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Should all Voters be Represented in the Legislature?
Warning: Polemic Article!
Do you think that you should be represented in your legislature? You might reply that you would like to be represented in the legislature, but since this is a democracy your candidate has to win an election first! On the other hand, if 40 percent of the voters fail to gain ANY representation in a legislature; then can laws enacted by that legislature possibly represent the will of the majority of the voting citizens? The majority of the representatives elected to the legislature does not reflect the will of the majority of the voters. Forty percent of the electorate have no representation in the legislature.
This flaw in single member district elections for legislatures has been widely understood since 1860. Proportional representation, an electoral system that uses multi-member districts, is the most widely used solution to this problem.
The case for proportional representation is fundamentally the same as that for representative democracy. Only if an assembly represents the full diversity of opinion within a nation can its decisions be regarded as the decisions of the nation itself.
Note: The phrase "proportional representation" does not refer to some theoretical form of representation. Most of the worlds democracies use some form of proportional representation in at least one of their national legislatures.
Examples of Proportional Elections:
Democratic Republic of Brazil
British EU election
Advocates of proportional voting systems propose that the legislature should be more like a mirror of the population, with majority and minority viewpoints represented. Proportional representation advocates still believe in majority rule, because proportional systems accurately translate the popular vote into representation. The candidates or parties with the greatest support should obtain the largest share of seats in a legislature. If the representation in the legislature is not proportional to the voting population, then the laws will not have a democratic foundation.
If you would like to know how proportional representation works,
the following links will get you started.
The Case for Proportional Representation,
by Robert Richie and Steven Hill
"Proportional representation (PR) is based on the principle that any group of like-minded voters should win legislative seats in proportion to its share of the popular vote. Whereas the winner-take-all principle awards 100 percent of the representation to a 50.1 percent majority, PR allows voters in a minority to win their fair share of representation."
"How does this work? A typical winner-take-all system divides voters into "one-seat districts," represented by one person. With PR, voters in a constituency instead have several representatives: ten one-seat districts might, for example, be combined into a single ten-seat district. A party or group of voters that wins 10 percent of the popular vote in this district, then, would win one of the ten seats; a party or slate of candidates with 30 percent of votes would win three seats, etc. Various mechanisms work to provide proportional representation, and the details of different systems matter. But the principle of full representation is fundamental. Acceptance of it changes the way one sees electoral politics."
How Proportional Representation Elections Work
"We in the United States are very used to our single-member district, winner-take-all style of elections. We've all grown up with a system where we elect members of our legislatures one at a time in small districts, with the winner being the candidate with the most votes. This system seems so "natural" that proportional representation (PR) elections may at first appear a bit strange to us. Adding to the potential confusion is the fact that there are several different kinds of PR systems in use around the world. But in reality, the principles underlying proportional representation systems are very straightforward and all of the systems are easy to use."
The Secret of the Two-Party System.
Discover the only "law" in political science!
In political science, Duverger's law is a principle which asserts that a plurality [winner-take-all] election system tends to favor a two-party system. This is one of two hypotheses proposed by Duverger, the second stating that a majority [run-off election] system, and proportional representation tend to multipartism.
Full permission for non-profit distribution
John Adams, 2nd President,
Thoughts on Government, 1776
"The principal difficulty lies, and the greatest care should be employed in constituting this representative assembly. It should be in miniature an exact portrait of the people at large. It should think, feel, reason and act like them. That it may be the interest of the assembly to do strict justice at all times, it should be an equal representation, or, in other words, equal interests among the people should have equal interests in it. Great care should be taken to effect this, and to prevent unfair, partial and corrupt elections."
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill,
Considerations on Representative Government (1861)
"The Electors [voters] who are on a different side in party politics from the local majority are unrepresented... [This system] is diametrically opposed to the first principle of democracy, representation in proportion to numbers."
James Garfield, U.S. President (1881)
"[I]t is a weak point in the theory of representative government as now organized and administered, that a large portion of the voting people are permanently disenfranchised."
The Economist [1991 Editorial]
"The current 'first-past-the-post' system is undemocratic. On that ground alone, it needs to be replaced."
Professor Douglass Amy, Real Choices, New Voices, Columbia University Press, New York, 1993
"Gerrymandering is one of the great political curses of our single-member district plurality system and one that can only truly be lifted by adopting proportional representation."
Original cartoon of "The Gerry-Mander"
This is the political cartoon that led to the coining of the term Gerrymander. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists in 1812.
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