Following up on Seats and Votes in the Senate

Posted by Nathan Nicholson on January 06, 2015
Vox's Dylan Matthews draws on FairVote's December analysis of the relationship between the current partisan makeup of the U.S. Senate and the raw popular votes cast to elect its members to argue that "the Senate is a profoundly anti-democratic body and should be abolished."

While we welcome the debate over the significance of these numbers, we'd like to be clear that FairVote does not advocate abolishing the Senate or changing the constitutionally prescribed method of Senate apportionment. Nor is our noting of the discrepancies between seats won versus votes cast intended to imply that the Senate is problematic in this regard. As a body designed to represent the interests of states as political entities in their own right, it's not necessarily the case that the Senate should closely reflect the nationwide popular vote aggregated across states, although there are good arguments on both sides.

But while we're on the subject, let's talk about another way to boost voters' ability to have their views faithfully represented in the Senate: electing Senators using ranked-choice voting (RCV, also termed instant-runoff voting).  RCV elections promote the airing of fresh policy ideas, encourage constructive campaigning, and favor candidates with broad appeal. RCV also allows voters to vote their preferences without fear of a spoiler effect. This would eliminate frustrating scenarios like that seen in Kansas last September, when Democratic Senate nominee Chad Taylor appeared to withdraw from the race to avoid splitting his votes with independent candidate Greg Orman. 

And unlike abolishing or redrawing the Senate, which would require nothing short of a constitutional convention, electing Senators through RCV is a low-hanging-fruit fix that can be accomplished by simple state statute. In Maine, an initiative to implement RCV for U.S. Senators and other statewide elected offices is currently making its way to the ballot with FairVote's support. Jettisoning our anachronistic plurality voting system is a commonsense Senate reform we can all get behind.
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