Better representation in Congress
October 12, 2022
The election season is upon us. Ahead of your ballot arriving in two-plus weeks, are you contemplating a better voting system? The four candidates for District 10 State Representative positions were asked to get past two person primary elections. Read all their responses on page 8.
We do make changes to our election systems, though slowly, over generations. Until 1865 African Americans could not vote. White women, mostly, gained the vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1919. The passage of the Voting Rights Act universally protected Black voting rights in 1965. In 1971 18-year-olds got the vote.
The United States and Great Britain are nearly alone in their federal election systems of first past the post, winner take all. That is, the person winning the majority of votes wins the election. Almost all of Europe, and in many countries internationally, proportional representation is used, providing for greater inclusivity and participation. But let’s not get bogged down now about this alternative that distributes legislative seats proportionally to the popular vote and more completely rewards citizens for fully participating in the election process.
Focus instead on Congress, the lawmakers needing to change federal voting laws. Over 200 academic political scientists did, sending an open letter in September stating that voting in the United States “is fundamentally broken.” Like the Founding Fathers, they list their grievances: in the “newly redistricted House map, more than 90% of districts are effectively a lock for one of the parties this November. This means that many millions of voters have no meaningful say in general elections, with the overwhelming majority of Congress effectively chosen by low-turnout primaries.”
This explains “why Congress today is so polarized and held hostage by obstructionist politics. Because 90% of House members don’t have to worry about general elections and are beholden only to their district’s small number of primary voters, extreme elements are overrepresented.”
And they point out “In 2020, there were more Trump voters in California than any other state and more Biden voters in Texas than in New York or Illinois.” How about that? Pretty good evidence that way too many of us are left out.
Congress can change voting laws so the U.S. joins “most other advanced democracies in moving to more inclusive, multi-member districts made competitive and responsive by proportional representation.”
Our winner take all system is anachronistic. It has been abandoned by democracies around the world for fairer, more inclusive methods that increase participation. More people are represented by more elected members in countries from Albania to Spain, and beyond.
Where do we start? With an editorial to get people thinking about changing the system defining the way we vote. There is nothing sacred about it. They are sets of rules set generations or decades ago. Voters and the legislature in Washington state have made minor changes in the way we cast ballots but that is how we vote, not the structure of who represents us as voters.
When women gathered in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and called for the vote, that was considered both crazy and impossible. The vote for women was radical, opposed, fought against and took 71 years to pass.
Having more people elected to represent fewer of us means more of our voices are likely to be heard. That is a conversation that, now that it is started, hopefully will continue. One day it can become our reality.