Voting that eliminates gerrymandering and allows everyone to have someone who represents them

The U.S. Constitution allows states to determine voting systems, but it does not specify that states must be divided into geographical districts, each with one representative.  Indeed, the two senators from each state both serve the whole state.  So called at-large voting has, however, been criticized for disenfranchising minorities, which can happen when the major parties choose a slate that puts candidates from the (white) majority ahead of candidates from minority groups.  Yet, electing people on a district basis is susceptible to gerrymandering and rarely ensures that the number of members from each party are proportional to the % of votes that party received in the state as a whole.  Moreover, if the member from your electorate is not from the party you support, you do not have anyone representing you in the government. The following system is intended to overcome  all these problems.

Of course, changing voting systems to make them more representative of the citizens is difficult (whereas changing them to make them less representative is not so hard these days if that favors the party in power).  So this post is put forward more as an exercise in critical thinking: Can you see flaws in the system?  Can you imagine how people who benefit from unrepresentative systems would discredit such a system?

A. Simplest version

1. If there are N representatives to be elected in a region (e.g., a state), then each party gets x representatives, where x = (total no. of votes cast for candidates from its party)/y, rounded down to the nearest whole number, where y= (total no. of votes cast)/N.

2. If this does not result in N representatives in total, then subtract x.y from each party’s total no. of votes cast for its candidates and repeat the process in #1 (but this time y = total no. of votes cast minus the subtracted amounts).

3. For the election, each party puts up a set of v candidates (v <= N), with the order of appearance on the ballot within the party determined by the primary (see #7).

4.  Each voter chooses one person on the ballot.

5.  If #1 & 2 mean that a given party is to have x representatives, then of the candidates from that party, the x ones with the highest votes get elected.

6a.  The party then divides up the region into x parts of approximately equal population and assigns one of their elected representatives to each part.  Every citizen in whatever geographical part of the region has a representative from their party of choice.  b. The parts consist of existing municipal units — counties, cities, towns, etc.  c. Presumably, the parties would match the representatives as closely as possible to where they live and to parts they have represented in the past, and take into account areas where they received the most votes.

7a. The party primary could allow a person to appear on the primary ballot if they received nominations from (total number of registered voters in that party)/2v, where a nomination does not count if a voter nominates more than one person.  b. The primary could then adopt an equivalent of the simple system (or the preferential system below) for determining its v candidates, who would be listed on the ballot in the order of preference.

B. Preferential system

System A has the disadvantage that a number of similar candidates could split the vote and not get elected even though their combined vote may be greater than others in their party who did get elected and even though their votes contributed to the party getting its x representatives.   (“Similar” here might denote political views withing the spectrum of the party as well status as a minority or other underrepresented group, such as women.)  A preferential system overcomes this problem.

4′ Each voter may (but does not have to) specify 2nd and 3rd preferences as well as their 1st preference, but all the choices must come from the same party.  (A 2nd or 3rd preference from a different party than the first preference is read as not specifying a preference.)

5′ a. If #1 & 2 mean that a given party is to have x representatives, then any candidate from that party who was preferred by z= (total number of votes preferring candidates from that party)/x gets elected.

b. If an elected person received w votes, then a random selection of w-z votes are chosen and the person listed as next preferred on each of those votes becomes the preferred person for that vote.  If that person is already elected, the vote goes to the next person preferred.  If there is no next preference, the vote gets put into a no-preference pile and, for the purposes of #5’a, the total number of votes preferring candidates from that party is reduced by one.  #5’a is repeated until the party has x representatives.

The Preferential system allows multiple groups within a party to put out how-to-vote cards, e.g., how to vote to maximize the proportion of a party’s members being women, being gay, being African-American, being latino, being young, and so on.  None of this jockeying reduces the electoral fortunes of the party you prefer.  The primary (see #7) determines how each party chooses the set of candidates to put up.

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

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