Speaking of the Popular Vote…

Some examples from 2018 of the problems with single seat districts.

As I have often written, the electoral system we use to elect the House of Representatives (and most other legislative bodies across the country) is antiquated and flawed.  It privileges the container (the district) over that which is in the container (citizens).

Representative democracy, wherein citizens vote, votes are tallied, and votes are then translated into offices in government, ought to produce a result that is reasonably representative of the population.  That is to say, an underlying assumption is that those who govern should reflect, to some reasonable  degree, the views of the governed.  I note “to some reasonable degree” because perfect representation is impossible save in a direct democracy in which we all participate.

Just having elections is not enough, the way the votes are cast, counted, and applied, matters greatly.

The Electoral College, by way of example, is a system in which voters vote, but then those votes are translated by a process that means that the person with less popular support can win the office. That is not a representative outcome. (And yes, clearly one’s mileage may vary as to whether one is bothered by that fact or not).

As a side note, I would note that while the notion of representativeness is not one we talk about in regards to our elections (though we should, and appear to be starting to do so), we fully understand it because we talk about it all the time when we discuss polls.  The whole idea of polling is to take a representative sample of a target population.  Good polling requires good sampling.  So, too, good representative democracy require good electoral rules which will create an actual reflection of the population.  Any of us who know even a modicum about polling knows that if one’s goal is to find out a state’s presidential preferences, how one polls matters.  If one attempts a statewide poll in Alabama but only in the Black Belt, the western side of Montgomery, and the core of Birmingham, one would find (incorrectly) that the Democrats are going to dominate (all of those areas are heavily populated by African-Americans).  The problem with that sampling process is that is it decidedly not representative of the state as a whole.  We know this is problematic for opinion polls, and we should understand that systems that likewise bias outcomes is a bad way to elect “representatives” (scare quotes to make a symbolic point).

Here are some examples from 2018.

Via the DMNTexas Democrats won 47% of votes in congressional races. Should they have more than 13 of 36 seats?

Texas Republicans collected half of the votes statewide in congressional races this month. ­But even after Democrats flipped two districts, toppling GOP veterans in Dallas and Houston, Republicans will control 23 of the state’s 36 seats.

Put more clearly:  with 53% of the vote, the majority party won 64% of the seats.

The piece continues:

It’s the definition of gerrymandering.

Let’s stop there.  The disjuncture is not the definition of gerrymandering, rather it is the definition of a disproportional outcome.  Yes, it is exacerbated by gerrymandering.  However, the main problem here is the fundamental system:  single seat districts.  Even if the map had been drawn in a nonpartisan fashion there would be some representativeness issues because of geographic sorting.  The too-small size of the House contributes as well.  The reality is that the irregular concentration of human beings across geography make single seat districts a poor vehicle for representative outcomes (people are never going to live in a uniform distribution across space, and they certainly aren’t going to do so in a way that would allow for nice bell-curves of partisan distribution across those spaces).

Here is another example:  the 2018 US House of Representatives in Wisconsin:

#Votes %Vote #Seats %Seats
Republican       1,170,718 45.80% 5 62.50%
Democrat       1,365,501 53.40% 3 37.50%
Independent             21,550 0.80% 0.00%
100.00%

Here we find a similar result to Texas:  the Republican Party won 45.80% of the statewide vote, but came away with 62.50% of the seats.

I did those calculations myself to check the work of Josh Klemons from his post, A Democratic Election, An Undemocratic Result. He also noted that the State Assembly was shaping up to the Republicans winning 46% of the votes statewide, but winning 63% of the seats.  That is a highly unrepresentative outcome for the state legislature (and significant given they control redistricting in the state).

I won’t do the full math (there is only so much speadsheeting I am willing to do on a lazy Sunday), but the fact that California will have only eight Republican members of the House out of 53 (15.10% of the delegation) is also not a representative outcome.  My ultimate concern is not that a given party win seats, rather my ultimate concerns is that our allegedly democratic system is not producing democratic outcomes.

Many more examples could be provided.  A specific discussion of the national popular vote is still needed here at OTB.  Still, I hope that these examples are sufficient food for thought.

I will stress that I am looking here at the House of Representatives.  This discussion is not about the Senate nor about the Electoral College.  It isn’t about federalism (just because states are the target of conversation, does not make the conversation one about federalism–the only part of the House that directly links to federalism is the guarantee of each state to have one seat guaranteed).  It is about the one institutional feature of our system that is explicitly supposed to be the voice of the populace.   It is definitively not accomplishing that goal.

It is important to note that while one can draw fairer districts, one cannot draw truly neutral ones.  And any act of drawing a district is making a choice about which voters go where, which in turn has an effect on who wins and loses.  Note, too, that when legislatures are drawing districts, it means that politicians are choosing their own voters (when it is supposed to be the other way around). A very interesting FiveThirtyEight piece from early this year noted:

No single map can fulfill all the criteria we looked at — more competitive elections or more “normal-looking” districts, for example. Depending on the desired outcome, each of the different maps could represent the “right” way to draw congressional district boundaries. If you haven’t explored the maps in our Atlas Of Redistricting yet, we hope you’ll do that now. Below are the details of how we made and analyzed all of them.

Every choice has a consequence for outcomes.  See also the link in the paragraph above.

The solution is some form of multi-member districts (one such proposal was discussed here).

Unless one really thinks that only 15% of California (to pick but one example) is populated by Republicans, it is hard to defend the current system (at least it is if one thinks that the government should be reflective of the governed).

The containers should not be more important than what is contained within them. But that is exactly how our current system works (and in many places it allows politicians to determine the shape of the containers).

FILED UNDER: Democracy, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. 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. Yixiao says:

    I can’t speak to California, but the (congressional) district map for Wisconsin seems to be rather fair. District 3 could swap some of the territory near Eau Claire (the NE extension) with that near Tomah (the NC dip). Overall, however, that’s how the population will vote. The two major metropolitan districts are liberal, the remainder are conservative. I’m also too lazy to do state-level representation calculations on a Sunday evening, but I would expect them to be about the same.

    And this is exactly where district-level representation is important. Using federal congressional districts as a simple way of showing the problems: The 4 largest cities (by metropolitan population–Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha) make up 46.1% of the population, but only 2.8% of the area of the state (Milwaukee, alone, would account for 27.6% of the popular vote).

    The needs of the 97% of the state’s area–including their needs, conflicts, resources, etc.–are probably not even understood by the voters in the Big Four (much less understood in any meaningful way). Expecting Milwaukee residents to understand the issues with logging, farming, forestry and land-management, hunting and wildlife conservation, and water rights (all of which impact them in major ways) is a losing game.

    I expect putting all of California in the hands of LA and San Francisco would be just as disastrous.

    At the federal level, a lot of the issues could be dealt with by following the lead of Nebraska and Maine–eliminate the “winner-takes-all” model and make the electoral college proportional (and, thereby, much more representative). Unfortunately, that’s a state-by-state decision, and the parties in control are not likely to give up this advantage.

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  2. JohnMcC says:

    Thanks for keeping this concern for functionality sort of front-and-center. If government is supposed to be representing the greater number of citizens in terms of policy, you are completely correct to be concerned, of course.

    There is the contrary and cynical thought that intrudes — that possibly the actual power behind policy is pretty much inevitably revealed by whomever most greatly benefits. So the actual political authority, the real weight swung, is probably being represented as well as they wish, one could say.

    It is amusing to think that the U.S. is a metonymy.

  3. Kylopod says:

    @Yixiao:

    At the federal level, a lot of the issues could be dealt with by following the lead of Nebraska and Maine–eliminate the “winner-takes-all” model and make the electoral college proportional (and, thereby, much more representative).

    Nebraska and Maine’s electors aren’t awarded proportionally, they’re winner-take-all by district. If all the states adopted that model, it would simply introduce gerrymandering into presidential elections. This isn’t speculation; it’s actually happened to a limited degree. After Obama’s surprise win of a Nebraska elector in 2008, the Nebraska legislature redrew the district to make it harder for Obama to win in 2012. However, in 2016 Hillary came within 2 points of winning that same district. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect she’d have won it under its 2008 boundaries.

    The way a truly proportional system would work is that the electors would be divided up according to each candidate’s percentage of the vote in a state. So for example if a state has 10 electoral votes, and Candidate A wins 60% of the vote while Candidate B wins 40%, then Candidate A would be awarded 6 electoral votes and Candidate B, 4.

    This is similar to the way Democratic primaries work: the delegates are divided proportionally among the candidates, rather than the winning candidate taking everything.

    One of the advantages of this system is that it would encourage the candidates to campaign in a wider range of states, because even states they didn’t stand much of a chance of winning at large, they’d still be able to win electoral votes from. So you’d have Republican candidates visiting California and New York, Democrats visiting Texas and Louisiana. It would also give third-party candidates a much bigger opportunity to win electoral votes.

    The problem is that it also greatly increases the chances of an electoral deadlock where no candidate wins an absolute majority of the electoral votes, causing the election to be decided by Congress (which last happened in 1824).

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  4. @Yixiao:

    but the (congressional) district map for Wisconsin seems to be rather fair.

    I honestly do not understand how this map can be “fair” if you take the notion (which I do) that all citizens should be seen as equal in a political sense.

    Plus, the federal government does not run Wisconsin, the state government does.

    At the federal level, a lot of the issues could be dealt with by following the lead of Nebraska and Maine–eliminate the “winner-takes-all” model and make the electoral college proportional (and, thereby, much more representative).

    As noted in another comment: those are not proportionally allocated. If electoral votes were proportionally allocated, then the percentage of electoral votes per state would match the percentage of the popular vote in that state (which could be accomplished by a straightforward popular vote).

    Allocating electoral votes by congressional district is a horrible idea, because it means that the EC could then be gerrymandered.

    Using the WI example in this post, the state could vote ~53% for party X and ~46% for party Y and yet party Y would get 5 of 8 electoral votes allocated at the district level. How is that, in any way, fair, just, or democratic?

  5. Yixiao says:

    @Kylopod:

    Nebraska and Maine’s electors aren’t awarded proportionally, they’re winner-take-all by district.

    They are proportional by district. There are degrees of granularity. Currently, that granularity is by state. There are problems with that. Others (the OP) are suggesting that the granularity be dialed up to “per person”. There are far more problems with that. A “per-district” granularity gets rid of the “entire state” problem, as well as the “big cities control everything” problem.

    The issues of gerrymandering are separate (but no less important) and should be dealt with on their own. This has been dealt with this past year with mixed results.

    I’ll be honest: This is one of those areas in which my federalist leanings and my desire for efficiency engage in vigorous fisticuffs.

    Using the WI example in this post, the state could vote ~53% for party X and ~46% for party Y and yet party Y would get 5 of 8 electoral votes allocated at the district level. How is that, in any way, fair, just, or democratic?

    How is it “fair and just” for 4 cities–representing 3% of the area and none of the major agricultural industries–to determine how 97% of the area and major industries can live and operate?

    The way a truly proportional system would work is that the electors would be divided up according to each candidate’s percentage of the vote in a state.

    That’s a parliamentary system. And it has its own issues. While it’s a rather reasonable system in Europe, they don’t deal with the huge diversity in geography, industry, and economy that we have (I had a conversation with a Dutch friend in which he pointed out that my daily commute to work (30 miles) would put him in a different country).

    And then there’s societal and economic impact. Manhattan requires 8,622,698 acres to provide it’s food for a year (1 acre/person/year). That’s 14.2% of the state of Wyoming–a rough population of 82,260 people–a little less than 1% of NYC. Yet the laws governing that 1% have a massive impact on all of NYC (and every other populated city).

    A district-by-district representation is the fairest way I can see to balance urban vs. rural.

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  6. @Yixiao: I appreciate the thoughtful engagement, but here are some responses.

    First, you are simply using the word “proportional” incorrectly.

    Second,

    How is it “fair and just” for 4 cities–representing 3% of the area and none of the major agricultural industries–to determine how 97% of the area and major industries can live and operate?

    If most of the citizens live in the cities? Extremely fair.

    We hold these truths to be self-evidence that all citizens, not real estate, are created equal.

    Third,

    That’s a parliamentary system.

    No. A parliamentary system is one in which the chief executive is elected by the parliament, rather than by a separate vote. The UK has a parliamentary system, but it elects it parliament in single seat districts in a manner more or less identical to how we elect the House of Reps.

    Likewise, most of Latin America was proportional representation, but do not have parliamentary system, but rather presidential systems like the US.

    A district-by-district representation is the fairest way I can see to balance urban vs. rural.

    But there is no reason why rural voters should be over-represented just because they are rural.

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  7. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I honestly do not understand how this map can be “fair” if you take the notion (which I do) that all citizens should be seen as equal in a political sense

    .

    You’re (intentionally) conflating two disparate concepts: 1) That all citizens are equal and 2) that geographical regions are irrelevant.

    Are all citizens (and, to a more constrained degree, persons) equal in the eyes of the law? Yes. Absolutely.

    Are political issues separate from their geography? And are all geographic regions equal in their importance to the infrastructure of the United States? No. Absolutely not.

    If the “flyover states” went on strike tomorrow and refused to ship out any food, the populous states would run out of fresh food in 3 days and starve within 2 weeks (I can’t be arsed to look up the citations right now, but I’ll have time on Tuesday if you need them).

    Back-of-the-envelope calculations say that every “country person” is supporting 100 “city people”.

    “Rural areas cover 97 percent of the nation’s land area but contain 19.3 percent of the population (about 60 million people),”

    –US Census

    Why should cities (3% of the land) get to decide what happens to the rest of the country–especially when it’s highly unlikely that the’re informed about anything to do with the rural policies that directly and indirectly affect them?

    If a purely popular vote was instituted, the urban vs. rural divide would not only widen, but become more aggressive. That would be… “not good”.

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  8. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But there is no reason why rural voters should be over-represented just because they are rural.

    How big is your garden? How long will you be able to live from what you grow in it?

    Oh… wait… do you have a garden?

    Each of those rural people supports the basic food needs of about 100 of you urban people (based on some quick math). That, to me, suggests that… yes, there is a reason they should be proportionately represented in government–not on their numbers, but on their contribution to the country.

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  9. @Yixiao:

    You’re (intentionally) conflating two disparate concepts

    I am not conflating them. I am rank-ordering them.

    And are all geographic regions equal in their importance to the infrastructure of the United States? No. Absolutely not.

    Yes: states have special significance. Hence, the Senate (which is a different debate). This post is wholly about political representation inside states. Rural real estate does not have special privileges or legal status versus urban real estate.

    If the “flyover states” went on strike tomorrow and refused to ship out any food, the populous states would run out of fresh food in 3 days and starve within 2 weeks

    Well, again, that has nothing to do with the way districts are drawn in TX, WI, or CA.

    Why should cities (3% of the land) get to decide what happens to the rest of the country–especially when it’s highly unlikely that the’re informed about anything to do with the rural policies that directly and indirectly affect them?

    By this logic, why should rural voters have disproportionate power over urban voters?

    The obvious solution is to treat all voters equally.

    If a purely popular vote was instituted, the urban vs. rural divide would not only widen, but become more aggressive. That would be… “not good”.

    Well, empirically I am not sure that comparative evidence supports this proposition.

    But, more importantly, the long-term effects of stacking the rules to create minority rule will most assuredly be problematic.

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  10. lynn says:

    @Yixiao: ” there is a reason they should be proportionately represented in government–not on their numbers, but on their contribution to the country.”

    So one’s representation should be based on one’s contribution to society rather than on actual numbers? Cool — on that basis, I think teachers should have greater representation. And maybe MDs, too.

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  11. @Yixiao:

    How big is your garden? How long will you be able to live from what you grow in it?

    If you want to create a government type in which food producers are given more political power, fine, but that isn’t democracy. And if that is your main proposition, then you really also need to figure out which states produce more food than others and allocate them more power than others.

    Of course, we probably need to figure out how to empower energy-producers, pharmaceutical-producers, medical researchers, and so forth. Truckers likely need special power as well–gotta get food to market and whatnot.

    I must confess, I have encountered these kinds of notions before, but I do not find them persuasive.

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  12. @lynn: Indeed. Perhaps we could have some central bureaucracy that could assign value to citizens?

    (Sorry, that is a bit snarky, but I think that is where this kind of thinking leads).

  13. Mister Bluster says:

    contribution to the country.

    Maybe our “contribution to the country” can be measured by the number of dairy cows we own or pounds of butter we produce.
    Of course under this scheme citizens who produce margarine will be denied representation in Congress.

    The battle over margarine’s place in the country was seriously debated after its invention in 1870. The agricultural community, led by Wisconsin’s strong dairy interests, saw the artificially produced margarine as an intruder on the market and the rural way of life.
    In 1895, just 47 years after it became a state, Wisconsin passed its ban on the sale or use of margarine colored to imitate butter. The pressure to repeal that ban grew in the 1960s as Wisconsin was left as the only state with the prohibition. Residents were getting around the law by buying margarine in neighboring states just across the border.
    Source

  14. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    But there is no reason why rural voters should be over-represented just because they are rural.

    I feel that you’re making your arguments from within an urban bubble (correct me if I’m wrong).

    If you would like to experience, first-hand, why some people disagree with you: I invite you to come visit rural Wisconsin. This isn’t snark. It’s an honest invitation. I can arrange a sit-down with local factory owners, retail business owners, and farmers. And/or a public round-table discussion.

    If you’d like to step way outside the beltway, you have my e-mail address.

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  15. Mister Bluster says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:..If you want to create a government type in which food producers are given more political power, fine,..

    Let’s do it!
    I live in Illinois! Yixiao wants to give me more political clout in Washington DC than everyone in the Badger State and I don’t even have to move!

    California produces the most food (by value) in the United States followed by Iowa and Nebraska.
    Twelve (12) states generate over $10 billion in agricultural cash reciepts: California, Iowa, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Illinois, Kansas, Wisconsin, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio & South Dakota.
    California accounts for 11% of ag cash receipts in the United States.
    United States $395,068,677,000
    Rank Commodity Cash Receipts Percent
    1 California $44,738,132,000 11.30%
    2 Iowa $31,985,370,000 8.10%
    3 Nebraska $24,465,882,000 6.20%
    4 Texas $22,726,067,000 5.80%
    5 Minnesota $20,580,696,000 5.20%
    6 Illinois $19,649,939,000 5.00%
    7 Kansas $16,223,254,000 4.10%
    8 Wisconsin $12,110,055,000 3.10%
    Source

  16. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Stephen, a quick editing note. You wrote:

    “Put more clearly: with 47% of the vote, the majority party won 64% of the seats.”

    I believe that 47% was the Democratic share of the vote, not the Republican share of the vote in Texas.

    Feel free to delete this comment once you’ve seen it.

  17. @Yixiao:

    If you’d like to step way outside the beltway, you have my e-mail address.

    I live in Alabama, which is quite a ways outside the beltway.

    I appreciate your invitation, and I certainly acknowledge that rural interests exist, that really isn’t the point.

  18. @Gromitt Gunn: Thanks for catching that.

  19. @Yixiao: Fundamentally, you are proposing something other than representative democracy, which is certainly within your rights to do, but let’s be clear what you are saying.

    Further, to really take seriously what you are describing would require a serious reconfiguration of power. Shouldn’t CA an TX have more power in the Senate, for example, by your food-based system?

    Beyond that, though, while it is true that food is more important for survival than manufactured projects, the reality is clear that quality of life is radically better in industrialized versus non-industrialized societies. How do we value that?

    And, what about the importance of mechanization to farming? To chemical companies?

    And, further, if food is important (and it is), then urban voters have every incentive to keep it coming.

  20. Bob@Youngstown says:

    @Yixiao:

    ….but on their contribution to the country.

    Speaking of contribution, and specifically that of food growers. The entire country contributes (on a per taxpayer basis) to agricultural subsidies that food growers are so reliant upon.

    The point is (that you seem to disregard) each person makes a contribution to society, the rural “elite” are not more or less entitled to representation than the urban “elite”.
    Pitting the rural community versus the urban community is the antithesis of a democracy where we all (rural and urban) are in the same communal boat.

    How big is your garden? How long will you be able to live from what you grow in it?

    Implied threats are rarely persuasive arguments

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  21. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I certainly acknowledge that rural interests exist, that really isn’t the point.

    That is exactly the point. A popular vote would concentrate the votes in a very few urban areas and exclude the needs and interests of the rural populations–and the important industries that exist there.

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  22. @Yixiao: There is no logical reason to assume that equal treatment of all voters leads to a diminution of food production.

  23. Also: if your argument is that the country needs food, why would urban voters seek to destroy that which they need?

  24. Mister bluster says:

    Come on Yixyao. You know this is what you want. To turn back the clock to the good old days.
    It must be what the Founding fathers wanted.

    At the time of the first Presidential election in 1789, only 6 percent of the population–white, male property owners–was eligible to vote. The Fifteenth Amendment extended the right to vote to former male slaves in 1870; American Indians gained the vote under a law passed by Congress in 1924; and women gained the vote with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.
    Source

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    I am truly scared for our Country!
    Don’t piss in your pants!

  26. KM says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Yixiao is also assuming that a significant number of rural folk are engaged in food production and thus that justifies his premise of rural over-representation being legit. Rural =/= food-producing in a *huge* number of districts – many are simply classified as such because they are not urban. What about rural desert districts in the Southwest? What about big, empty swaths of land up north that maybe have a ranch or two at best?

    Why should the folk who don’t engage in food-production benefit from such a system if they don’t earn it?

  27. @KM: This, of course, true. And some over-represented states that have rural populations are not major food producers.

    There is also the problem of corporate farming.

    (In general, I don’t think that the conglomerates that are headquartered in urban zones are going to forgo their profits regardless of representational schemes).

  28. Mister Bluster says:

    GOOGLED Yixiao. Results follow.

    贻笑 Trad. 貽笑
    yí xiào
    to be ridiculous
    to make a fool of oneself

    艺校 Trad. 藝校
    yì xiào
    abbr. for 藝術學校|艺术学校
    art school

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  29. Andre Kenji de Sousa says:

    Agricultural Subsidies are good for farmers and for people that lives next to them, but they are horrible for consumers. Specially when they are sided with tariffs and trade barriers. I disagree with Steven on some things, but complete horror that is having the same number of senators for each state is not one of these things(Besides that, note that Brazil has the SAME F* PROBLEMS with the Senate than the United States).

  30. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    And if that is your main proposition, then you really also need to figure out which states produce more food than others and allocate them more power than others.

    I strongly suspect Yixiao would not look favorably on California’s influence under such a system…

  31. Lynn says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “(Sorry, that is a bit snarky, but I think that is where this kind of thinking leads).”

    No argument from me on that.

  32. Gustopher says:

    Cities generate the wealth and tax base of most states. Why should the poor, rural areas of the state have a say in how city folk do their thing? Perhaps we should draw congressional districts based on total wealth in the district.

    I’ve been toying with an idea for abusing Washington State’s referendum system — an initiative that requires 85% of the state tax money taken in in any county to be spent in that county. So many people in the rural/desolate parts of the state think that they are paying too much to support Seattle that this would likely pass in those parts, and would promptly devastate them.

    It sounds so innocuous. Making government accountable at the local level. And I do need a project while taking some time off between jobs…

  33. gVOR08 says:

    I see this argument occasionally, that if representation were fairly apportioned rural areas would be dominated by urban areas. I’ve never understood how anyone makes this argument in good faith without recognizing it works both ways. How is it fair that rural areas have disproportionate power over urban areas? Any argument I’ve heard can be mirrored. How does some farmer outside Tomah understand the needs of minorities in Milwaukee? (The waitresses in the resorts may, actually.) Last I heard, GDP per capita is higher in cities, are we really to assign the representation due individuals by their productivity? What would happen if urban areas grew tired of this situation and withheld transport, banking, communication, entertainment, pickup trucks, tires, snow mobiles, admission for your surplus kids to universities, processed foods, fuel, farm implements, weather forecasts, health care, health insurance, car insurance, hail insurance, futures markets, fertilizer…?

    IIRC the rural population is like 15% of the country, why do people in the 21st century think they should be given disproportionate power? (Rhetorical question. I probably know. Do you, @Yixiao:?)

  34. Gustopher says:

    Looking at the map, I am reminded of just how many states have just a single representative. Is North Dakota politics driven by the urban centers? Do Senators only really represent the urban centers of their states? Or Governors?

    The whole claim that if we had fair* voting for representatives that urban interests would dominate just isn’t born out by reality. It’s a garbage argument. It’s not even being promoted by the rural communities, as much as it is promoted by the people who depend on the rural communities for their votes.

    John Tester may get the majority of votes in the cities of Montana, but he also has to appeal enough to the rest of Montana to hold his seat.

    * fair being proportional representation.

  35. Gustopher says:

    I suggest expanding the House of Representatives to the point where each state gets at least three (reps assigned for every smallest state divided by three people). And then have multiple member districts of at least three representatives.

    This might result in 80 times the current number of representatives, but I trust they can organize themselves.

    It likely means there is a Democrat and a Republican and one swing in every district, and I have no doubt that these larger districts will be gerrymandered, but it would be less worse.

    Also, Representatives should be able to vote from home. There is no reason for them to not spend a lot of time in their home states. We have the technology. But that’s a separate issue.

  36. MarkedMan says:

    @Mister Bluster: I wouldn’t read too much into these translations. Chinese is a tonal language and without the tones it could mean several different things. For instance, Yi is a common surname and Xiao can also mean “little” yielding “Little Yi”, a not unusual nickname.

  37. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I wonder if Yixiao is the same guy who showed up a few months ago (a supposed teacher, as I recall) to argue that food production made rural areas more important. Then argued that California didn’t count because it wasn’t “real” agriculture or ranching. Sadly and as usual, the answers didn’t penetrate then and probably won’t penetrate now. As Stephen said, if you want to argue that some citizens are more valuable than others and deserve more power, go right ahead. But it isn’t a representative democracy.

  38. @Just Another Ex-Republican: I recall that conversation, and the rejection of California as not producing the right kind of foods, or somesuch.

    It all strikes me as a bizarre model for governing.

  39. Yixiao says:

    I see a lot of conversation while I was at work.

    First: I’m not saying that food producers should get disproportionate representation because they produce food. Note that I also mentioned industry, land management, and other concerns about rural areas. It’s simply that those areas should be given *some* representation. I count 8 states that have only 3 representatives. Half of those are rural, the others are just small. There is certainly no danger of them overwhelming the populous states. The power is still focused on the population centers (California has more representatives than the bottom 15 states).

    Second: As I mentioned about Wisconsin, under a popular vote, 4 cities would make up half the representation. It’s even more pronounced in California. Without districts, there would be no voices to speak for the rural (right-leaning) areas. The almond growers and vinyards deserve a voice as much as Silicon Valley and Hollywood do–even if it’s tiny in comparisson

    Texas is oddly opposite–the population centers are also left-leaning, but the state as a whole still trends to the right.

    Finally: For a government to truly represent its people (there are, of course, serious questions about whether or not ours does), it has to have representation from as many parts of the population as possible. By maintaining the system of districts, you assure that less-populous areas still get a voice. The more populous areas will get a bigger and louder voice–and will probably overrule the smaller voices–but every region gets a voice.

    I feel that this is essential in a democracy such as we have. The “small voices”, the “minority voice”, the “unpopular voice” has, quite frequently, been the voice that drives change. Active abolitionists were a minority; suffragettes didn’t even have a voice; gay marriage made it to SCOTUS because of a vocal minority, and transgender issues are getting attention the same way. Minority voices deserve a seat at the table.

    I’m not a Constitutional scholar (just a schlub that works at a store), but I would suggest that the first step would be (as I said before), to follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine and apportion electoral votes on a per-district basis. The second step would be to change the system to make it easier for “third parties” to get the same opportunities as the big two.

    Does our current system have serious issues? Yes. Would those be solved by a popular vote? I say no.

  40. Yixiao says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    1) You got the tones all wrong.
    2) Joined characters become different words (“of ten” vs. “often”)
    3) Names are different than common words (“bob” “sue” “dick”)

    燚 Yì (a large fire, a conflagration) 猇 Xiāo (the roar of a tiger)

  41. DrDaveT says:

    @Yixiao:

    I’m not saying that food producers should get disproportionate representation because they produce food. Note that I also mentioned industry, land management, and other concerns about rural areas. It’s simply that those areas should be given *some* representation.

    Why does dirt* deserve representation? Is this a Lorax-like argument; do you speak for the trees?

    Can you give some concrete examples of tangible, harmful changes in policy that you think would be made if state policy were set by population-proportional elected representatives?

    *Where ‘dirt’ stands for all land area and natural resources, of course…

  42. DrDaveT says:

    @Yixiao:

    Minority voices deserve a seat at the table.

    Why doesn’t this argument apply even more strongly to urban blacks than it does to rural convenience store clerks?

  43. MarkedMan says:

    @Yixiao: About as far from “Little Yi” as you can get! This will take the place of my “Mother”(妈) vs. “Horse” (马)example for the importance of tones.

    The “Bob, Sue, Dick” explanation is also very good for how when words are recognized as names they lose their meaning. I assume your name is Yi Xiao then?

  44. Mister Bluster says:

    Damn that GOOGLE!

  45. @Yixiao:

    It’s simply that those areas should be given *some* representation.

    The best way to guarantee representation of all segments of society is a proportional representation electoral system. It would actually be easier in such a context for specific rural-oriented parties to form.

  46. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    @Yixiao: I don’t believe anyone has argued they don’t deserve *some* representation. That’s a straw-man. The way California, as Steven (sorry about the mis-spelling earlier, blame it on a family name and habit) pointed out in his original post, gives 15% of it’s representatives to a party that represents a much higher percentage of voters in the state isn’t right. But it goes both ways, and the proportional system Steven discusses in this thread would be a far better way to make sure all areas and people get represented.

    Further, the Senate basically (though not perfectly) fills the function you are worried about. Two people who represent the entire state (urban and rural), and a senator from Wyoming has as much voting power as a senator from California (even though the CA senator represents literally millions more people). The Senate is the Constitutional way to protect minority rights (at the state level). Why should the House also get rigged to favor the minority? The House is supposed to represent the popular will-ie the majority vote.

  47. wr says:

    @lynn: :Cool — on that basis, I think teachers should have greater representation. And maybe MDs, too.”

    And TV writers!

  48. MarkedMan says:

    Back to the discussion: I would point out that due to our bicameral Congress, the rural states already get way more representation. Wyoming gets 2 Senators and so does California. And the Senate is the more powerful body. The proof of that lies in the overwhelming ratio of tax dollars out vs. tax dollars in for those two states. California sends way more dollars to the treasury then it gets back, while Wyoming would cease to exist without the water projects, military bases and national park money.

  49. KimD says:

    @Gustopher:

    I live in New Hampshire.

    To answer your question-yes pretty much the urban areas dominate congressional and federal elections.

    My state is fairly close to 50/50 in elections-some years less so than others.

    If you look at the co Freddie all map for the 2018 election, the vast majority of the state is red. The blue would be our large cities and college towns. My state has been close to 50/50 but I haven’t had a GOP representative in Congress for years.

    I do think at the state level NH does something right-we have a pretty large state house. Each district is small and I know personally my house and senate representatives. I have discussed in person some of my concerns with them.

    One problem with how we do things at the federal level is our districts are just too big. I’ve never personally met my congressional representative-she doesn’t live anywhere close to my town and lives closer to Massachusetts than the vast majority of her constituents. And I live in a small state-this is likely even worse for more populated states.

    Also, I think there is a problem but the solution Steven proposes seems to assume all voters in a state care about the same issue therefore a democrat in a large urban area has the same concerns as a democrat in a rural area.

    I live in a state with almost no public transportation and even taxi or Uber service in my area is limited. The cost of fuel, car inspection, and taxes on property are amplified much more than someone in an urban area.

    Our state has a huge school funding issue-but Democrat’s in wealthy districts aren’t concerned about the issue in poor communities (it’s a debate between property poor and property rich towns and political party doesn’t apply-the location of the district is what matters). Ditching districts at the state level and using some kind of proportional representation wouldn’t solve this issue if people from those property poor towns are excluded).

    Voters in rural areas-whether they are democrat or republican likely have issues and concerns different from those in urban areas. You’re right that each citizen should be the key verses the district but there is more to urban/rural concerns than what party they are a member of. New York State is a good example of rural communities feeling like their concerns get ignored in Albany because the reps from urban areas outnumber theirs.

  50. @KimD:

    I think there is a problem but the solution Steven proposes seems to assume all voters in a state care about the same issue therefore a democrat in a large urban area has the same concerns as a democrat in a rural area.

    Just for the record, that is not my assumption. The urban/rural discussion is shorthand for high population and low population areas and I am focused, at least in this post. Plus, there is a high correlation between urban/rural status and partisan identification.

    In a more representative world we would have more than two parties which would further help address these issues.

    To wit:

    Ditching districts at the state level and using some kind of proportional representation wouldn’t solve this issue if people from those property poor towns are excluded).

    Actually, it could help immensely. If a particular group represented 20% of a state’s population, and if the electoral system was proportional, then that group ought to be able to form a party that would get 20% of the seats and be able to make their view known in a way the current system makes impossible.

  51. Yixiao says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I assume your name is Yi Xiao then?

    No. It’s Yixiao. Like “Robert” or “Susan”. The family name “Yi” is 易 or 益 (both with the fourth tone).

  52. Yixiao says:

    @MarkedMan:

    Wyoming would cease to exist without the water projects, military bases and national park money.

    Except for the fact that it produces 40% of the coal in the US–which was worth $18B in 2014 (the latest year I could quickly get a number for). It is the single largest producer of coal in the US.

    It is also the largest producer of Uranium, and the 5th largest producer of natural gas.

    It exports 60% of the energy it produces (as one of the top producers).

    Without those things you mention, Wyoming would continue to be a healthy and productive state–on which the energy-hungry states (like California) would still depend.

    California, for example, is the 2nd largest consumer of energy in the US, with natural gas being the primary fuel. It imports 95% of the NG it uses–from places like Wyoming.

  53. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    If a particular group represented 20% of a state’s population, and if the electoral system was proportional, then that group ought to be able to form a party that would get 20% of the seats and be able to make their view known in a way the current system makes impossible.

    I see what you’re getting at, but it doesn’t stand up to reality.

    You are assuming that (at the federal level) a Democrat from Dixville Notch, New Hampshire wants exactly the same things as a Democrat from San Diego, California.

    Third parties may gain better status, but individuals would lose representation. A popular vote removes regional representation and assumes that everyone in the country that identifies with a party, or likes a particular candidate, wants exactly the same things. That’s simply not true.

    Yes, I agree that we need to get away from the winner-takes-all system that we have. I believe that a per-district electoral vote is the way to go. It balances popularity with diversity and regional interests.

    I also agree that we need to break out from our current 2-party system. In the recent elections, “independent” candidates got over 20% of the vote in some Wisconsin districts. But, if I recall correctly, those districts were small. A popular vote would not have given them a bigger voice–it would have drowned them out even more than they were.

    Does the system need some updates and tweaking? Yes.

    Should it be tossed out and replaced with a popularity contest? No.

  54. @Yixiao:

    I see what you’re getting at, but it doesn’t stand up to reality.

    Ah, but here is the maddening thing: it absolutely does. A rather large number of representative democracies work this way.

    And if you want proportionality and district-level representation, the system you want is MMP (as used in Germany and New Zealand).

    Should it be tossed out and replaced with a popularity contest?

    Shouldn’t representative elections be, at least on one level, exactly that?

  55. To be clear, and without any snark whatsoever: I, and many many others have studied this for decades. There is a way to have that 20% represented and not drowned out. The problem in these conversations is trying to get people to break out of the paradigm they understand, which is American elections.

    I cannot stress enough how US electoral rules are not the global norm and there are better ways to make sure that elections actually capture popular sentiment.

  56. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I cannot stress enough how US electoral rules are not the global norm

    This. One is irresistibly reminded of the bit of dialog from The Blues Brothers:

    What kind of music do you usually have?
    Both kinds — country and western.

  57. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    To be clear, and without any snark whatsoever:

    I have always taken your comments at face value (and I accept a fair amount of the snark from others).

    I, and many many others have studied this for decades. There is a way to have that 20% represented and not drowned out.

    And I say this without snark: Please explain them for those of us who have not studied this for decades. I see proposals for what to do, but don’t see how they address the concerns of the “small voices” being overpowered. How do the concerns of Deerfield, Michigan get heard in your proposed system?

    The problem in these conversations is trying to get people to break out of the paradigm they understand, which is American elections.

    I think you may, on this part, be underestimating some of the people who don’t agree with you. Though not an expert, I am aware of several different approaches to voting (including ones where there is only one choice). I find many things about the parliamentary system, for example, to be very attractive. But I don’t believe it would work in a country as large and diverse as the United States.

    I cannot stress enough how US electoral rules are not the global norm and there are better ways to make sure that elections actually capture popular sentiment.

    I believe that the US system is unique (are there any other countries that use a similar electoral system?), but I also don’t believe that “different is bad”.

    Personally: I have not, so far, seen sufficient enough evidence that our (core) system is “bad” and in need of changing. There are many details that I believe need to be changed in order to build a system that is better at representing everyone, but I haven’t been convinced that the entire system needs to be tossed out in favor of a purely popular vote.

    And… with just a touch of snark and irony: In order to establish your system you would either have to a) use the current system to get enough seats in both the US Congress and all the state legislative bodies in order to pass a Constitutional Amendment, or b) toss out the Constitution, establish a dictatorship, and create the new system by “imperial decree”.

    The latter would require a bloody civil war. As for the former: How would you convince enough of those “small voice” states to ratify an Amendment that reduces their voice?

    In all seriousness: You can’t just say “Trust me, I know how things should be”–the very system you’re proposing opposes that. You’re trying to insist we need a “popular vote” system that the population doesn’t want (or doesn’t care about).

    I appreciate the irony.

  58. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I cannot stress enough how US electoral rules are not the global norm

    To be fair: I don’t think democracy in any form we would accept is “the global norm”–most certainly not if you’re going by population,

  59. Yixiao says:

    @DrDaveT:

    This. One is irresistibly reminded of the bit of dialog from The Blues Brothers:

    What kind of music do you usually have?
    Both kinds — country and western.

    1) Why is it good to “be like everybody else”?

    I ask this in all seriousness. The political system in the US certainly has plenty of flaws–no argument there. However: That system has been instrumental in making us the largest economy in the world, the greatest innovators in the world, the greatest modern explorers in the world, and (arguably) the country with the strongest civil rights protections in the world (though, admittedly, enforcement is frequently lacking).

    England has criminalized “being impolite” (ASBO), and Germany has sent SWAT teams to the houses of people who say “incorrect” things.

    I’d rather not follow their lead.

  60. @Yixiao:

    In all seriousness: You can’t just say “Trust me, I know how things should be”–the very system you’re proposing opposes that. You’re trying to insist we need a “popular vote” system that the population doesn’t want (or doesn’t care about).

    I appreciate the irony.

    All I can really say is that I have written thousands of words on this topic at this site, and expect I will write thousands more, so I am hardly just saying “trust me.” So, I am actively trying to explain myself. One could also look to my published work.

    You are certainly free to hold your own opinions. I would suggest, however, that you make a number of assertions that are not warranted (such as the issues of representation for smaller groups) that underscore a lack of understanding of what I am trying to say, as well as some misuse of terms (I think you are conflating PR and parliamentary systems, for example).

  61. @Yixiao: The issue is not whether we should copy others just because they are different. The issue that we should copy when others do things better, and there are plenty of cases where elections are done better elsewhere by both empirical and normative metrics.

  62. Yixiao says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    All I can really say is that I have written thousands of words on this topic at this site, and expect I will write thousands more, so I am hardly just saying “trust me.” So, I am actively trying to explain myself. One could also look to my published work.

    Could you link to a “primer” that explains your position and the thoughts behind it? It would be helpful (to me, and to others who may be reading, but don’t feel comfortable asking questions) to understand the basics of the topic, and the basics of your opinion on it.

    You are certainly free to hold your own opinions.

    I will respond to this politely and say: The phrasing of that comment comes across as quite condescending.

    I would suggest, however, that you make a number of assertions that are not warranted (such as the issues of representation for smaller groups) that underscore a lack of understanding of what I am trying to say

    What do you mean by “not warranted”? That phrase suggests that you feel that concern for the representation of smaller groups is “without cause” or “annoying”.

    If that is your position, then I am wholeheartedly against your position. That’s not a “lack of understanding”. It’s a firm opposition to your opinion.

    I do not believe that “the majority is right”. This has been proven throughout our history. I strongly believe that minority voices need to be given equal voice, and that the representatives we have in government should–to a significant degree–represent the diversity that exists in our states and our country.

    I may not have been studying politics “for decades” as you have, but neither am I a simpleton. I have, in a dozen countries, sat and talked with locals about politics at all levels. I have, first-hand, had to do business (and function on a daily basis) in as many political systems.

    Brexit was initiated by a popular vote.
    Rodrigo Duarte was elected by a popular vote.

    I believe that our leadership should be chosen–and our laws written–by a body that represents all the voices of our country–not just the loudest or most populous. I believe that our representation and our legislation should actually be representative. I believe that 10 voices each speaking for 1% of the electorate are more valuable than 1 voice speaking for 10% of the electorate.

    Tell me why (or link me to an article explaining why) you believe that “popular opinion” is the best option for governance and legislation for our states and our country.

    And…

    there are plenty of cases where elections are done better elsewhere by both empirical and normative metrics

    Show them to us. And include the metrics by which you are judging them.

  63. @Yixiao: All I can say at this point is that there is a vast literature on this subjects out there. While attempt to explain parts of in in these posts, I can only do so much 1,000 words at a time, let alone in response to comments.

    I am working towards the kind of primer you have requested, and it started here, but it is incomplete (there are currently three parts).

    I will address three things:

    1) “I will respond to this politely and say: The phrasing of that comment comes across as quite condescending.”

    Well, on the on the hand, you are entitled to your opinion. And yes, I was implying I think you are wrong. Let me note that I do think you are fully entitled, and without any implication of error, to your preferred political outcome. What I find very frustrating, however, with your approach, which is incorrect, is that you are discussing a lot of this without fully understanding what you are talking about.

    For example,

    2) “Brexit was initiated by a popular vote.
    Rodrigo Duarte was elected by a popular vote.”

    You keep using the phrase “popular vote” rather imprecisely. Nothing in this post, which is about legislative elections and matching overall popular sentiment to outcomes, is analogous to either a referendum nor to elections in a country that is not even fully democratic.

    I am not fetishizing “the popular vote.” I am pointing out how an electoral system that radically skews towards one party is a problem. (see my most recent post).

    3) “I believe that 10 voices each speaking for 1% of the electorate are more valuable than 1 voice speaking for 10% of the electorate.”

    I am not sure what this means. If 1o people is proportionally equal to 1% of the population in question, great.

    Why is it so terrible to suggest that the %vote that a party can receive should translate, roughly, to the %seats that party should get in the legislature.

    What is the defense to let a party win less than 50% of the vote, but get over 60% of the seats?

  64. “Show them to us. And include the metrics by which you are judging them.”

    Note my last couple of sentences.