The Fair Representation Act

Congressional elections are broken. The House of Representatives, created to be "the people's house" has become ineffective, unrepresentative, and unaccountable. Partisan polarization stifles practical legislation, skewed results divorce voters from their representatives, and the lack of competition means too many voices go unheard in elections. 

The American people want a Congress that functions effectively and is truly of, by, and for the people. It's time to level the playing field and advance representative democracy with a fairer system: the Fair Representation Act. This proposal helps ensure that majority rule prevails, more voters elect favorite candidates, all voices are heard, and elected leaders are more accountable to the people.

The Fair Representation Act will replace the winner-take-all single-winner districts with fewer multi-winner districts. In each multi-winner district, three, four, or five winners would be selected by ranked choice voting. In each district, the majority would elect most of the seats, but voters outside the majority could elect their fair share too, meaning that nearly every voter would have a representative they supported and helped elect. The total number elected in each state would stay the same, but district lines would not determine winners: voters would.

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The U.S. Constitution does not say how states should elect their Members of the House of Representatives, and states used a variety of methods for most of the nation's history. However, since 1970, every state has elected only one per district in a winner-take-all election, due to a federal law passed in 1967. After nearly half a century of exclusive use of single-winner districts, we need a new standard.

Elections under the single-winner district system are broken:

  • Elections are not competitive. More than 85% of U.S. House districts are completely safe for the party that holds them. and only 4% were true toss-ups in 2016. As a result, millions of Americans are perpetually represented by politicians they oppose, with little hope of changing things at the polls.

  • Outcomes are distorted. In 2016, Democrats would have needed to win the national vote by more than 12% just to earn a one-seat majority. In 2012, Democratic candidates won more votes than Republican candidates, but they won fewer seats. Many state delegations are even more skewed, as in Massachusetts, which elects 9 Democrats and 0 Republicans, even though 40% of its voters prefer the GOP.
  • Representatives are more polarized than voters. Voters in general elections must choose between polarized candidates selected by highly partisan primary voters, leaving moderate Americans without a route to representation.

A House elected in multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting would look very different:

  • Meaningful electionsBy electing candidates from multi-winner districts with at least three seats each, fair representation voting would allow every voter to elect someone from the major party they support. And, more of each party's "big tent" would have the opportunity to support - and even elect - a candidate in the general election.
  • Accurate RepresentationBecause election results with ranked choice voting would be proportional within each district, the skewed outcomes of our current system would be a thing of the past. Voters that are now shut-out, like Republicans in Massachusetts or Democrats in Oklahoma, would win their fair share of representation. In every state, the number of seats earned by each party would align far more closely to their share of the vote.
  • A fair shot for moderates and independentsWith proportional outcomes and a wider variety of candidates advancing to the general election, fair representation voting would reduce the outsized influence of partisan primary voters and empower the far larger and more representative electorate that participates in general elections. Like other groups, moderates would be empowered by the Fair Representation Act to win their fair share of representation.

The Fair Representation Act

The Fair Representation Act is a model congressional bill that would repeal the 1967 single-winner district mandate and replace it with a new national standard for all fifty states. It includes two essential changes that, when enacted together, create a fairer and more representative way of electing Members of the House of Representatives. Those changes are the use of ranked choice voting in a smaller number of multi-winner districts, each of which sends at least three Members to Congress. Additionally, under the Fair Representation Act, states that draw districts must do so using state-run independent redistricting commissions made up of ordinary citizens and operating in a transparent fashion.

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Ranked choice voting is an election method used in communities across the United States for elections with more than two candidates. Ranked choice voting gives every voter a powerful voice in an election. Instead of just picking one candidate, the voter gets to rank candidates in order of choice – first choice, second choice and so on. It maximizes the number of votes that help elect representatives. 

When electing more than one Member in a multi-winner district, a majority of voters can always elect a majority of seats, but smaller groups can elect someone too. That means many more voters will help elect their first choice, and almost everyone will be able to elect a candidate they like, who will go into Congress with their interests and values in mind.

To maximize the power of voters, each multi-winner district will send at least three Members to Congress. To keep elections simple and local, no district will elect more than five Members. States that only send five or fewer Members will not have to draw any districts at all.

States that draw multi-winner districts will do so by establishing a citizen-run, independent redistricting commission. The commissions will be insulated from the political process, and will include the public directly at every step of their deliberation. Anyone will be able to draw district maps and submit them for consideration, and everyone can see what maps are being considered and participate in public hearings.

It’s time to break up single-party monopolies on representation in our cities, suburbs, and rural communities. It's time for voters to have a strong voice in the political process. It’s time for fair representation.

For a detailed description of each of the Act's three components, see our explanatory memo.

The Fair Representation Act in Your State

Under the Fair Representation Act, Congress will still be the same size it is now, but the districts will be larger and each will elect 3, 4, or 5 winners. When more than one person wins in a district, more voices in that district can be represented. With ranked choice voting, there will be no "red" or "blue" districts. Voters in the majority will elect most of the winners, but not all of them. Voters in the minority also get a seat at the table.

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Below are examples of multi-winner district maps for every state. The states that elect 5 or fewer Representatives will have no districts and elect all statewide. States larger than that are divided into multi-winner districts that elect 3, 4, or 5 winners each. The analysis of each map assumes the state will use ranked choice voting, as required by the Fair Representation Act. Details about how each district map was drawn are below the table.

Click on your state to find out how the Fair Representation Act could transform representation in your state. 

Alabama Hawaii Massachusetts New Mexico South Dakota
Alaska Idaho Michigan New York Tennessee
Arizona Illinois Minnesota North Carolina Texas
Arkansas Indiana Mississippi North Dakota Utah
California Iowa Missouri Ohio Vermont
Colorado Kansas Montana Oklahoma Virginia
Connecticut Kentucky Nebraska Oregon Washington
Delaware Louisiana Nevada Pennsylvania West Virginia
Florida Maine New Hampshire Rhode Island Wisconsin
Georgia Maryland New Jersey South Carolina Wyoming

 

To create these maps, FairVote partnered with Kevin Baas, creator of the Auto-Redistrict program. The maps are computer-generated based on user-specified criteria. Because the maps are computer-generated, they cannot take into account communities of interest and other considerations that an independent redistricting commission would. Instead, the program attempted to draw districts that would keep counties intact. We do not claim that these are the actual districts that would be used under the Fair Representation Act. They are examples. We did not attempt to "put our thumb on the scales" to increase fairness in any of these. For more analysis of these districts, see FairVote's Fair Representation Act Report.

How You Can Get Involved

Congress is broken. Too often, politics is defined by unfair rules that make “the people’s house” unaccountable, ineffective, and disconnected from ordinary voters. Winner-take-all elections are leaving many voters unrepresented, and special interests are drawing districts to manipulate election outcomes. It’s time to put voters in charge. It’s time for fair elections that give Americans an effective and reflective Congress of, by, and for the people.

Urge your Member of Congress to pass the Fair Representation Act

 

How You Can Help in Your State

You can help promote fair representation statewide and locally today. State legislatures can help reform Congress by adopting interstate compacts for fair representation. You can also help to advocate for ranked choice voting in your city or state. You can also help to organize locally and spread the word.

Read: 11 Ways to Get Involved to Advance Ranked Choice Voting

Monopoly Politics and the Fair Voting Solution

Monopoly Politics exposes the undemocratic and destructive nature of winner-take-all elections to elect "the people's house." Use the interactive map to learn more about our fair voting solution: a plan to combine existing congressional districts into a smaller number of multi-winner "super districts," each electing between three and five Members by ranked choice voting. Read comprehensive analyses about the impact of reform, and descriptions of House elections as they are and as they could be in all 50 states.

The Fair Representation Act Report outlines how multi-winner ranked choice voting will transform the U.S. House of Representatives. Using the model established by the Fair Representation Act, the report simulates the impact of multi-winner ranked choice voting in maps drawn by independent commissions with district maps drawn by the Autoredistrict computer program. It includes a report on the impact on each individual state as well as analysis of the overall impact in making elections more competitive and representative.

Analysis and Research

Resources

  • Comparative Structural Reform
    Partnering with 13 leading scholarly authorities on electoral reform and legislative functionality, FairVote conducted an in-depth assessment of 37 different structural reforms. Each scholar assessed the impact of each reform on 16 different criteria to assess how it would impact legislative functionality, electoral accountability, voter engagement, and openness of process. The reform at the heart of the Fair Representation Act, ranked choice voting in five-winner districts, was assessed to be the most impactful.
  • Representation 2020
    Representation 2020 works to raise awareness of the under-representation of women in elected office, to strengthen coalitions that are supportive of measures to increase women's representation, and to highlight the often-overlooked structural barriers to achieving gender parity in American elections. Women win more seats with multi-winner districts and with fair representation voting.

  • Fair Representation Voting in the United States
    Alternatives to winner-take-all voting have a long tradition in the United States, with over 200 jurisdictions currently using ranked choice voting, cumulative voting, or limited voting to promote fair representation today. In 1870, Illinois adopted cumulative voting in three-winner districts for its state house of representatives, which it retained until 1980. In the first half of the 20th century, two-dozen U.S. cities adopted multi-winner ranked choice voting to elect their city councils, with Cambridge (MA) still using it to this day. Pennsylvania and Connecticut use "limited voting" and "limited nominations" to ensure minority representation in their local offices. Over 100 local jurisdictions have adopted limited voting or cumulative voting to remedy violations of the Voting Rights Act and adopt a more inclusive process. 

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