Posted by Drew Spencer Penrose on December 23, 2015
It becomes clearer all the time: the dysfunction we see in politics and government derives from how the politicians are elected. With that realization comes the hope that by changing elections for the better we can change politics and government for the better as well.
However, we also need to use our time and resources in a way that will have the greatest impact, and there are lots of ideas for how to change elections with varying degrees of political viability. FairVote’s innovations provide what we see as some of the most potent ideas, but there exists a broad array of proposals including opening primaries, adopting independent redistricting commissions, enacting term limits, and so on.
To identify what structural electoral reforms have the greatest relative impact, FairVote asked the experts. We partnered with a group of 14 leading scholars, each one an authority on legislatures, elections, and electoral rules, to assess the impact of 37 different structural reforms to election laws. Each scholar rated every reform based on its likely impact on 16 different criteria relating to legislative functionality, electoral accountability, voter engagement, and openness of process. There were 21 criteria ratings in all, counting the four general categories and the overall impact rating.
To find out the results from this project, read our report describing the project and its outcomes on Comparative Structural Reform. Based on the participating scholars’ ratings, the structural electoral reforms that would benefit American democracy the most overall involve replacing winner-take-all elections with some form of proportional representation, or what we call fair representation voting. The single highest-ranked reform was the use of ranked choice voting in five-winner legislative districts, a result that echoes the result of the National Democracy Slam held at Washington College of Law last April. The scholars’ conclusion helps to highlight how transformative FairVote’s proposed Ranked Choice Voting Act - which would elect Congress using ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts - could really be.
Another highly rated reform was Districts Plus (also called “mixed-member proportional” or “MMP”), an alternative form of proportional representation that could be used in state legislatures. Various forms of single-winner ranked choice voting also rated highly.
Better known reforms like the Top Two primary and variations of redistricting reform received more modest rankings. To be sure, those reforms matter. Any impact is important, and those reforms may be more politically viable in most cases. However, their relatively low ratings suggest that they do not do enough to open up general elections to more competition and fairer representation.
We are pleased to report that FairVote will be able to take this project further in 2016, with more opportunities for participating scholars to react to one another’s ratings as they seek to reach a consensus. Stay tuned, and we hope you enjoy this year’s report.