Posted by Drew Penrose on June 29, 2017
I’m sponsoring the Fair Representation Act because Congress is broken. It is hyper-partisan. It is far too polarized. The Fair Representation Act creates a structure where members of Congress are incentivized to work together. This is the right thing to do to give voters the strong voice that they deserve in our elections.
--Congressman Don Beyer (VA-08)
On June 26, 2017, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA) introduced H.R. 3057: The Fair Representation Act. He was joined by co-sponsors Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Ro Khanna (D-CA). This is a historic moment. The Fair Representation Act is the most comprehensive approach to reforming congressional elections in United States history. It would truly realize the vision of the House of Representatives as “The People’s House.”
The Fair Representation Act
FairVote has called for expanding the use of multi-winner ranked choice voting in United States elections since its founding 25 years ago. Ranked choice voting can replace the broken, zero-sum, winner-take-all system - in which the biggest group of voters in a district are the only ones earning representation - with fair representation for all. In this era of fierce partisan divisions, nowhere needs this change more than the House of Representatives.
Under the Fair Representation Act, every state would use ranked choice voting to elect its Representatives. Voters would be free to rank their choices without fear of “spoilers.” Instead of only one candidate winning with the most votes, several candidates would win based on how many votes they earn. For example, in a state like Oklahoma or Connecticut that elects 5 winners, 17% of voters can elect 1 of the 5 winners; 34% of voters can elect 2 of the 5 winners; and so on. A majority of voters can always elect a majority of seats, and everyone earns their fair share.
States that elect up to 5 winners will not need any districts at all. Larger states will use districts, but the districts will elect 3, 4, or 5 winners each. That means that a state like Massachusetts that elects 9 Representatives will divide into equal thirds, with each of the three districts electing 3 winners with ranked choice voting. To adopt a district map, these states will form independent redistricting commissions composed of ordinary state citizens (not politicians or lobbyists) who will operate transparently and hold hearings around the state to find the district map that makes the most sense for their state.
The use of ranked choice voting in multi-winner elections will transform the House of Representatives. The current system only allows the biggest group of voters in each district to win representation, all other voices are silenced. As a result, there are millions of voters who prefer Democrats stuck in safe Republican districts and millions of voters who prefer Republicans stuck in safe Democratic districts, women and people of color are under-represented, and everyone has too few choices. The Fair Representation Act can elevate those voices, giving them more power to elect candidates they support and who will go to Congress to work for them.
A Historic Moment
Under the Constitution, Congress has the responsibility to act when our federal elections are not working. It has acted on that responsibility many times in the past, passing laws changing how we elect Congress in 1842 (requiring single-winner districts), 1872 (equal populations per representative), 1901 (requiring that districts be “compact”), 1929 (repealing the requirement to use districts), and 1967 (re-imposing the requirement to use districts). It has been 50 years since Congress has acted in this arena, even as the current system fails to deliver on the promise of a representative House.
Representative Beyer has shown tremendous leadership in holding Congress to its constitutional responsibilities. The attention it attracted from the public demonstrates the hunger that voters have for a more empowering system. FairVote livestreamed Rep. Beyer’s press conference, which was viewed over 44,000 times and ultimately reached over 554,000 people.
The day after the bill’s introduction, Rep. Beyer published an opinion piece in the Washington Post explaining why he introduced the Act. It begins “Democracy is in crisis. Even as the country is deeply divided along class and ideological lines, it seems to be unified in its frustration with our current brand of politics.” Other voices have also weighed in on the need for the Fair Representation Act, including:
Anita Earls, Executive Director for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice - Could This Put an End to Gerrymandering?
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, Vice President for the Social Policy & Politics Program at Third Way - The Fair Representation Act Would Restore Voters’ Faith in U.S. Elections
David Daley interviewed Rep. Don Beyer on why he’s sponsoring the Fair Representation Act. That Q & A was published in Salon this week.
As more media coverage happens in the coming days and weeks, we'll add it to the list on our website.
You Can Help the Fair Representation Act Gain Momentum
Now that the vehicle for transforming elections to the U.S. House of Representatives is a bill in Congress, you can help to move the conversation forward. Contact your Representative today to ask them to support the Fair Representation Act. You can find your Representative here, and email them a letter supporting the Fair Representation Act. A sample letter is provided here. You also could consider calling your Member, which increases their likelihood of responding. Better still would be to form a group to have a meeting with your Member and their district office staff.
Finally, we want to keep adding names to our petition in support of the Act. We currently have over 1500 signatures. Please consider sharing the petition online and drawing people’s attention to our new video and our public resources, at FairRepresentation.com.