How Much Do YOU Care About Election Reform?

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Our election system is broken: 85% of US House Representatives come from “Safe Districts” where they are unlikely to have a significant challenger. 82% of House Representatives and Senators are male. The result? Only 10% of eligible voters aged 18-24 in CA voted in the last election.

That’s right, 90% of young CA voters didn’t vote in the 2014 mid-term electionThe biggest reason for this is youth disenfranchisement with a divisive and dysfunctional system. While there are certainly many reasons for why the system isn’t working – can we really expect things to change if we keep electing the same people? That would meet Einstein’s definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome.

The good news is that there are reforms that promise to make elections more representational. The bad news is understanding exactly how they work is difficult.

The idea behind the Single Transferable Vote system, proposed by FairVote.org, is to combine the existing congressional districts into larger “super districts,” elect multiple representatives from each district, and allow your vote to “transfer” to a second or third place candidate if your first choice is eliminated. Sound complex? This video does a great job of explaining it:

If nothing else, consider the outcomes. Our current system allows the largest social group to pick the candidate of their choice over and over again in each district, denying smaller groups representation. Under Single Transferable Vote, more candidates are elected from a larger area and each social group is more likely to be represented.

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Under the current “winner take all” system, groups with even a slight majority win elections in many districts.

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Single Transferable Vote would solve this problem by allowing multiple representatives from larger districts.

The Bay Area is actually a poster child for Rank Choice Voting, which is the half of the Single Transferable Vote system that lets you rank candidates from most to least favorite. FairVote.org touts that Rank Choice Voting nearly eliminated negative attack ads in districts that had them. The reason it eliminates attack ads is that candidates want to appeal to voters for a second or third place vote, not alienate them by saying horrible things about their first choice candidate.

When you throw in the concept of Multi-Member Super Districts, the second part of the Single Transferable Vote equation, you get more even representation of gender and ethnicity FairVote claims.

Voters in Berkeley CA use a Rank Choice Ballot to select their Mayor. Oakland, San Leandro, San Francisco and Berkeley are 4 Bay Area cities that currently use rank choice voting.

Voters in Berkeley CA use a Rank Choice Ballot to select their Mayor. Oakland, San Leandro, San Francisco and Berkeley are 4 Bay Area cities that currently use rank choice voting.

So what’s the drawback? Mostly the seeming complexity and terminology (if you haven’t noticed). It’s hard for people to become avid supporters of something they barely understand, even if at the heart of it, the goal is simple: elected officials that are truly representative of their populations.

What’s next for election reform advocates? 1) More passage of rank choice voting at the local level – preferably in the major metropolitan areas of Southern California. Passing it for Santa Cruz County would also be a win. Whether you supported or opposed them, plastic bag bans, medical marijuana and gay marriage have all proven the power of local reforms in shifting the national dialogue and cultural acceptance:

Should the County of Santa Cruz Adopt Rank Choice Voting for Electing Officials?

Rank Choice Voting allows voters to select their 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice candidate for any office.

 

2) A national election reform package that includes a Constitutional Right to Vote and Multi-member Super Districts, the other half of Single Transferable Vote. The because the Supreme Court currently outlaws multi-member districts, due to abuse during the civil rights era. At that time, states that had multi-member districts were also allowing multiple-votes. For example, your district has 5 representatives and you get to cast a vote for each seat/representative. This system lets the majority select every seat and led to the disenfranchisement of minorities. That’s why the Supreme Court banned the practice in 1967.

Reverting this decision and allowing Multi-Member Super Districts with single-vote could be part of a national reform effort that included adding a Constitutional Right to Vote. You hear me right, there is currently NO part of the Constitution that gives US citizens the inherent right to vote. Explicitly including it with the Bill of Rights would mandate the federal and state government to make it as easy as possible for people to exercise their rights and could lead to further reforms such as mandating all states allow same day voter registration and advanced voting by mail without an explicit reason.

Should the US Supreme Court Allow Multi-Member Congressional Districts?

Proponents argue that multi-member districts more fairly represent their constituents than single-member districts.

Should an Explicit Right to Vote be Added to the US Constitution?

Currently no part of the Constitution gives US citizens an unalienable right to vote.

 

Do you care enough about election reform to take up the gauntlet? Or are you too confused to act? Just remember, if you don’t think elections are worth saving, your grandchildren will almost certainly agree with you.

2 Comments

  1. Lee Mortimer says:

    The Supreme Court did not “outlaw” multimember districts for the U.S. House. Congress itself passed the statute in 1967 that requires all states to elect their House members from single-member districts. All that’s needed to have multimember congressional districts would be for Congress to repeal the 1967 statute. Single-member districts were not mandated until 1842, and that statute was changed several times between 1842 and 1967, allowing multimember districts to be used.

    Ranked choice voting will likely remain an active consideration for local elections where the complications of ranking and transferring votes are limited to a single election jurisdiction. The problem comes when RCV has to be integrated cross multiple jurisdictions and voting equipment types. Computers can be programmed to do practically anything. The question is will dozens of autonomous election administrations within each state agree to spend what’s required to retrofit their equipment to accommodate RCV?

    And even if they do, will politicians who are looking for any excuse possible to avoid upending the system that protects them in office mandate local jurisdictions to implement RCV? Or, if the locals want RCV, will state legislatures willingly allocate the resources to make it happen? Until then, simpler methods that require no change to existing voting equipment are at the only realistic avenue for reforming legislative and congressional elections. Those might include limited voting, cumulative voting, or a mixed-member system such as used in Germany, New Zealand and the Scottish and Welsh regional parliaments.

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