NY Times Suggests Electing Multiple Members Per Congressional District For “Fairness”

The NY Times editorial board, featuring confirmed racist Sarah Jeong, is on a roll. First, they’re super-enthused to increase the size of the House of Representatives, which hasn’t seen an increase since 1911. They believe that this will totally help with democracy, as 158 seats would be added. On the surface, this seem like a good idea, as it would increase representation for citizens. Seriously, the average district covers 700,000 citizens on average. Yes, this is a big problem. The NYTEB also says this would make districts more competitive

…One main takeaway: it would create a more competitive landscape, with 25 percent of seats qualifying as toss-ups, compared to just 10 percent today. Many states that elect only Republicans today would elect a Democrat or at least become more competitive, and vice versa.

On the surface, this seems like a good idea. Better representation (forgetting that most reps don’t even bother being reps for their district, but for the national party. Hey, maybe that would change?) But, what is the real point behind this?

Third, the size of the House determines the shape of the Electoral College, because a state’s electoral votes are equal to its congressional delegation. This is one of the many reasons the college is an unfair and antiquated mechanism: States that are already underrepresented in Congress have a weaker voice in choosing the president, again violating the principle that each citizen should have an equal vote.

In other words, they want to manufacture a way to make sure that heavily Democrat leaning areas, which tend to be concentrated, can beat out Republican leaning areas, which tend to be more spread out, for presidential elections.

Then we get to part two of their, electing multiple representatives per district

Last Tuesday, Dan Donovan, the Republican congressman from Staten Island, lost his seat to his Democratic opponent, Max Rose. With his defeat, there won’t be a single Republican lawmaker in the nation’s capital speaking for anyone in New York City come January. More than half a million registered Republicans live in the five boroughs, but as far as Congress is concerned, they might as well be invisible.

If that doesn’t spark your outrage, consider the plight of the hundreds of thousands of Arkansas Democrats who can’t elect a representative to Congress, even though they account for more than a third of the state’s voters. (snip)

And yet across America, even sizeable communities of minority-party supporters regularly find themselves locked out of power for a simple reason: Single-member congressional districts. Each of the House’s 435 districts is represented by one person, chosen in a winner-take-all election. It may sound wonky, but in our hyperpolarized, geographically clustered and gerrymandered age, single-member districts have become a threat to the health of America’s representative democracy.

So, how does this work?

Take a look at Massachusetts, which has nine congressional districts. A little more than one-third of the state’s voters vote Republican, so in a perfectly representative system, three of those seats would be held by Republicans. But Massachusetts hasn’t sent a Republican to Congress since 1994, and because Republicans don’t make up a majority in any single district. That’s where multimember districts come in.

According to FairVote, a group that advocates for electoral reforms, the optimal number of members in a district is five, but three works, too. So Massachusetts could divide its nine seats into three districts of three members each. (The district lines would need be redrawn, of course, to comply with the one-person-one-vote requirement, and federal laws like the Voting Rights Act.)

By itself, these new districts wouldn’t solve the problem. Democratic voters would still dominate in every district and prevent any Republicans from being elected. The solution is to elect members through ranked-choice voting, a process in which voters rank listed candidates in order of preference. This sounds complicated in theory, but it works smoothly in practice — ranked-choice voting is already used in cities around the country, and in all statewide races in Maine, without trouble. In multimember districts, each party is allowed to run as many candidates as there are seats, so in the Massachusetts example, voters would get a ballot that included three Democrats, three Republicans, plus a few other candidates from any third parties that were able to field them. Voters would then vote for three candidates, in order of preference.

It might work, but, consider that in California, or Massachusetts, you could make it even harder for Republicans to get elected. And other areas could make it harder for Democrats to get elected.

One more tweak is necessary: Because a successful multimember district is one that fairly represents the different viewpoints in that district, you need to mathematically mandate vote thresholds that will guarantee winners. In a three-member district, each candidate would need to win more than 25 percent to be elected. In a five-member district, the number is more than 17 percent.

Applying this to Massachusetts, and assuming that residents vote in line with past voting, Republicans would be assured of winning one seat in each district, for a total of three of nine congressional seats — roughly the proportion of Republican voters in the state.

On the surface, the whole editorial makes sense (and is worth the read). More representation for each party. Heck, as long as I’ve lived in Raleigh, going back to 1994, I have never had a Republican winning, or, really, even being competitive, in my district.

But, this is the NY Times: what’s their game? You know there’s a game. It’s rare when they run an editorial and their isn’t a left leaning game. Perhaps they are truly serious, and think this would be better for citizens of both parties, and even potentially of third parties. Color me skeptical. They use lots of flowing phrases like “you increase the opportunities for voters to be represented more in line with their numbers in society.” But, there has to be a way in which they’re thinking that this is a way to get more Democrats elected. Haven’t figured out their angle, but, it is there.

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2 Responses to “NY Times Suggests Electing Multiple Members Per Congressional District For “Fairness””

  1. formwiz says:

    You want competitive?

    Abolish the black set-aside Congressional districts of the ’65 Voting Rights Act and make vote fraud a very severely punished crime.

  2. I was listening to something similar on NPR this weekend. It seems that people always this the system is broken when they don’t get the results they want and are fine with it as long as it delivered victory to their side. Most of these ideas fails in several respects, but the most important failure is the lack of any moral authority or foundational governing principle.

    Questions like to have or eliminate an electoral college, or gerrymandering, or set aside districts are all simply means to an end and so are all of the various proposals. No one is suggesting making the system more fair, only that it produces more certain outcomes for their side.

    My personal favorite idea is that each person can cast one vote for every dollar they paid in taxes in the last year, in each district that they paid those taxes. The governing principle is that the people who pay the bills get to decide how to pay the bills and which bills get paid. All political schemes are simply the justification those people in power use to stay in power whether it is hereditary, Mandarin, or election or some hybrid. Our own system of elections produces no better result than monarchy.

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