Making Congress Accountable: an actually workable plan

James Fallows linked to an interesting proposal for electoral reform by Center for Collaborative Democracy‘s Sol Erdman and MIT’s Lawrence Susskind. The document runs to 33 pages but, in a refreshing change, is actually really readable and does not require much political science terminology. Trust an amateur electoral wonk like myself to be able to tell 🙂

The proposal, termed Personally Accountable Representation (PAR), is superficially similar to a blend of single-winner IRV (instant runoff voting) and STV (single transferable vote). Like IRV, candidates are progressively eliminated until the number of remaining candidates equal the number of seats contested (in case of IRV, 1, in case of PAR, multiple seats). Unlike STV, “excess” votes are not reallocated, thus you get to be represented by your first pick if she wins a seat, eliminating a lot of complexity and confusion inherent in that system.

The proposal also eliminates the “one [Congress] man, one vote” link: after the winners are announced, voters can opt for their representative of choice among this list. Presumably they will pick their highest winning candidate most of the time, but this is not necessary (and voters whose preferred candidates all lose can still make a “least bad” choice). The votes of these representatives are then weighed in proportion of their support base. This weighting is similar to how the German Bundesrat works, and also how the EU council works (certain areas require double-majority voting: majority of countries and majority of represented population).

By having multi-member electoral districts, the chance of voters having a representative they can identify with increases; by opening up the political space, moderates are no longer stuck in the middle, but would instead likely gain a plurality in Congress; by having more credibility, members of Congress actually have the incentive and authority to negotiate deals, instead of just coasting along through reelections by selling their vote and blaming their opponents for lack of progress.

Most beautifully of all, they propose a roadmap through which this proposal can be tried out (starting with city council elections), and this does not require constitutional amendment.

Go, read 🙂


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