Reforms: the Possible, the Improbable, and the Unpossible

Ok, so what should change?

To follow on from my previous post raises the question of what can be done about the problems that have been identified. Here are some reforms, running from those that might be possible to those that are almost impossible. A whole book could be written on this topic, so this is a cursory treatment.

The Possible (although not necessarily probable).

Via Legislation. Reforms that are possible and could be accomplished via congressional action short of amending the constitution are as follows. These would require a Democratic majority in both chambers and the elimination of the filibuster, as I do not think Republicans are interested in any of them. No doubt others could be added to the list.

  1. Increasing the size of the House.
  2. Adding DC and Puerto Rico as states.
  3. Increasing the size of the Supreme Court.
  4. Adopting multimember districts and using ranked-choice voting to elect Congress.

None of this is easy, nor do I think any of it necessarily likely, but none are totally crazy (although I suppose one’s mileage may vary on that count).

In some way, increasing the size of the House is the most logical of the list and the most overdue. It is important to know that the size of the House is set by federal law, not by the constitution. The current size of the House, 435, was set by law in 1912 when the population was only ~92 million. It is over three times that size now and each Representative represents well over three times the constituents a Representative did at the time. If we use the cube root law as a guideline, the House should be around 690 seats. Expanding the House would increase representativeness, likely contribute to more competitive elections, and help ease the problems of the Electoral College (though not eliminate them).

The addition of states and the expansion of the Supreme Court are moves that have clear partisan motivations, insofar as adding PR and DC as states are about the only way to create some better representative balance in the Senate given that it would likely add Democratic Senators to counterbalance an unfair (from a competitiveness and representativeness POV) advantage to rural voters, and therefore to the GOP. Given the Republican’s willingness to break norms to maintain power (such as voter suppression) adding these states is a legal, constitutional way to address that problem.

There is also the simple fact that it is anti-democratic that the roughly 4 million US citizens who live in DC (~700k) and PR (3.2 million) do not have voting members in Congress (and the people of PR do not have a say in who the president will be). There are nineteen states with populations smaller than PR and two states with fewer residents than DC. Indeed, all US citizens who live in territories should have representation of some kind. This reform is pro-representation but also is one of the few ways to try and address the problems of the Senate by adding more urban (DC) and minority (PR) oriented representation.

Adding seat to SCOTUS is a constitutional although norm-breaking way to address the constitutional but norm-breaking blockage of Obama’s ability to fill the seat vacated by Scalia’s death. And while wars of tit-for-tat in this realm can spin out of control, rewarding past transgressions is also problematic.

Basically, Mitch McConnell used the Senate, an institution that empowers a minority of Americans over the majority, to block Obama from appointing a SCOTUS Justice so that a president who failed to obtain majority support could then again use the Senate to fill that slot. I can think of no way to rectify that other than adding members to the Court. I reluctantly, therefore, see this as a real option.

Shifting to multi-seat districts to elect Congress using the RCV would help promote multipartism and would help solve our representativeness problem. This is the reform suggested by Lee Drutman that I have noted previously.

Reforms outside of Congress:

  1. The National Popular Vote (NPV) compact.
  2. Universal nonpartisan districting.
  3. Changes to party nomination procedures (elimination of primaries?).
  4. Serious investment in election infrastructure and management.

The NPV compact is an agreement that states would allocate their electoral votes to the candidate who won the national popular vote. That states can change their laws to do this in in clear conformity with Article II of the US Constitution, although there are arguments that the compact itself is unlikely to be functional, as Congress has the power to reject it. More info on the NPV here.

The states could institute nonpartisan commissions to draw district lines. This would diminish gerrymandering, although it would not eliminate the problems with single-seat districts, such as geographic sorting. This would be an improvement to current conditions, but would by no means totally ameliorate the problems of single-seat districts.

I have written about the role that primaries play in distorting party competition on numerous occasions. It is, I would argue, the main reason we have such a stable two-party system and is why things like the Tea Party and even the presidency of Donald Trump are possible since they both underscore that lack of control of party label by the party itself. Either some tightening of control or simply doing away with primaries as the nominating process would be a good idea, in my opinion.

The fourth item would likely require a federal-state alliance and legislation in Congress as well as state-level action, but as we are seeing with the vote-by-mail concerns, as well as problems with long lines at face-to-face polling sites, we do not invest enough in the electoral process.

Improbable reforms.

These all would require a constitutional amendment (or potentially amendments in the case of #2), which would mean 2/3rds in both chambers and 3/4th of state legislatures. Further, only #1 even part of the national conversation.

  1. Replacing the Electoral College with a national popular vote (either two-round or IRV).
  2. Changing the allocation of seats in the Senate to be more sensitive to population differentials between states.
  3. Deeper electoral reform beyond the RCV proposal above (such as the adoption of MMP).
  4. Eliminating lifetime appointments to the bench (especially the Supreme Court).
  5. Making the Constitution a bit easier to amend.

All of these would take amendments, which are all but impossible. In my more optimistic moments, I see #1 happening at some point, but only if Republicans see it as their only route to winning. It is highly unlikely that the GOP will ever suffer the fate of the Democrats (at least in the near term) and win the popular vote and lose the EV because of current demographic trends (although it was a real possibility in 2004, although that was a while ago). However, if AZ goes blue and places like Texas and Georgia become competitive, they might see a straight-up popular vote contest to be a better battleground for them (but then some Dems will not want to change things, so we shall see).

In regards to the Senate, if we are going to have a federal chamber, there ought to be some acquiescence to the fact that Wyoming and Vermont should not have the same amount of influence as California and Texas. So, allocating seats in the chamber with some acknowledgment of size really is needed.

However, I am aware that Article V states “no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.” That would suggest that only an amendment with the unanimous consent of all the states can change Article I, section 3: “The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State.” Of course, 3/4th of the states could amend Article V and then amend Article I to undercut the unanimity problem. This is largely a fantasy, I know, but as with all things if there really was a broad consensus in the country to change these things, it is possible, but highly, highly improbable otherwise.

A shift to mixed-member proportional representation would be my fantasy electoral system. It is what is used in Germany and New Zealand and tends to produce several large parties and a number of smaller ones, in a way that substantially increases representativeness. Every voter gets two votes: one for a national list and another for a local representative. The first vote, on a national basis, would determine the basic breakdown of the legislature (if nationally the Rs won 35%, the Ds 40%, the Libertarians 10% the Greens 5%, the Tea Party 5% and the Democratic Socialist 5% then that would be the breakdown of the chamber). The seats would then be populated by the winners of the local district elections and then filled in by the national lists. A useful (and short) primer video that I have shared before can be found here. For various reasons, this would require an amendment.

As I have noted before, I think that federal judges, especially Supreme Court Justices ought to have some kind of lengthy single term in office, rather than lifetime appointments, but this would take an amendment.

#5 is pretty straight-forward. The constitution is currently too difficult to amend. It shouldn’t be super-easy, but it shouldn’t be almost impossible.

Unpossible reforms:

(I went with “unpossible” instead of impossible to underscore that these are way out there).

  1. Shift to a parliamentary system.
  2. Substantially de-powering the Senate (a la the German version of bicameralism).

These are truly fantasy reforms that could only come about be either some truly radical shift in our national political ethos or a massive crisis that led to a collapse or semi-collapse of the current constitutional order and therefore to the need to re-write from scratch.

I have over the years come to the conclusion that parliamentarism is superior to presidentialism if anything because it creates clear electoral accountability. If the government is nonfunctional, then it is the fault of the majority party or coalition. It is also appealing of late as a parliamentary majority would have incentives to deal with a truly incompetent leader in ways that a presidential party does not (but that is a side benefit and not the main reason, and I acknowledge it doesn’t always work that way).

In regards to the federal chamber, I am partial to the German system that clearly delineates between legislative actions that is national, and therefore is handled only by the first chamber and legislation that can be seen as state-related, and therefore takes both chambers to pass. I support, as a practical and theoretical proposition, the idea of a federal chamber in a federal structure, I just am not convinced that the federal chamber should be co-equal to the chamber that directly represents the citizenry as a whole, especially if that chamber is not fully representative of the populace.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Dreams, sigh.

    Thanx Steven.

    4
  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m leery of increasing the size of SCOTUS, it does, as you suggest, feel like the start of tit-for-tat in which we’d soon end up with 50 justices. But I like it as a threat if, for example, RBG drops dead before the end of this Congress.

    I am very intrigued by PR and DC statehood. It would immediately increase black and brown representation, not to mention giving Democrats the Senate, probably for quite some time.

    I have a practical objection to increasing the size of the House – the Capitol won’t hold that many people unless we start allowing off-site voting and debate.

    1
  3. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Just a point: since the Electoral College allows for non-citizens to be counted for apportionment purposes but not to vote it would be very plausible to see Democrats winning the EC and losing the popular vote if they flip Arizona and Texas.

  4. @Andre Kenji de Sousa:

    it would be very plausible to see Democrats winning the EC and losing the popular vote if they flip Arizona and Texas.

    I think that would require a lot of really weird things happening elsewhere that are unlikely under a scenario in which AZ and TX flip.

    Yes, one can create scenarios, but are they realistic ones?

    2
  5. @Michael Reynolds:

    I’m leery of increasing the size of SCOTUS, it does, as you suggest, feel like the start of tit-for-tat in which we’d soon end up with 50 justices. But I like it as a threat if, for example, RBG drops dead before the end of this Congress.

    That is where I was even within the last year, but I am cautiously in favor at the moment.

    I have a practical objection to increasing the size of the House – the Capitol won’t hold that many people unless we start allowing off-site voting and debate.

    Let’s just go to House of Commons style benches. They cram 650 in.

    6
  6. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds: My opinion about DC statehood is basically, we don’t need any more tiny statelets. Drastically reduce the size of the federal district (and forbid people from “residing” there) and put the rest back in Maryland. If necessary, pay Maryland enough to take it back. I think the big hurdle for PR statehood is not the color of people’s skins, but language. While English is an official language on paper, outside of the US District Court where English is mandated government and business are overwhelmingly conducted in Spanish. The people of Puerto Rico have regularly signaled there is little interest in becoming bilingual.

  7. Michael Cain says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Let’s just go to House of Commons style benches. They cram 650 in.

    Hear, hear!

    3
  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Cain:
    Every new immigrant population starts off speaking their native tongue and within a generation speak English. In two generations they’ve forgotten their native tongue entirely. We absorbed Texas, NM and AZ when the people living there largely spoke Spanish. We absorbed Louisiana though a large percentage spoke French and had an alien legal system.

    And since Puerto Ricans are already US citizens, I don’t see the basis of your objection. They’re already Americans, they’re just Americans being taxed without representation, which violates a core American principle.

    As for DC and Maryland, the state of Maryland has demonstrated their inability to deal with large cities. Giving them a second Baltimore is not likely to thrill Washingtonians.

    Both your objections, though I’m not suggesting this was your intent, will read as racist and xenophobic – watering down the black vote in the case of DC, and rejecting fellow US citizens because they speak a different language.

    6
  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    …we’d soon end up with 50 justices.

    Of course at the founding, there were 5 justices for ~4M people if we sustain that ratio then the SC would be 412 justices. Expanding the SC is reasonable, but partisanship makes it difficult.

    1
  10. Mister Bluster says:

    Possible, the Improbable, and the Unpossible
    No mention of the Executive?
    Is that because it is assumed that any effort to strip the power “To declare War” for instance from the Office of the President and return it to Congress where it belongs is futile?

    Maybe this guy was on to something:

    Mr. RANDOLPH strenuously opposed an unity in the executive magistracy. He regarded it as the fœtus of monarchy. We had, he said, no motive to be governed by the British government as our prototype. He did not mean, however, to throw censure on that excellent fabric. If we were in a situation to copy it, he did not know that he should be opposed to it; but the fixed genius of the people of America required a different form of government. He could not see why the great requisites for the executive department, vigor, despatch, and responsibility, could not be found in three men, as well as in one man. The executive ought to be independent. It ought, therefore, in order to support its independence, to consist of more than one.
    Source

    vigor, despatch, and responsibility

    I’ll just leave this here for consideration at a later date.
    Donald Trump is mourning the death of his brother.

  11. Nightcrawler says:

    I like the idea of universal nonpartisan districting. Also abolishing the electoral college, although that would be even more difficult to implement than nonpartisan districting.

    I don’t know enough about the remainder of your suggestions to comment intelligently on them.

    I don’t know what the answers are. I do know that the issues are too complex to solve on social media or in a comment section.

  12. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think that would require a lot of really weird things happening elsewhere that are unlikely under a scenario in which AZ and TX flip.

    I think that if non-citizen population is concentrated on Blue States there are several scenarios where that is likely to happen. With today’s delegates Democrats could win the Electoral College with AZ+TX+GA+NC and without the entire Rustbelt with exception of NY and IL.

    I’m not saying that’s something that I would necessarily bet money that would happen someday, but it entirely plausible, specially if Democrats continue to win votes in large urban areas in the Sun Belt. And I confess that it would be fun to watch the reaction of the right if that would happen.

  13. Two other possibilities:

    The first is probably under the improbable group. The second is legislative:

    1. Elect senators the way Australia does, using STV and increase the number to four, five or six per state. They would have to be elected at the same time within the state which means a third of the states would elect their senators every two years. This would give a somewhat proportional result within each state while maintaining equality between the states.

    2. Congress could more aggressively use its Article 3 power to regulate the appellate jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. They could begin by creating a new court to be the final decider on presidential elections, a quiet warning that we won’t be having any more Bush v. Gore outcomes.

    3
  14. I forgot one of my favorites, which solves a lot of other problems, even if it’s improbable:

    Give the House the exact same advise and consent power that the Senate has. Not allowing an institution that represents the people to have a say in judges gives people the impression that minority rule is okay and even consistent with the Framers’ wishes.

    It’s worth remembering, when the constitution was written the Framers didn’t envision the role that the courts took in deciding constitutionality.

    3
  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’m always leery of the value of threats. It’s hard to tell when you’re in a room with the guy who though training or temperament will always choose “else.” You have to be content with either outcome if you’re going to threaten.

    1
  16. Thanks for this terrific piece – I wish many, many more people were involved in this conversation. I agree completely with the need to expand the number of House members, though I have been imagining an initial increase by 100 or so with some process to add more as the population grows. Reform advocates (and everyone else) always raise the number of physical chairs in the Capitol as the main reason not to increase size so we may need to budget for some folding chairs? Your point about representativeness is completely spot on – there is no way the United States can catch up to our peer nations in women’s representation with our single-winner, winner take all system- not to mention representation ceiling for multiple constituencies of color, urban Republicans, and rural Democrats. My org RepresentWomen has some good data on impact of district design and RCV on women’s representation and we are working hard to insert this data into the conversation happening abt women’s representation – which is almost exclusively focused on preparing the women despite zero evidence that better-prepared women is the magic ingredient in the 80 or so countries that rank above the US in women’s rep….

    2
  17. @Michael Cain:

    My opinion about DC statehood is basically, we don’t need any more tiny statelets

    No that long ago I would have agree with this and would have argued that retrocession to Maryland was the way to go. Now I see this as both increasing access to representation for those citizens as well as counter-acting the problematic pro-rural nature of the Senate that is simply disproportionate and not easily fixed.

    I am often accused of not offering doable solutions but am trying to go the practical route here.

    In re: English, I would not that the US does not actually have an official language.

    3
  18. @Cynthia Richie Terrell: Thanks for the kind words and I am very pleased that this piece resonated.

    Your point about perhaps a phased-in increase in the chamber size of the House has some merit.

    I have followed you and your organization on Twitter and look forward to learning more about its work.

  19. @Mister Bluster:

    No mention of the Executive?

    Well, quite a lot about electing the executive (and a transformational suggestion in the Unpossible section).

  20. Michael Cain says:

    @Michael Reynolds: You’re absolutely right about past immigration and absorption. None of those groups were ever given a state where their language had official standing, though. Even Hawaii, which is probably the closest to that, was granted statehood after a long campaign that nearly eradicated the Hawaiian language (American English spellings for the sake of simplicity). Here’s a scenario I can easily imagine: the people of Puerto Rico approve a Spanish-language state constitution that at least implicitly sets out Spanish as the official language and sends it to Congress. A majority of Congress refuses to consider it.

  21. Joe says:

    @Michael Cain:
    So is Wyoming a huge statelet? I think we should focus more on populations than on territory.

    8
  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I have a practical objection to increasing the size of the House – the Capitol won’t hold that many people unless we start allowing off-site voting and debate.

    There was some talk years ago about dispersing the government, moving agencies out of DC and going to a remote congress. The idea was to support economic growth in “provincial” cities. COVID has shown we need at least the option of remote debate and voting. Why not set up regional House and Senate Chambers in a half dozen medium size cities and also allow remote access from Representatives homes and offices? It’s the 21st Century, it shouldn’t be hard to set up a distributed House. And Senate.

    3
  23. Michael Cain says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    In re: English, I would not that the US does not actually have an official language.

    Given that federal statutes and the Federal Register are in English, with no official translations (ie, having legal standing), there’s no need to make an explicit statement. There are at least two states with one or more additional “official” languages. I put quotes around that because, so far as I know, both of those states’ laws and regulations are written in English and there are no translations with legal standing. Assuming a Puerto Rican state were to keep its current arrangement, it would be the first where a non-English language was used for the controlling version of the state laws.

    Based on my experience as permanent staff for a state legislature, I would pay real money to sit in on the first court case where the federal Dept of Labor says a Spanish-language Puerto Rican law does not conform to the federal English-language law, and Puerto Rico claims that it does.

    Possibly relevant to this, the United States Court for the District of Puerto Rico has a rule that says court business must be conducted in English. This has significantly restricted the number of Puerto Rican lawyers who are qualified to argue cases in that court.

  24. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    The United States is the only country of the Americas other than Venezuela and Canada that still have territories, and the only one where these territories don’t have a vote in federal elections. It’s odd. Brazil and Argentina ended their territories after Redemocratization, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

    3
  25. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Cain:

    The people of Puerto Rico have regularly signaled there is little interest in becoming bilingual.

    I don’t know about that. My experience of traveling through Puerto Rico, mostly off the beaten trail, was that as much as my friend wanted to practice his Spanish, everyone else wanted to practice their English.

    It’s likely a generational thing.

    1
  26. ImProPer says:

    If someone were to let it slip that the Bilderberg group were planning to buy up all the arid land in the Country, and take it over, these ideas might get more bipartisan support.

    2
  27. Michael Cain says:

    @Joe:

    So is Wyoming a huge statelet? I think we should focus more on populations than on territory.

    Yes, and I’m cool with that. My argument is that we shouldn’t create a state of 68 square miles and 700,000 people (statelet in both senses) whose primary industry is the federal government.

  28. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Joe: Can’t speak for others, but Wyoming, Montana, and such were exactly what I thought of when he said “statelets.”

    1
  29. David S. says:

    1. I’m still against increasing the size of the SCOTUS. That job isn’t meant to be representative, so frankly, I’m not even sure what the point is. I do wonder if we might perhaps create some kind of counterbalancing force to the SCOTUS within the judiciary, and what that might look like.

    2. @Mister Bluster, the Executive branch is extremely flexible right now anyways. Sure, you could do a Roman triumvirate in the top seat, but if we have the clout to do a shift that extreme, we’d also have the clout to shift to a parliamentary system. Only one of those has precedent for being functional.

    3. To replace lifetime appointments, I might suggest a concrete number of 30 years. I’d like to see how many people find that too low, and why.

  30. Michael Cain says:

    @Gustopher:

    It’s likely a generational thing.

    Quite possibly. Still, after 120 years as a US territory, only a small minority of the population is considered fluent in English. That’s not a derogatory statement, just a statement of fact.

    The fundamental question to me remains, if Congress were to say, “For practical reasons of dealing with the rest of the country, the controlling versions of your state constitution, statutes, and regulations must be in English,” would Puerto Rico sign on to statehood? If asked to bet, I’d bet on no. And I think there’s an excellent chance that actual Puerto Rican statehood will depend on them saying yes.

  31. An Interested Party says:

    I’m leery of increasing the size of SCOTUS, it does, as you suggest, feel like the start of tit-for-tat in which we’d soon end up with 50 justices.

    Nevertheless, the stronger point is, as Steven noted, that McConnell used his power (representing a minority of Americans) to take away a SCOTUS seat from a president who won the majority of votes twice to give that seat to a president who won with a minority of votes…that cannot be allowed to stand…

    My opinion about DC statehood is basically, we don’t need any more tiny statelets.

    Why not?

    I don’t know what the answers are. I do know that the issues are too complex to solve on social media or in a comment section.

    Very true, alas…

    My argument is that we shouldn’t create a state of 68 square miles and 700,000 people (statelet in both senses) whose primary industry is the federal government.

    Again, why not?

    4
  32. de stijl says:

    Granting full representation to DC or PR is framed as a partisan issue, but is a justice issue.

    I do not want DC added because it aids my team, but these are citizens not afforded the same rights as people who live a few hundred yards away.

    It is simply unjust.

    We fought a war over taxation without representation.

    Denying people a say in how they are governed is a bizarre artifact. Unallowable, and must be addressed imo.

    4
  33. Michael Cain says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Can’t speak for others, but Wyoming, Montana, and such were exactly what I thought of when he said “statelets.”

    That’s a common attitude. Just for grins, though, I’ll point out that after this year’s census is applied, it is likely that the 13-state West will have two states with three EC votes, the 12-state Midwest will have two, and the 12-state-plus-DC northeast urban corridor* will have four.

    * One of these days the Census Bureau will catch up and move Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia out of “the South”.

  34. Crusty Dem says:

    It’s very sad that my fantasy basically consists of this moment:

    https://youtu.be/Y3OiIjIvN0A?t=16

    Though it may be worth nothing that I am not pro-emperor..

  35. @de stijl:

    I do not want DC added because it aids my team, but these are citizens not afforded the same rights as people who live a few hundred yards away.

    It is simply unjust.

    Indeed.

    2
  36. JohnMcC says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: As a 20yr old I read the 5 volume Winston Churchill history of WW2. My first ‘serious’ reading and it’s one of several things that really opened my mind but whatever…..

    In it he talks about rebuilding the House of Commons in such a way that the room with benches full cannot quite seat every member and that on days of important votes MPs are literally shoulder to shoulder in the Chamber. I forget the exact justification but it was a revelation to me.

  37. Michael Cain says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Again, why not?

    Because 700K people don’t deserve two Senators today because of an accident of history two hundred years ago.

    Because the vast majority of those 700K either knew, or their parents knew, or their grandparents knew, what the rules were when they moved into the federal district.

    Because every single one of those 700K could gain the privilege of voting for a US Senator if they would move less than five miles. My own response is, if it’s not important enough for you to move five miles, then it’s certainly not important enough for me to dilute my Senators’ influence.

  38. Grewgills says:

    @Michael Cain:
    How does having 54 senators rather than 50 do any measurable harm to you?

    1
  39. Mister Bluster says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:..quite a lot about electing the executive
    Thank you for directing my attention to remarks I may have missed at first glance. I don’t always catch everything on the first pass.
    As for a Parliamentary system for the United States. Some people can sing, some can’t…

  40. @Michael Cain: None of that changes the fact that over 700,000 Americans, living in an American territory in an American city are neither represented in the House nor the Senate.

    And it is easy to say “move 5 miles away” but I would ask you: should you have to move 5 miles to be treated equally with other US citizens? Should any American have to incur that cost just to be represented in our government?

    What difference does it make that the square mileage is less than that of Wyoming?

    Either we believe in equality and equal representation or we don’t.

    15
  41. Mister Bluster says:

    @David S.:..you could do a Roman triumvirate in the top seat.
    I was not advocating for a multi chaired Executive. I wanted to mention that although our Founding Fathers did not think that unity in the executive magistracy was cast in stone they did establish the idea in Article II of The Constitution for The United states of America.
    The Romans had their Triumvirates. The Soviet Union had their Troikas and the Chicago Cubs had their College of Coaches.
    Brings to mind something about too many cooks

    1
  42. Mister Bluster says:

    @Michael Cain:..My argument is that we shouldn’t create a state of 68 square miles and 700,000 people (statelet in both senses) whose primary industry is the federal government.

    Maybe we should disenfranchise Citizens who live in State Capitols whose primary industry is State government.

    4
  43. An Interested Party says:

    …then it’s certainly not important enough for me to dilute my Senators’ influence.

    Ahh, now we get down to the nitty gritty…why should American citizens have their proper rights if that supposedly means taking away political power from others? That’s some reasoning, I suppose…not noble or right, of course…

    3
  44. Jameson Quinn says:

    On the whole, I strongly agree with this article. But I’d suggest a slightly different strategy for moving proportional representation from “improbable” to “possible”.

    You say that MMP would be ideal, though improbable; and that multi-seat RCV (aka STV) is the more-possible reform. I hope you’re right that multi-seat RCV is feasible, but I see some tough hurdles there. To pass, it would of course need Democrats to be nearly-unanimously in support, as Republicans have by now thoroughly bought into anti-democratic tactics like disenfranchisement and gerrymandering. But multi-seat RCV would be disruptive to many Democratic incumbents and insiders, and would pose an immediate threat of a major party fracture; it’s hard for me to imagine them passing such a law.

    I believes it’s possible to design a proportional representation method that avoids these problems, while actually getting more of the advantages of a method like MMP. We’d like a method with the following characteristics:
    * As proportional as possible. (5-seat STV has a proportionality error of around 16% even in the largest states, which would translate to more like a national average of 25% if you include small-state effects with the current House size. MMP’s theoretical limit is less than 1% disproportionality; though considering thresholds and small states, it’s probably realistically a bit under 15%.)
    * Simple ballots (one of the big advantages of MMP over STV)
    * Relatively non-disruptive to incumbents, unless they owe their seat to gerrymandering. Both STV and MMP fail here, as either would utterly change an incumbent’s constituency and campaign strategy, probably switching who’d win in a large number of cases.
    * Relatively non-disruptive to the party system in the short term, while making it more flexible and responsive in the medium-to-long term. After all, though the goal is to disrupt Drutman’s “two-party doom loop”, remember that even he argues that this “doom loop” was not operative up through the 1960s; even though there were only two nominal parties then, intra-party diversity allowed shifting cross-party coalitions on many issues. I believe a well-designed proportional method could restore this healthy intra-party diversity (though NOT the specific racist form that diversity took in the first half of the 20th century). This would allow reform to be embraced by the institutional Democratic party, instead of being just seen as a bid by (as Democrats would see them) “neo-Naderites” to split the party. In a longer-term view, any realistic proportional representation method would obviously be a huge boon to healthy third-party growth, and that’s a good thing; but it need not be an immediate existential threat to Democratic cohesion.

    Modern mechanism design makes it possible to make a proportional voting method that satisfies all of these; that has all the strengths of both STV and MMP, while only having one serious weakness (which I’ll discuss below). For instance, I’ve designed PLACE voting; and other methods are possible.

    Of course, I do realize that there is one substantial disadvantage to a newly-designed voting method: the very fact that it’s new. With STV, you can point to Ireland or Australia; with MMP, to Germany or New Zealand; with PLACE, there’s, well, no such place. But I believe that the advantages of PLACE (or of some similar newly-designed method, if somebody else wants to propose one) outweigh that disadvantage.

    I’d be overjoyed to be wrong about this, to see multi-seat STV catch on and pass in the US (as well as in Canada and the UK). But if I’m right about the hurdles to Democratic unanimity on STV, I think that PLACE offers a solution that’s very much on the “possible” end of reforms.

  45. Jameson Quinn says:

    One separate minor comment: when referring to the voting method most of the world calls STV, you use the terms “multimember RCV” and “multi-seat districts”. I find that mentioning both “multimember” and “mixed-member” is too confusing, so I try to avoid saying “multimember” and stick with “multi-seat” and/or “multi-winner”.

  46. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Cain:

    whose primary industry is the federal government

    I don’t think this is a fair characterization of the District of Columbia. They generate very little revenue from the federal government, which makes many demands on them while paying no real estate taxes. Tourist revenue is nice, but little of it is directly tied to the business of government.

    In Anacostia, the presence of the federal government is pretty clearly a net negative on quality of life.

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  47. Gustopher says:

    Can’t we just split in into South DC and North DC and graft them onto the Dakotas?

    Michigan or Wisconsin or something has an upper peninsula that isn’t attached. Why not the Dakotas?

  48. @Jameson Quinn: Really, the only reason I put RCV in the “possible” category (with the caveat that they aren’t all probable) is that I think it is possible to accomplish without constitutional amendment (which I do not think is true about MMP due to the national lists and the overhang seats). I still don’t think it is very likely. In general, I fear that real electoral reform is still highly unlikely.

    I do prefer MMP over STV for the disproportionality reasons you note.

    I will give your PLACE proposal a look, as I am not familiar.

    Cheers and thanks for commenting.

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  49. Jameson Quinn says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I understand that RCV/STV properly belongs in your “possible” category because it doesn’t require a constitutional amendment. What I’m arguing is that we should be doing our best to build a category even beyond “possible”: that is, “politically feasible”. I don’t think STV would make it to that category, but (if we can pilot it in places like Medford, MA) PLACE would.

    (So would single-winner RCV and other single-winner reforms like STAR. But those don’t fix gerrymandering.)

  50. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I agree. And forcing a much larger membership to fit into the existing House office buildings would reduce (at least psychologically) the tendency of some members to regard themselves as potentates. I remember visiting the Rayburn Building not long after it opened and being astonished by the office suites it held.