Voting and Legislative Reform

posted by williamcerf on August 13, 2023 - 5:55am

The ways that we organize and elect our representatives in legislative bodies is a critical issue. I believe that the system should be set up so that a wide variety of political and policy preferences are represented in legislatures at the local, state and national levels.

One of the problems with our current two-party system is that the number of policy preferences that can be pursued is extremely limited. This leads to alienation of people whose preferences are not in this limited field. Many stay home and don’t vote at all. Many become part of the radical left base or reactionary right base of the current two parties; which then creates the kind of morass we are experiencing right now. If these bases could legitimately and seriously participate in the process they would have representation and power based on their relative support of the voters. I also believe that the total electorate would spread themselves over an entire spectrum of policy preferences rather than bunching up at two opposite ends.

More choices = more voters = healthier, more representative governance.

I personally favor more than two parties and would really like to see Unity08 take a good look at ways to broaden the participation of a wide variety of policy preferences in the electoral process. There are some specific ideas that I believe deserve consideration:

Mechanisms I’d like to encourage people to study and hopefully endorse:
1. Instant Runoff Voting, aka: Ranked Choice Voting.
2. Multiple Member Districts

I encourage people to look at the website of the Center for Voting and Democracy for further information and ideas. See

I hope that there are others among us who have studied this sort of thing and will post their comments here.

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Please expand on Multiple Member Districts (the link given does not make that 'mechanism' very obvious). does it relate to voter impowerment?

Bill"for what we are together"

Actually the correct way to speak about MMD's is the concept of Proportional Representation(PR). Simply put, this is a way for different policy preferences to be represented in a legislative body in proportion to the percentage of the vote that candidates get in the election. Many countries use PR, including Isreal and Italy; among others.

For information about voting and democracy in the USA see the Center for Voting and Democracy website at

The more I read about MMDs the more confused I become. If I understand it correctly, when 55% of voters support position A and 45% support position B, representatives will be apportioned 55:45 for A and B. But some states have only 1 representative! Those cannot be apportioned based on policy preferences. And those that can are faced with impossible task of choosing representation that supports ALL policy preferences, not just one.

How do you even begin to pick reps when voters support:
position A:B 25% to 75%;
position C:D 60% to 40%;
position E:F 80% to 20%;
3 way split on position G:H:I 75% to 15% to 10%;
and there are yet other issues that people are split on?

I don't see how that's possible. Again I may be wrong in my understanding of how this works, but if you can't explain it here in simple terms, how do you expect voters to understand the concept you're trying to get across? I can see their eyes glazing over.

Try to explain MMD in as few words as possible. In the current system, the candidate who gets the highest number of votes is elected. That's easy to explain, and easy to understand.

Voters are empowered (1) because many more of them are represented by somebody they voted for. In proportional voting elections, it is typical for 90% or more of voters to support a winner. And (2) because proportional voting leads to more political parties that represent more points of view. The Republican/Democrat duopoly doesn't really represent or empower much of anybody except professional politicians.

There are at least three mechanisms for using MMDs to represent more voters, and variations on each. Here's just one. Since it's the MMD sibling of instant runoff voting (IRV), the mechanics are already familiar to a growing number of U.S. voters.

The number of seats in each district is typically between 3 and 9. The ballot and voting process is exactly the same as IRV: voters rank as many of the candidates as they want (or as few) in order of preference. In a 3-seat district, a block of voters that includes 25% plus one voter can elect a representative. In a 9-seat district, a group including 10% plus one voter can elect someone. As in IRV, when lowest ranked candidate is eliminated ballots are transferred to each voter's next choice. In addition, when a candidate gets enough votes to get elected, the fraction of her/his votes that are over the minimum needed for election is transferred to each voter's next choice.

In the U.S., calls this method "choice voting". In the rest of the world it is called the Single Transferable Vote or STV.

This description brings up the point made by NotAnonymous, that the number of points of view that can be represented from one district depends on the number of seats in that district. But even districts with 3 seats each would make it possible for a new political party based on the philosophy of Unity08 to get decent representation in state legislatures and, in many states, in Congress.

It's true that states with only one seat in Congress cannot have proportional Congressional delegations, at least under the current form of federalism in the U.S. But their state legislatures could be proportional. And the national Congress as a whole could be much more representative than it is.

--Bob Richard

Just what federal office is elgible for this system?....the Senate is the only voting jurisdiction with more than one member and that is just two.

The Electors of the Electoral College? The nominees for U08?
Bill"for what we are together"

Changing the Senate would require a federal constitutional amendment. Changing House elections would not. Since 1967 federal law has required all states to use single member districts for the House, but that law can be changed by Congress. If it is repealed, any state with more than one seat could adopt choice voting for its House delegation. In some states, but not others, that would require amending the state constitution.

In abstract theory, I suppose that a state could adopt choice voting for its members of the Electoral College. But that wouldn't make Presidential elections proportional. There's still only one winner in the Electoral College. Direct election of the President by IRV is a more meaningful reform (see

As for Unity08's Presidential campaign, you're choosing one nominee, not a delegation or committee. So (again) IRV is the relevant procedure.

--Bob Richard

Right, Bob - I agree, IRV would be good for the task of choosing one candidate for Unity '08. We don't just talk about good ideas, we do it! And with the result decided by popular vote of the voters... no proxies. All voters are "delegates" at the "convention", right?

I'm thinking the chosen candidate should be able to choose their own running mate as long as it's within the rules... I'm sure this is discussed elsewhere.

I am not aware of how we could change the House from one with single-member districts to a PR body without a constitutional amendment, but I'd be interested in reading any source materials you could provide to support that idea.

I'm not entirely opposed to allowing PR on a state-by-state-basis by federal statute, but I think we could create a much better PR system by using a constitutional amendment, especially for those state who currently only have one House seat.

Here is an amendment proposal I wrote recently:

Each state and the District of Columbia shall have a number of Federal Districts equal to its percentage of the national population multiplied by seventy-four (74), rounded to the nearest whole number, except that no state, nor the District of Columbia, may have less than one Federal District.

Each Federal District shall elect five Representatives according to a proportional, preferential voting method, such as Single Transferable Vote. Each Representative shall carry in the House one proxy vote for every ten thousand votes received in the election, but no Representative shall have less than one proxy vote.

My provision about proxy voting goes a step further than most PR proposals, but I believe this provides us with the closest approximation of democracy that we can achieve in a representative system.

With regard to the Senate, Article V of the Constitution states "that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate." This does not necessarily mean that the Senate should not also be proportional in its representation. It is meant to represent the states as a whole, rather than reflect the people based on population, but that does not mean that the minority groups in each state should be entirely unrepresented by their Senate delegations. Thus, according to Article V, if we want some form of PR in the Senate, we could change the equal suffrage for all states in the Senate with unanimous ratification of all states, by first amending the equal suffrage clause of Article V, or we can alter the concept of proportional representation to fit the equal suffrage clause. I certainly think the last of these would be the preferable method.

To that end, we might change the Senate by Constitutional Amendment so that:

1) each state would have four seats instead of two
2) all Senate seats for a state would be elected in one four-seat election by Single Transferable Vote.

If we were proposing such an amendment, I would also add to it:

3) the length of a term in the Senate shall be shortened to four years; and
4) each state's Senate delegation would have 100 proxy votes, and each Senator would have a number of proxy votes equal to the percentage of votes won in the election.

Just because empire is an ugly word doesn't mean you don't live in one.

#1 the senate was never & never should be a proportional body this atleast keeps us away from the dreeded unknowable conciquences of a constitutional convention. #2 the house is already a proportional body number of representivies proportional to population. #3 to see the results of truelly expanding from a mostley 2 party system one only needs to look at say italiy's manny manny hoplessly hamstrung coalition governments generating election after election ad nashium. more election cycles than number of years to goveren.

The disproportionality of representation of the people in the Senate is not a fair thing, but there's a good chance we're stuck with it. I've put some thought into ways to fix it, but that's not a battle to fight right now... lobbying and the parties becoming further and further apart are much more important things to fix at this point.

James Madison was the main author of the supposed "Randolph Plan", which became the basis of a large part of our Constitution (luckily due to the advocacy and leadership of George Washington, who almost didn't show up because he was enjoying retirement). Mr. Madison advocated for proportional representation in BOTH the House AND the Senate, but the small states threatened to walk out of the Constitutional Convention - so Madison and the large states were forced to accept the current arrangment, or else they'd be stuck with the Articles of Confederation... which although they weren't working too well and left the United States a very weak country which would not have survived (and everybody knew it)... but both big states and small were loath to give up the loopholes they were exploiting under the Articles.

Madison was skating on thin ice anyway, as he had "sprung" the Constitution idea by surprise - the delegates did not come to Philadelphia thinking they would be drafting a Constitution, they thought they were just going to "talk". Washington and Ben Franklin became the voice of urgency which compelled them to finish the job... the good leaders who said "This is important, let's do it".

In most cases, the delegates started hammering out a new (albeit better) form of government without their home states or home legislatures knowing what was going on. The only reason the whole venture succeeded and the States subsequently ratified it was because they created something pretty darn good... which went on to become the model of government for the rest of the world. At least up to 2023, that is... it seems we've gone off the rails a little since then.

It's kind of ironic to me that we're in a similar situation to those times now... due to the times a changin' there are a few wrinkles to iron out in our system of government. Now, like then, the choices and vested interests we face are tough... but we need to "do the right thing" and tweak a few things, with some leadership, wisdom, and best practice. Let's make it work.

1. indeed the Senate has never been proportional, but that is not sufficient reason to say it should not be.
2. how does keep the Senate disproportional prevent a Constitutional Convention? Constitutional Conventions, in theory at least, must be called by Congress upon application of 2/3 of the states' legislatures. Of course, the wording of Article V is vague enough that Congress has heretofore gotten away with not calling one, although all the states have at one time or another, if not many times, applied for one.
3. The House when compared to the actual make-up of the American population is far from proportional. The House is currently 53% Democratic Party and 47% Republican Party, with no other parties or independents. Yet, the American population is estimated to be roughly 40% independent, around 30% Democratic Party and around 25% Republican Party, with the other 5% supporting third parties. If the House was proportional, we should expect similar percentages there.
4. Italy and Israel, among many other nations, have parliamentary systems that force them to create new governments frequently. I can't say I fully understand that system, but I can say that it is not a factor of a multi-party system or of proportional representation. Furthermore, even if it were, would it not be better if the people could hamstring its government when it is not serving the people's needs? In any case, with a system of set terms for the members of all branches of government, there would not be such frequent elections. Shifting to a proportional system would not drastically affect that aspect of our government, but it would make it more responsive to and representative of the people.

Just because empire is an ugly word doesn't mean you don't live in one.

My two cents:

Let's choose the simplest answer that gets good results. In my mind, that would be Instant Runoff Voting, as follows:

1) In the voting booth, every voter ranks candidates in order of preference. Not every candidate must be listed.
2) In the first pass, only the first preference votes are counted.
3) If one candidate receives a majority of the votes from the first preference count, they win the election. (*sometimes the highest candidate with at least 40% if there is a large field of candidates)
4) If no candidate receives a majority* from the first preference votes, the two candidates receiving the highest number of first preference votes have a virtual runoff.
5) If the vote goes to a runoff, if your first preference vote was for one of the top two candidates, it gets counted that way in the runoff as well. (obviously!)
6) For voters whose first choice candidate was eliminated - their vote is counted toward whichever of the top two candidates is ranked highest on their ballot.

As currently, if your ONLY vote is for a candidate who gets 3% it doesn't do much good... it could pay to choose the lesser of two evils (i.e. if most of the Nader 2023 voters chose Gore as their number two consolation with this system, we'd have no Iraq war right now).

- There is no incentive to "game" the system or vote strategically - the best result corresponding to the wishes of the individual voter and the wishes of the voting population will result from each voter simply voting for candidates in the actual order of preference, and not voting for candidates they do not deem acceptable.
- This takes away the "spoiler" factor of third party or second tier candidates - if one candidate is the outright favorite of a majority of voters, they should and will win, but if a voter likes a second tier or third party candidate best, but could settle for one of the front runners, they can vote that way, and their vote will be counted. Especially in multi-candidate races this provides a strong incentive to vote for who you really want instead of voting for the guy you think can win. Just rank them that way, and either way, your vote counts if you choose at least one viable candidate. This would have an added advantage of allowing voters to take a chance on the underdog if that's their first choice, without handing the election to the candidate you don't like.
- This also opens the door for a third party in the middle.
- One person, one vote - each person's vote is counted once and only once. Every voter's vote potentially receives the same weight, but the will of the majority prevails. A vote for Donald Duck or Lyndon LaRouche is no more or less marginal than it would be in a current election.


** In my opinion, multiple member districts would NOT make the system better if multiple candidates would be elected at the same time. This would drive us even further away from consensus, as it lowers the bar for the percentage of the vote needed to "win" to a smaller fraction than it does already. More consensus is good, not less.

With regard to your note about multiple member districts, I think maybe you are missing the beauty of proportional representation. Let me put it into a hypothetical situation.

In District X, 38% of the people are steadfast Republicans. 36% are die-hard Democrats. This seventy four percent always votes along party lines. Then there are 2% Libertarians, 2% Greens, and 22% independents of various degrees of support for conservative and progressive issues. In a single-seat race by our current system, either the Democrat or Republican who can get the most independents to vote for him/her will win the seat. In a single-seat race with IRV, it will probably be the same, although determining the winner might require looking at the second or third choices of some of the independents. In either of these scenarios, at least 40% of the population ends up with someone in office they did not choose, and who will not be representing their views. While IRV does offer advantages over our current system, including some of those you named above, it does not really offer us a good system of representation.

If on the other hand we combine Districts W, X, Y, and Z into a larger district (and let's assume for the purposes of this argument that the proportion of support throughout the new larger district are roughly the same as they were in the smaller district X), and elect four members from this larger district, and let's say that in addition to the Rep, Dem, Lib and Gr candidates that there are three independents (who may have been runners-up in one of the primaries), then we will likely end up with the Republican and the Democratic candidates, and the top two behind them. In this case, the Republicans and Democrats in teh district are both represented, as well as many of the independents and/or Greens and/or Libertarians. Almost everybody will likely have voted for one of the candidates elected, and will have someone in office to whom they can appeal, and who will more or less be representing their views.

Trying to win a majority of votes when the largest field of support is less than 40% leads to...well, to the kind of messed up system we have here.

Just because empire is an ugly word doesn't mean you don't live in one.

Steps 1 and 2 are the same.
Step 3 is the same, except there is no provision for someone being declared the winner after round one without a clear majority.
Step 4 is entirely different:

a) the candidate receiving the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated, and from his/her first-choice ballots, the second-choice selections are added to the first-choice totals of the remaining field

b) if any candidate now has a majority, he/she is the winner; if not,

c) again, the candidate with the fewest number of votes, now from the combined totals, is eliminated. His/her first and second choice ballots are then recounted. The highest ranking vote on each for a candidate who has not yet been eliminated is then added to that candidate's total.

repeat b and c until one candidate has a majority.

Just because empire is an ugly word doesn't mean you don't live in one.

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