filling up the house

There are two common types of elections that occur. Those in which a single winner is selected and those in which multiple winners are selected. Multi-winner elections would typically be used to select representatives for a body like a legislature.

In the US we generally do not use multi-winner elections to select representatives. Instead we use a districting approach where districts are drawn, single-winner elections are held in each district to choose a winner and those winners become representatives in the legislature.

What values does such a system endorse?

  • local representation – Voters have a representative that is local to them and whom they presumably can access

What values does such a system ignore?

  • representation for all of the population – in a close race only a minority of people in the district approve of and consider themselves to be represented by their representative. For example, a district might have 52% Republican party supporters and 48% percent Democratic party supports. This district might elect a Republican as it’s representative based on straight party-line voting. Thus 48% of the population of this district has been disenfranchised. They have a representative that does not represent their view points. It is true that other representatives from other districts may be elected who share this disenfranchised population’s viewpoints and that, in that sense, they may be represented. But this is unlikely to happen evenly. For example, if the population at large voted 60% for the Republican party and 40% for the Democratic party the distribution of voters within districts may be such that the legislature ends up with 80% Republicans and 20% Democrats.

One must ask whether the single-winner districted approach makes sense for a multi-winner election. Is the benefit of having a local representative worth the cost of having a large portion of society unrepresented? If your local representative does not actually represent much of the local population’s viewpoints, is there really a significant benefit to that population in the representative being local to them?

In future posts I will discuss voting methods for both single-winner elections and multi-winner elections as well as discuss more of the issues we face when we use a districted single-winner system for multi-winner elections.


11 responses to “filling up the house

  1. >in a close race only a minority of people in
    >the district approve of and consider
    >themselves to be represented by their representative
    My example had a narrow majority who considered themselves to be represented. It is possible to conjure situations where only a minority is represented.

  2. So, what does your solution entail, or are you not at a point yet where you have a viable solution, but you are asking our input to come up with alternatives.

  3. What about refering to the Representative as a person’s “non-representative Representative” ?

  4. raphfrk:
    I like the term!

    I will propose some solutions to this problem. Unfortunately the reforms are all fairly major changes which makes them very difficult to get implemented at a federal level.

  5. Unfortunately… you are being very politician like by answering my question without actually saying anything. Care to elaborate?

  6. I plan on discussing proportional representation, asset voting, and direct democracy at some point.
    Input about alternatives is certainly welcome!

    I plan first to talk about more problems with the districted approach to multi-winner elections – in particular the rules by which the districts are drawn.

  7. Amen on the districting/re-districting fiasco. Talk away.

  8. I like the aspect of this approach that puts the choice between winner-take-all districts and PR in front of choices among various methods for electing one official and/or choices among various PR methods. That’s the right order to consider things in.

    That said, even if you choose PR for the legislative branch (as I do, most emphatically) you still have to have a way to elect mayors, governors, presidents, etc. So being in favor of PR doesn’t make the choice among single-winner methods go away.

    Even if you decide that you like parliamentary government rather than an executive branch elected by the voters, you still have the problem of how Parliament is going to pick the prime minister.

    But the most fundamental issue is PR versus winner-take-all.

  9. Bob,

    You are wrong to believe that the “most fundamental issue” is PR versus single-winner. Implementing Range Voting, for instance, would double the effect of democracy by picking better candidates. There’s no evidence that proportional representation would bring about as great an improvement in social utility (in fact I would say it likely wouldn’t).

  10. Clay, how do you figure that, care to elaborate or provide some evidence to that effect?

  11. Pingback: the case for the electoral college « All About Voting

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