President Obama Describes the Need for Structural Electoral Reform in NPR Interview

Posted by Elliot Louthen on December 23, 2015

President Barack Obama’s year-end interview with NPR’s Steve Inskeep touched on a range of subjects, from national security, to campus activism, to the upcoming election in 2016.  On this latter note, President Obama highlighted one of the fundamental problems in our political system. Obama commented, “The truth of the matter is that where Democrats have had problems is we had the misfortune of doing poorly in 2010 when there was redistricting, and in many of the successive elections Democrats have actually voted at higher rates.”

Gerrymandering is practiced by both major parties. Combined with winner-take-all voting rules, it leads to predetermined representation for most voters and partisan skews. Currently, the combined effects of gerrymandering and winner-take-all have resulted in a relative lock on the House of Representatives for Republicans because, as explained by FairVote, more Democrats are clustered into fewer districts than their Republican counterparts. Although correcting this skew to a level playing field may seem partisan today, it ultimately transcends party lines. In years past, Democrats have similarly benefited from winner-take-all districts; for four decades from 1955-1995 Democrats dominated the House even as the White House swung back and forth between the major  parties. 

FairVote’s biennial Monopoly Politics report underscores this issue by demonstrating the uncompetitive nature of most districts. The report projects the electoral outcome of any district that has a strong partisan lean with frightening accuracy: in 2012, all 333 projections were correct, and in 2014, 367 of 368 districts were accurately projected.  In November 2014, more than two years before the 2016 elections, we made our final projections in six out of every seven races and will publish updated analyses next year. 

FairVote's reform solution to the crisis in House elections is the Ranked Choice Voting Act, to be introduced in 2016. By establishing independent redistricting commissions, multi-winner districts and ranked choice voting, it gives every voter a meaningful voice and eliminates entrenched partisan skews. President Obama as a leader on these issues as a state senator, including introducing legislation to establish ranked choice voting for primary elections and give Illinois voters a chance to bring back a fair representation system in multi-winner districts for the state legislature.

The president is certainly right today that electoral reform needs to be on the agenda in 2016.

Photo Courtesy: The White House

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