Voices & Choices

Book Review: 'Rethinking U.S. Election Law' by Steve Mulroy

Book Review: 'Rethinking U.S. Election Law' by Steve Mulroy

In “Rethinking US Election Law: Unskewing the System,” Steve Mulroy describes the most serious shortcomings in elections to federal office in the United States and how they can be overcome.

Rethinking US Election Law: Unskewing the System. Steve Mulroy. Edward Elgar Publishing. 2019.

Professor Steve Mulroy of the University of Memphis School of Law opens his latest book with a short list of “surprising facts.” In recent elections for each of the three elected bodies of the federal government - president, House of Representatives and Senate - voters clearly favored candidates from one political party, and yet the opposite party came out on top.  As Mulroy modestly puts it, “this seems to go against basic assumptions about democracy and majority rule.”

In “Rethinking U.S. Election Law’s” 10 concise chapters, Mulroy unpacks the electoral systems of the United States, laying bare their shortcomings and proposing some imminently sensible reforms to bring our elections back in line with those basic democratic assumptions.

The Electoral College and Senate get a chapter each, while issues and solutions concerning the House of Representatives earn their place in five separate chapters. This reflects FairVote’s own analysis that winner-take-all elections, especially in the House of Representatives, have fundamentally broken our politics, and resolving this problem should be our highest reform priority.

Mulroy also reaches the same conclusions increasingly shared by academics and reform activists alike: because winner-take-all elections are the core of the problem, the solution must be fair representation. He notes two more-incremental approaches: redistricting reform and single-winner ranked choice voting (“instant runoff voting”), and acknowledges that both carry benefits. However, to really “unskew” the system as the subtitle of the book suggests, Mulroy recommends adoption of multi-winner ranked choice voting - which he refers to as single-transferable vote - the same electoral method described in the Fair Representation Act and advocated by FairVote.

Mulroy is no stranger to FairVote. He has been active in promoting ranked choice voting in Memphis, where a whopping 62 percent of voters recently voted to keep the system in their city charter. He has written law review articles promoting the benefits of fair representation voting methods as remedies under the Voting Rights Act. He also consulted with FairVote President and CEO Rob Richie, as well as myself and Chris Hughes, then-staff attorney at Fairvote, when drafting some chapters of Rethinking US Election Law.

Overall, Mulroy’s depth of analysis, carefully thought-out conclusions and overall presentation deserve significant credit. The book is part of a scholarly legal series, including others on contract law, international commercial arbitration and legal reasoning as a few examples, and Mulroy provides deep legal and quantitative analysis.

However, the tone always remains accessible.These are not ivory tower pronouncements by out-of-touch elites, but common sense approaches to promoting the deeply American value of fairness in the political arena.

Illustration by Mikhaila Markham

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