – it’s a moral issue to all of them. The Business Republicans – well, they’ll at least be open to the idea – in fact, the tobacco companies will jump at the chance to branch into a new product; but there’ll be a lot of negotiation on terms and details and age limits. The Social Democrats will be for it if the new marijuana industry is adequately regulated and taxed . . . No guarantees, but it’s got a shot if you push it hard enough . . .
Or substitute your own favorite Issue that Dare Not Speak Its Name – single-payer health care, abolishing Medicare, abolishing the IRS, taxing away all private incomes above $100,000, abolishing NAFTA, expanding NAFTA, paring down the defense establishment, reviving the draft, getting government out of education entirely, death penalty for drug dealing, outlawing organized labor, outlawing non-organized labor, etc., etc. All open for discussion. And no one party in a position to call the shots by itself. The change would not necessarily move the political center of gravity left or right or up or down; it would, however, make public policy a vector sum of more different vectors. My thinking is, insofar as Congress can be regarded as a sort of collective mind of society, a multiparty Congress would be more intelligent than a two-party Congress, even if the members sitting in it were no more intelligent than they are now. Is not an individual who considers all the possibilities before making a decision wiser than a person who immediately reduces all problems to two alternatives?

Ok, so this proves my ignorance on the matter. But your quote referenced this:

And that has enlightened to the fact that individual states are in control of how they elect their representatives? Does this mean that a movement for PR that caught on in a single state, could in fact implement it in that state…even if the entire nation didn’t go along with it?

There was a plan floated a few years ago to divide North Carolina into (I think) three big districts, each electing (I think) a three-member delegation to the H of R by preference voting. It would have been perfectly constitutional; of course, it would have affected South Carolina’s delegation to the House, and no other state’s.

Lind’s proposal also calls for doubling the number of members in the House of Representatives, so even small states can elect multi-member delegations, but also just because he think’s that’s a good idea by itself. When you think about it – there are 600-odd members in the British House of Commons, and that’s a much smaller country, and the system isn’t too cumbersome to work. The more representatives, the more finely representative of the people the House is.

Sorry, of course I meant, it would have affected North Carolina’s delegation and no other state’s.

The problem, of course, is that any state deciding to do this would put itself at a distinct disadvantage. The current system is pretty much self-perpetuating.

This discussion is indicative of the problems voters with minority opinions have. I sure the passion they feel for income redistribution or banning nuclear power plants is real, but there are just not enough people who feel the same way to make their opinions relevant. And if that’s the case, they shouldn’t get any more power than they have now.

:confused: How?

Would you care to defend that proposition in greater depth?

State A has 6 Dems and 6 Pubs.

State B has 2 Dems, 2 Pubs, 1 Green, 1 Lib, 1 NL, 1 Progressive, 1 Socialist, 1 America First

Which state is going to have more clout in Congress, assuming that state B is the only one of the 50 states with PR?

Oops. To make the numbers more neutral, it should have been 5 and 5 for State A.

Certainly, BrainGlutton.

In this country, political power is all about numbers. If you are on the extreme end of a party platform and want to ban SUV’s or tax away all income above a certain level or other such ideologically pure but unworkable ideas, not many people are going to agree with you. Therefore, your ideas will remain part of the “if only people were as smart as we are” school of wishful thinking.

If another party has 48 percent of the seats and wants your four percent to take power, they would agree to some of your demands to get your cooperation. Therefore, policies would be enacted that are supported by less than five percent of the population.

Everybody thinks that they are right when it comes to politics…but the reality is sometimes different. If you can hear the crickets chirping at your rallies, perhaps you aren’t as on track as you think you are with some of your ideas.

The proposed proportional representation described in the Wikiwisdom lists its goal as; “ensuring the validity and power of the minority voices in the country”.

It doesn’t at all appear to be a “solution” for anything.

Here’s a more sensible solution to cure the ills of disproportionate representation (discussed on the boards a ouple of times in the past):

Eliminate the 435 Member Cap for US Representitives that was instituted in 1911.

When that member limit was instituted, each congressman represented 211,000 constituents. Today, each house member represents 668,000 constituents. More than 3x the number of citizens being represented by a static number of representitives.

Using a 210,000:1 ratio, there should be over 1,415 congesspersons serving in the US House of Representitives.

The people’s house has become a private club filled with elist lawyers who have far too much power and very little accountability. Imagine a legislative body with 1,400+ members (as opposed to 435). Almost immediately:

  1. Representitives would be more directly accountable and accessible.
  2. There’d be many more diverse views and members
  3. Building consensus for local projects and other pork would 3x more difficult to pass.

Unfortunately, my assumption is most people would consider a larger representitive body as being synonymous with bigger government.

One thing is pretty certain: if you have PR as compared to one-member districts, then you are more likely to get minor parties elected. But, if you have PR as compared with the present system of electing the House of Representatives, another difference comes into play: the HR gives voters a single non-transferrable vote, which strongly discourages voting for minor parties, because a vote for a vote for a minor party is “wasted”. So a person who might vote Green is told not to waste it, and vote for the Democrats; and on the other side, a person who might vote for the religious right is told not to waste it, and vote for the GOP.

There are many different systems of PR, including party list systems, and a single transferrable vote which does not depend on the existence of parties (that’s the system I’m most familiar with, since it’s used in several legislatures in Australia, including the Australian Senate and the Tasmanian lower house). In some party list systems, you can be said to be wasting your vote if you vote for a very small party, but using a single transferrable vote you can never be said to be wasting your vote, because if you vote for a candidate who cannot be elected, your vote is transferred to the candidate who you next preferred among those still in the running.

Neither of the two major parties in the US is ever likely to bring in PR, because both would lose influence and power to minor parties. The most likely case is if a third party gained the balance of power in Congress, and got one of the two major parties to accept it as part of a deal, but I don’t see that happening in the near future.

(It came in for the Australian Senate to give one party (the Labor Party) a short-term advantage when they knew they were going to lose the election for the lower house in the 1949 election, but wanted to keep control of the upper house for a few more years. But the consequence was that, after those few years of Labor controlling the Senate, neither major party has had a majority in the Senate ever since, and each has had to depend on minor parties to pass legislation.)

(But it’s been different in the Tasmanian lower house: both major parties have had majorities there, and have been able to form a government without depending on a minor party or on an independent – though there have also been times when that house has gone 17-17 with 1 independent, who has had the effective choice of which party forms a government.)

(Note that Australian legislatures are different from US legislatures, and much more like those in Canada and the UK, where the majority party in the lower house decides on who forms a government and becomes Prime Minister or Premier.)

You’re making **really ** big assumption here. Your looking at the effect of our winner-take-all system and assuming that that effect is “right” and somehow validates the system. Circular reasoning, at best. There is nothing inherently “right” about our system. I could easily have been set up differently. The issue is that once it has been set up as it is, it’s next to impossible to change it. That might be good or bad, depending on your perspective.

You are conceptualizing this the wrong way, Evil One. Suppose there were a few hundred people attending a New England direct-democracy town meeting. I and a few likeminded citizens stand up at the meeting and propose something – something relevant to municipal government – that is a very radical fringe idea by the standards of this community. Now, nobody says we have a right to get our way, even if we few are absolutely right on this particular point and everybody else in the whole town is wrong. But the rest of the meeting does have to listen, so long as we speak in turn and in order and in the time alloted by whatever rules of order the meeting uses. And who knows? Maybe if we present our case well enough, we might sway public opinion our way – or part of the way to our way – maybe not at this meeting, but maybe at the next one. In the final analysis, however, nothing is going to get done, no definite change is going to be made, until a majority is persuaded to vote for it. That’s the way deliberative democracy should work.

Now, of course, the U.S. is not a New England village, it is a nation of close to 300 million people. We can’t all get together in a national meeting, or even a state or county meeting. So we elect representatives to meet and discuss public affairs in our stead. That’s called representative democracy. But the representatives are supposed to think, more or less, the same way the people think. One of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention, I forget which one, remarked that the legislature should be “as exact a transcript as possible” of the general public. Another commentator has said that the legislature should be a “miniature portrait” of the electorate. But our winner-take-all single-member-district system produces a legislature that is not a miniature portrait, but a distorted image from a funhouse mirror, with some elements grotesquely exaggerated and others shrunk to invisibility. A change to PR can reduce that distortion.

As a matter of fact, Lind addressed this concern in his 1992 article:

In 1789 the first House of Representatives had sixty-five members, each representing about 30,000 inhabitants (and far fewer qualified voters). Anti-Federalist opponents of the new federal Constitution protested that districts of 30,000 were too large: congressmen would be far too remote from the concerns of their constituents (the constituencies in most state legislatures at the time were much smaller). One of the Federalist papers (No. 55) is devoted to justifying such enormous districts.

Today each of the 435 members of the House represents about twenty times as many voters as the first representatives did. Whereas the United States has, on average, one representative for roughly every 600,000 inhabitants, the ratio in Japan is one to 238,600, in Germany one to 120,000, in France one to 96,300, and in Britain one to 87,500. Obviously, the disparity is due largely to the differences in population between the United States and other Western countries, but the number of representatives also plays a role. The U.S. House of Representatives is small by Western democratic standards. Germany’s newly revised Bundestag has 662 members, the British House of Commons 651 members, France’s National Assembly 577 members, and Japan’s lower house of the Diet 512 members.

There is nothing sacred about 435, the number at which the-House of Representatives has been frozen by law since 1929. In the intervening six decades the United States has more than doubled in population. A vote for a representative, therefore, counts less than half as much in 1992 as it did in 1929–and a twentieth as much as it did in 1792. The weight of a vote will continue to decline: fifty years from now the average congressional district may include 750,000 people. Already, Montana has gone to court to challenge the present apportionment system, which would give the huge state only one congressional seat, representing 800,000 people. What is more, at the rate that the U.S. population is growing, in the foreseeable future a fifth of the states may have only one representative–and a third only two or one.

Clearly, the membership of the House cannot be increased in direct proportion to the population. If the original 30,000-member constituencies had been retained, by today there would be more than 8,000 representatives. (The House would have to meet in a stadium.) Nevertheless, moderate increases in House size can help limit the dilution of democracy caused by population growth. If the experience of other Western democracies is any guide, a 500-member House would not be unmanageable, nor would a 600-member House. The House is not the Senate; it loses its special function as districts grow too large and representatives find themselves ever more remote from their constituencies. If there is an argument against moderate increases in House membership beyond 435, it must be more compelling than mere tradition. Sixty-three years is not time immemorial.


Another problem with our current system is gerrymandering. It has become such a precise science now that incumbents are virtually invincible. In the House, incumbents have about a 98% win rate. Wasn’t the House originally supposed to have a high rate of turnover? Without fresh blood coming in, how can the house accurately reflect the average citizen instead of just being elite washington insiders?

This last post is interesting. Apparently (I don’t have any cite about this, it’s just what I read many times here and there), the rate of reelectionof former incumbents in the US is amazingly high, as compared with other western nations, where during each election to the local parliament, truckloads of former representatives aren’t elected again (usually, the only ones who are more or less guaranteed to be reelected are famous politicians, first because they’re famous, and second because they make sure to run in “safe” districts).

So, how would you explain such a difference? Is there any reason explaining it?
Actually, I realize writing this that I don’t know how representatives are elected in the US. If a state has to elect, say, 5 representants, is it divided in 5 districts, each of them electing one, or is there only one district for the whole state, and if, say, the Republicans win, they get the 5 seats? In the latter case, it could explain in part this high rate of reelection, since it would take the whole state to switch side in order for the incumbents not being reelected (though such things should happen quite frequently…after all, whole nations switch side during national elections), and also because people would then vote for a party, rather than for an individual.

Also, if it works this way, how are chosen the candidates? Are there a kind of “state primaries”? Are they chosen by the parties?