Fair Representation In Congress

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 fair representation voting. These proposals help ensure that majority rule prevails, more voters elect favorite candidates, all voices are heard, and elected leaders are more accountable to the people.

FairVote's flagship proposal for Congress would 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% will be 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. We project that in 2016, Democrats would need to win the national vote by more than 12% just to earn a one-seat majority. 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 fair representation voting would look very different:

  • Meaningful electionsBy electing candidates proportionally 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 fair representation 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.

What is Fair Representation Voting?

Fair representation voting describes American, candidate-based forms of proportional representation, like ranked choice voting and other methods. Communities across the United States already use fair representation voting, and it has an impressive history of use in local and state elections. Fair representation voting maximizes the number of votes that help elect representatives by allowing nearly every voter to elect a candidate of choice, not just the biggest and most powerful group of voters.

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 a candidate they support, who will go into Congress with their interests and values in mind.

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.

Monopoly Politics and the Fair Voting Solution

Fair representation voting describes American, candidate-based forms of voting in multi-winner districts that respect the principles of majority rule and proportional representation.

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.

Analysis and Research

The Fair Representation Act

The Fair Representation Act is a model congressional bill that would repeal and replace the 1967 single-winner district mandate with a new national standard for all fifty states. It includes three essential reforms that, when enacted together, create a fairer and more representative way of electing Members of the House of Representatives. Those parts 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, and which are drawn by 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. Grounded in equality, 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. States without the capacity to administer a ranked choice voting election have the option of instead using the open ticket method.

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.

Interstate Compacts For Fair Representation

An interstate compact for fair representation is an agreement between two (or more) states that each will adopt fair representation voting in multi-winner districts if the other does as well. It represents an innovative way for states to move forward toward a fairer and more representative Congress.

Two states - one controlled by one party and one controlled by another - can agree to become fair together. For example, a Democratic-controlled state whose districts unfairly advantage Democrats could join with a Republican-controlled state whose districts unfairly advantage Republicans. That way, the majority party in each state does not feel as though they are "unilaterally disarming." Both act together, or not at all.

Although a national standard is the best approach to achieving fair representation for all, states can act right now to promote fair representation through interstate compacts. An interstate compact is a binding contract between two states. If either state repeals or fails to implement fair representation voting in multi-winner districts, the other ceases to be bound by the compact.

The Potomac Compact

On February 5, 2016, Maryland state senator Jamie Raskin introduced an example of an interstate compact for fair representation, which he called the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation.

Under the Potomac Compact, Maryland and Virginia (if it also passed the compact) would each send citizens to a joint independent redistricting commission. That commission could then implement a multi-winner district plan: Maryland would divide into two districts, each electing four; Virginia would divide into three districts, two of which elect three and one of which elects five. Within those districts, voters would use ranked choice voting or another fair representation voting method.

Our analysis suggests that such a plan would allow voters in every part of both states to elect candidates from the major party they prefer. With ranked choice voting, every voter would be in a meaningfully contested election, and the outcomes would be far more fair than they are in either state now. It could do all that for both states without changing the overall partisan impact for either political party, making it a safe political choice for both states.

On March 3, 2016, FairVote testified in Maryland in favor of the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation.

State Choice of Voting Method Act

Since 1967, a federal statute has required all states to elect all Members of the U.S. House of Representatives in single-winner districts, even though many states had historically elected at-large or in multi-winner districts. Although the law was well-intentioned, it has locked in a system of manipulation of district lines for political gain.

At a minimum, Congress should repeal that mandate, returning to states the right to use multi-winner elections for their congressional delegations. To accommodate the concerns over use of at-large elections to dilute the votes of political and racial minorities, Congress should require that any state using multi-winner elections must do so in a way that allows such minorities to elect candidates of choice.

As an example of such a proposal, FairVote recommends the State Choice of Voting Method Act. That Act would merely repeal the 1967 single-winner district mandate and specify that any state using multi-winner elections must use a voting method that satisfies three criteria:

  1. The election method ensures majority rule and equal voting power;
  2. The method ensures that if a candidate receives more than one-third of votes cast in a multi-winner election, then that candidate will be elected; and
  3. The election method does not violate the Voting Rights Act.

In short, the Act specifies that if a state uses multi-winner elections, it must also use fair representation voting.

These fair representation voting methods are already in use in over 200 cities, counties, and other local jurisdictions. From 1870 to 1980, Illinois elected its state house of representatives with fair representation voting. Most democratic countries elect their national legislatures in multi-winner elections. 

The Act draws on a similar bill introduced in 1999 by Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) and co-sponsored by Members including James Clyburn (D-SC) and Tom Campbell (R-CA). It received favorable testimony from the Department of Justice.

To learn more about the State Choice of Voting Method Act, see our one-page policy brief and model statute.

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.
  • Monopoly Politics and the Fair Voting Solutions
    FairVote's biennial report on congressional elections makes the case clearly that congressional elections are broken and that the Fair Representation Act represents the best way out. See our interactive map for information on every congressional district in every state, under both the current winner-take-all method and under the Fair Representation Act.
  • 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.

  • RCV Maine ballot measure
    A campaign for a ballot measure expected to be on the November 2016 ballot to establish ranked choice voting for all state and congressional elections.

Articles 

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

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