Minority Representation

Racial Minority Representation and Electoral Systems

LBJ Signing the Voting Rights Act

Many racial minority groups are severely underrepresented in local, state, and federal government. All discussions of improving descriptive racial minority representation in the United States are guided by the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and a later 1967 law that legally embeds the notion that single-winner districts are better for minority representation than multi-winner districts, especially block voting (Carroll and Sanbonmatsu, 2013).

Contemporary scholarship supports the idea that minorities are most fairly represented in well-drawn single-winner districts only when the minority population in question is politically homogeneous and geographically concentrated. In recognition of these problems, inherent in single-winner districts, judges increasingly uphold multi-winner proportional electoral systems, like Cumulative Voting and Limited Voting, as legitimate alternatives to majority-minority single-member districts under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

The literature shows:

RCV and the representation of racial minority groups


Because multi-winner RCV is not yet widely used in the United States, and single-winner RCV has gained popularity recently, we do not yet know much about the impact of RCV on minority representation.

There is good reason to expect that multi-winner RCV will fairly represent ethnic and racial minorities, for the same reasons other proportional systems do (Amy, 2002).

Early, anecdotal, evidence shows that RCV in single-winner districts has been accompanied by high levels of representation for ethnic and racial minorities.  Currently (2015), three of the four mayors of the Bay Area cities using ranked choice voting in their elections are female. Women hold half or more of the offices elected by RCV in the Bay Area in three cities: Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro. Women and people of color hold 47 of the 52 elected offices filled using RCV. 

To explore the link between RCV and the representation of ethnic and racial minorities FairVote has launched two ambitious projects: 

We anticipate completion of these projects in 2016. 

Further Reading 

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