Can Our Political Institutions Handle Our Political Divisions?

Posted by Shane Wade on January 25, 2017

A recent policy paper by Lee Drutman of New America highlights how our political divisions have become increasingly paralyzing to our democratic institutions. The paper makes three recommendations to resolve divisions: weaken the executive branch, build a strong legislature through fair epresentation with ranked choice voting (an American of proportional representation), and infuse a high degree of federalism.

Among the recommendations, Drutman argues in favor of multi-winner districts and ranked choice voting--reforms at the heart of FairVote’s Fair Representation Act:

“Moving away from the winner-take-all system for congressional elections and towards a more proportional system would also be a political challenge. But again, it’s well within the bounds of the Constitution. In an earlier time, many states used multi-member districts to select representatives, and could do so again.

If states were to restore multi-member districts—ideally, districts would each have at least five representatives—more third parties would emerge. Voters would get more choices, and it would be harder for extremists to take over a major party. It would also be easier for factions to emerge within the two parties, producing more multi-dimensional bargaining in the legislature and better representation in the electorate, as voters would get more choices.

A more intermediate step in this direction would be to follow Maine’s lead on ranked-choice voting. Ranked-choice voting is a simple system in which voters rank their candidates in order of preference, and if their preferred candidate is at the bottom in the initial tally, they get to transfer their vote to their second choice, and so on, until one candidate gets a majority. The advantage of such an approach is that it also creates space for multiple parties, which can run without being spoilers. It also encourages candidates to build a true majority: If I can’t be your first choice, at least let me be your second choice.

Combining multi-member districts and ranked-choice voting would be an excellent choice. A very good plan along these lines is FairVote’s Fair Representation Act.”

You can read Lee Drutman's policy paper "Can Our Political Institutions Handle Our Political Divisions?" at New America’s website.




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