Votes That Count…

Vox recently had a provocative article advocating “proportional voting,” and claiming that the institution of such a voting system would solve two of America’s thorniest political problems: partisan polarization and the number of “wasted” votes.

A bit of background: we currently have an electoral system in which–as the article says– your vote is far more likely to shape Congress if you live in Des Moines than if you live in San Francisco.(Rural votes also count more than urban ones for President, thanks to the Electoral College.) The system thus undermines accountability and vastly increases polarization.

Polarization is often described in terms of red states and blue states, but it is a significant problem at the Congressional-district level across all the states. It’s also a more complex story than is usually suggested: Gerrymandering, or the partisan redrawing of district lines — a frequent object of complaint on the left —- has undoubtedly helped make some districts more unshakably Republican. (Democrats play the gerrymandering game, too, but they have had less opportunity.)

This polarization could be addressed by moving more liberal city-dwellers to more rural areas of the country, or ridding ourselves of the Electoral College–remedies that will be instituted right after hell freezes and pigs fly.

On the other hand, we might be able to pass the Fair Representation Actintroduced by Democratic Representative Don Beyer of Virginia. If passed, that Act would change our current voting system to one of proportional representation.

Whatever the causes of polarization, there is a relatively straightforward solution to our current predicament that has been embraced by most advanced industrial democracies: proportional representation. There are many versions of this approach, but they all involve some way of electing multiple people, at once, to represent a region. In a proportional system, parties representing as little as 1 percent of the electorate can gain representation, though the most stable systems usually have a threshold percentage level to prevent truly marginal parties from gaining seats. The regions can be as large as an entire nation — but even when they are smaller they tend to be larger than the 435 tiny US congressional districts, each of which is run according to the “winner take all” principle.

Under a proportional system, if you want to live in a big, liberal city in a liberal state, you don’t give up the chance to make a difference with your vote. There is also very little possibility for consequential gerrymandering in proportional representation systems, since districts tend to be so big that there’s not much to gain from alternative line-drawings.

Proponents of this approach point out that it makes third parties more viable, which means that more parties are competing for voters. They also note that because voters feel that their votes actually matter, proportional representation systems tend to have higher voter turnout.

The problem this proposal aims to cure is very real: thanks to residential “sorting” and gerrymandering, in today’s America only about one in 20 of us lives in a place that is likely to have a competitive House election.

The reality of the problem is one thing; whether proportional voting–or multi-member districts–is the right solution is another. In my state, we moved away from multi-member districts in order to increase accountability; at the time, the argument was that larger districts and multiple representatives attenuated the relationship between representatives and those they served.

I’m not sure what changes are most likely to be effective, let alone able to be adopted. I do know that America is no longer either a democracy or a republic. We can’t go on much longer with a “system” this dysfunctional, and “band-aid” prescriptions are unlikely to be effective.

What to do?


  1. The largest obstacle to the Fair Representation Act going into effect, is not the states. The Supreme Court must find it Constitutional. All it would take is one or two more Gorsuch-like appointees which is highly likely in this political environment and it would be declared unconstitutional.

    Aside from the 4 liberal justices on the court, there is only one other that perhaps would be receptive to the Fair Representation Act: Anthony Kennedy. When he’s gone or Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires the SC will be locked into the right wing for the next two generations.

  2. Sheila: “….America is no longer either a democracy or a republic.”

    “What to do?”

    There’s only one thing we can do and you just did it. Admit to the REAL TRUTH.

  3. “…..The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent [or President] to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.”

    “On Bullshit” Harry G. Frankfort, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Princeton University (Princeton University Press, Princeton and Oxford (2005) p. 64

  4. Wouldn’t repealing the Electoral College (a ridiculous idea at it’s inception) resolve “partisan polarization and the number of “wasted” votes”? Could this be at the basis of many who believe “my vote doesn’t count”? However many (or few) millions of the popular votes for Hillary Clinton obviously did not count in the 2016 election. So much for “democracy” in our voting system.

  5. One of my great fears is that the right wing will get enough states to sign up for a constitutional convention and make that a reality. Those originalists who revere the Constitution will lay waste to the basic tenets of our republic and set up a “Christian” nation, where they get to decide who is Christian enough.

    I don’t know if proportional representation is the answer, but that bill has no chance of passing until Dems control both houses and the Presidency. Republicans are smart enough never to do anything against their interests, like repealing and replacing Obamacare. They made a big show of it, but breathed a sigh of relief when they couldn’t get it done.

  6. The statement “All men are created equal” sounds good, but isn’t realistically true. People may disagree but it’s impossible for ALL of us to be equal.

    Robert Heinlein had A good idea, ‘service equals citizenship’. Not limited to military service, either. Similar in concept to the Universal Training Act, c. 1950?
    This Could work. A college degree= 1 vote. Military service or Peace Corps = 1 vote. Combat service? An extra vote along with the one for serving.

    So these, along with the lone vote already granted at age 18 may well be decisive in an election, and would certainly negate any fellow voter whose lone accomplishment in life thus far is respirating. And the rationale of giving the combat veteran an extra vote is that he/she would be more influential in the vetting of any candidate who would be in a position to send troops downrange.

  7. Simply stated, nothing positive can possibly happen unless we go DEEPER than the deep state and “tackle” the underlying and controlling OLIGARCHIC SYSTEM. Long ago, around 50 years ago there were two systems, one for Whites which could be called the STATUS QUO or DEMOCRACY and one for Blacks called Jim Crow or FASCISM. Because of the pressure of the Civil Rights Movement, the oligarchy, like the Bush family and the Koch family [who operate much like the organized crime families], in the late 60’s, gave up on democracy and now after 50 years of two steps forward and one backward we have our own “Made in the U.S.” brand of FASCISM.

    Like any other malignancy, if you don’t face up to the diagnosis you will, eventually die PREMATURELY. The problem is much greater than just our LUNATIC PRESIDENT.

    See “Democracy in a Revolutionary Era” by Professor Harvey Wheeler (Frederick A. Praeger, Publishers, New York and London, 1968)

  8. Much like the total eclipse of the sun by the moon which some us will be able to view in a few days, the same scenario is happening politically: OUR DEMOCRACY IS BEING TOTALLY ECLIPSED BY FASCISM.

    No doubt our beloved STATUTE OF LIBERTY will, eventually, have to fall or be disassembled.

  9. Once again, thank you Marv for summing up the hard realities that we currently face and that large swaths of the population of this country are oblivious to. Time is short for any semblance of a proper fix and those that are running this show are counting on us to further embrace the future they have laid out for us. We have to fight this with all we’ve got if this nation is going to survive. The impact of this creeping crud goes far beyond our borders as you no doubt know since the whole world is watching and we are currently scaring our friends and allies out of their wits. Any hope of maintaining any sense of global stability where this nation remains safe rides on what we do whether we like it or realize it or not.

  10. Sheila’s blog is no longer showing up on my Facebook page anymore. Is anyone else having that problem?

  11. Nancy–and others: I have had a number of other regular readers report the same thing, and other websites and blogs are having the same experience. Facebook evidently changed its algorithm, and readership immediately fell significantly. I don’t know what, if anything, can be done about it. My son (and webmaster) is researching the problem; in the meantime, you can subscribe to the blog itself (that will get you a daily email with a link to the blog) and I hope everyone who likes a particular post will post it to their own Facebook page.

    It is very frustrating.

  12. In the end, Adolph Hitler was suicidal. He led his country to ruin. They all were forced to be suicidal just like him.

    Can someone please tell me that Donald Trump has any better traits? Or are we like the Germans, all destined to be labeled SUICIDAL? Take a look at what’s happening at UVA today.

    Forget the problem of the missles aimed our way for a moment. The Jews in Nazi Germany were less than 1% of the population. What happened when Germany took on more than the Jew like, for example, the Soviet Union? It appears they were a little bit more trouble than the Jews.

    Bannon, Trump and Pence are betting on the African-Americans and Latinos eventually turning on the Jews. They’re NUTS. It’ll never happen. This same strategy was attempted in Dallas during the battle for 1 man, 1 vote in the late 80’s and early 90’s. It failed.

    These jerks aren’t even aware of the defeat in Dallas. They’re too ignorant and impotent to try anything different. God save us all.

  13. In conclusion, If I had to choose, I would take my chances with General George Custer before he entered into the “Little Bighorn” before I would ever follow this “Great Imposter.”

    im-pos-ter (im pas’ter) n. [see impose] one who deceives or cheats others by pretending to be what he or she is not

    ~Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fourth Edition

  14. Speaking of flying pigs, forget proportional voting – ain’t gonna happen, in words of the street. As to Trump and Kim, both narcissists in dire need of attention and adulation, nothing is going to happen. Kim heads the anti-U.S. brigade and Trump is playing his fear card to up his approval numbers. War would destroy adulation, so it won’t happen. The better answer to today’s topic, even though it too could amount to a mere interim band-aid, is to attempt to destroy gerrymandering. The decennial fix set forth in the Constitution apparently did not contemplate gerrymandering, so maybe there is a way to continue to have the count but with a legislative no-no to how it is conducted that would pass Supreme Court muster. With the right conceptual wings, maybe pigs can fly.

  15. Meanwhile, at The University of Virginia in Charlottesville, there is a massive demonstration pitting the far right against the left. Social media is filled with Live Feed broadcasts of this demonstration. I will note that our local Indianapolis television stations are posting the Live Feeds; however, they are saying that Audio is not available. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Audio is available from Virginia local television and media outlets. Indy television has blocked the audio.

    For Live Feed including Audio, go to this link…

  16. There is only one course I see: One person One vote. If you live in the district you should be on the voting rolls. We need to do away with ‘election committees’ locally and nationally – and open the primary up to third party. NO electoral college which has been outdated since forever and used by every presidential candidate since it was initiated in the 1830’s(? if I am remembering off the top of my head correctly…) but like you say WHEN hell freezes over and pigs fly!… I personally think we are had! until we overthrow the present ‘regime’ and reinstitute a simile of Democracy. ~8)

  17. @Manuel, after reading your post, I’m reminded of the tenured classroom teacher who’d stick with his/her lesson plan for the day rather than acknowledge the space ship filled with little green people who were disembarking their alien vessel on the school playground. Manuel, wake up and look around on a daily basis.

  18. Thank you for answering this about FaceBook, Shelia, and for your clear-eyed commentary. I always learn.

  19. BSH, we note that the powers in VA., both Democrat and Republican, (and the Va. Bar Association) are fighting to make sure the Libertarian candidate for Gov. will not be on the governor’s debate, moderated by PBS, so one might ask how serious “protesters” really are. My understanding is that Libertarians have produced good quality candidates with 8% of the votes SO FAR and must be blocked before any real chance to influence the vote is possible. Isn’t that the cause to REALLY start protesting about?

  20. @ Mike:
    The drafters, primarily Thomas Jefferson, and the other signers of The Declaration of Independence knew that “all men [aren’t literally and figuratively ] created equal.” This is demonstrated by the fact that Jefferson and others of the signers owned slaves, who they certainly didn’t see or treat as equals. And also, of course, at the time women weren’t seen as being “equals” to men either under the law or opportunities.

    The point of their Declaration of all men being created equal, or perhaps the aspiration, which was derived from the European Enlightenment movement, was that all men in this country should be treated as equal under the law and have equal opportunities to fulfill whatever natural potential they were born with and possess — except, of course, for women and Negro slaves.

    That aspiration or goal of equality under the law and for opportunity, of course, has never been achieved, although at times this Country has come closer to achieving it than most countries ever have. But whatever is left of the aspiration for equality under the law and for equality of opportunity for all is currently under full throttle attack in this Country.

  21. Strife, division, disorganization, conflict, confusion and now injuries and death can all be laid at the feet of DJT, the “winner” of the 2016 vote via the electoral college. I think there is a special rung in hell reserved for folks who do that kind of thing. He’s shredding this country. Hate will NOT make America great again. We’re already great, but just look at us now. Who among us will work for change and pretty darn soon?

  22. Betty – Trump is reaping what he has sown and is now in an impossible situation, since David Duke has criticized him, rightly pointing out that Trump was elected by white Americans, some of whom openly paraded in Virginia brandishing Nazi flags along with their anti-Jewish blather, a reminder that Hitler is dead but that his bigotry persists among the disaffected and the politicians who prey on such anti-democratic views.

  23. As usual, everything I have read here helps me put things in perspective. However, the fear that some/many of us have inside us now is very real and I see no end to it soon. The events in Virginia are not at all surprising to me and will continue. What increases my anxiety on a daily basis is that the religious extremists now in charge are exactly what many rational citizens have fought against seemingly forever. (And for good reason) The very clever planning of both rallies and the upcoming “Trump” cable news show are so similar to Hitler’s successful propaganda machine I shudder. I am beginning to believe there is some truth to his obsession of Hitler. Never more have I hoped I was completely wrong about something. I pray that I am now. Again, thanks to all of you.

Comments are closed.