THE TIME IS RIGHT FOR PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION
ACED supports proportional representation (“PR”) reforms. PR maximizes the degree to which the officials elected to govern us most closely reflect the desires of the voters. By contrast, in the “winner-take-all” system we use now many votes are “wasted” and results often do not correlate well to voters’ preferences. Moreover, winner-take-all discourages alternative viewpoints from entering into the political spectrum. This is perhaps the worst result of the prevailing electoral model. Our country contains much more varied political views than could be encompassed by two political parties. But the barrier of entry into the political system is so great under winner-take-all that hardly any alternative parties can sustain themselves. Under PR, smaller parties representing diverse political views could stand a chance of winning an election.
However, there are a number of barriers to implementing PR. For one, U.S. law prohibits at-large districts for election to the House of Representatives. Some commentators have argued that the law would have to be repealed before a state could achieve proportional representation of its voters in Congress. We believe this is somewhat mistaken, and that many states could achieve PR now using a “layered” electoral process in its congressional elections, or some similar process. This alternative model for proportional representation, developed by ACED, is explained here: Layered Districting Model.
Here is an abstract of the piece:
Elections for the United States House of Representatives consistently produce “unrepresentative” results—that is, the number of seats won by a political party in a state does not reflect the overall preferences of the voters of that state—because of the winner-take-all system we use to select candidates. This system not only conflicts with basic notions of democratic governance by generating such divergent outcomes, it also tends to inhibit the entry of new and diverse voices to our government. Yet the status quo persists, perhaps in part because people view Federal law as barring states from adopting alternatives, such as proportional representation. This essay challenges that assumption by presenting a new “layered” model for proportional representation in the House of Representatives that conforms to Federal law. Using the model, states can achieve proportional, or near proportional, representation in most cases, while almost completely avoiding the extreme examples of unrepresentative House elections that inhere to winner-take-all elections.
ELECTING THE PRESIDENT BY POPULAR VOTE: IT JUST MAKES SENSE
Electing the President by popular vote makes sense because it is more democratic. The electoral college remains in place, but it is anachronistic. A national popular vote for President–as opposed to the state-by-state electoral system used now–would ensure that the candidate who receives the most popular votes in a presidential election wins the office. It’s simple and fair. Eliminating the electoral college, or just its relevance, is one of the easiest, least controversial reforms that United States can take to improve its democracy. This can be achieved either through interstate compact or a constitutional amendment. Thanks to work of other voting advocates, the popular vote for the presidency may not be far away.
We support a national popular vote because it gives each vote equal weight instead of giving the votes of certain states more relative value. Indeed, it is a hallmark of democracy that each person’s vote/voice receive equal consideration. If your state has not yet signed on to the interstate compact, urge your lawmakers to do so.
IT IS TIME FOR THE CENSUS TO CHANGE THE WAY IT COUNTS PRISONERS
The Prison Policy Initiative’s Prisoners of the Census has led the fight to end prison based gerrymandering. Their excellent work has shown why using the Census Bureau’s “usual residence rule” is unfair and undemocratic. They have also shown how states can avoid its worst effects. Thanks in part to their efforts, states like Delaware, New York, and Maryland have recently passed laws to end prison based gerrymandering. We hope more follow their lead.
The Advocacy Center for Policy and Democracy supports the fight against prison-based gerrymandering. But new problems may emerge from the usual residence rule that states will not be able to solve on their own. For the first time in history, some states have begun to export a significant number of their prisoners across state lines. This trend has to potential to make the Census rule not just a local problem, but one that could effect Federal apportionment. Consequently, it would impact the composition of the House of Representatives and the electoral college, not to mention Federal funding.
It is unacceptable that a state could get an extra member in Congress, and an extra electoral vote for President because it imports other states’ prisoners. Yet that is exactly what may happen in the near future, as we explain in our paper, The Sinister Potential of the Usual Residence Rule’s Application to Prisoners on Congressional Apportionment, available here.
As we show, states have dramatically increased the number of prisoners transferred out of state. With the economy stagnant and state budgets strapped, state lawmakers will look for new ways to save money – so one should expect even more transfers. Soon, states may create massive facilities to create jobs and cut costs, becoming massive prisoner importers. And no one can deny the possibility that states will use interstate transfers for political gain. For example, conservative lawmakers in control of Texas, Oklahoma, and Alabama may have a need to export prisoners. If a Republican state stands to gain a seat in Congress with a small increase in its population, those states may send it their prisoners.
Such a result would be unacceptable. Congressional apportionment, and presidential elections, simply should not depend on brazen political machinations. And prisoners should not be turned into political currency and shipped out of state, far from friends and family, for partisan ends. The Census Bureau must end its application of the usual residence rule to prisoners once and for all.