Voices & Choices

Dissolving the Demographic Dilemma

Dissolving the Demographic Dilemma

Two articles were published this morning (July 29) on Daily Kos and Fivethirtyeight about the dilemma of redistricting to make sure as many demographics as possible are represented.

In the Daily Kos article, Stephen Wolf discusses the implications of the Supreme Court’s decision last year (Shelby County v. Holder) to strike down portions of the Voting Rights Act that eliminated pre-clearance of redrawn districts in certain states.  By going through state by state scenarios, Wolf estimates that Democratic legislators representing minority communities could lose more than a dozen seats in the House of Representatives and would all but disappear in Southern, majority Republican states.  The Fivethirtyeight article by David Wasserman points out that the urban revitalization in American cities further clusters Democratic votes in densely populated areas, creating astoundingly partisan districts and dramatically reducing the already tiny number of swing House districts.  These demographic trends have already led to less representative elections, like in 2012, when 52% of voters voted for Democratic House candidates, but Republicans won 54% of House seats.  

The issues of representation discussed in these articles appear intractable when possible solutions are only considered within the traditional concept of districts and representation in the United States.  In fact, there are some relatively simple solutions to this dilemma that would reap enormous benefits for representation and government functionality once we let go of the necessity of single-member winner-take-all districts.

First, Superdistricts, in which multiple winners (3-5 representatives) in a larger district are proportionally allocated by vote share, would ensure that the minority party or group of like-minded voters in a district could still win representation. FairVote’s demonstrates how superdistricts would work in Louisiana by putting “voters in charge of their representation.”

Secondly, Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a proven and successful system - even in local single-winner offices - for electing more women and minority candidates and giving voters more options to choose from without the risk of “wasting” their votes or voting for “spoilers.”  When used in multi-member districts, as long as a political minority population is beyond a certain threshold (for example, 20% of the population in a district represented by 4 candidates), that minority’s choice candidate is guaranteed a seat.

These reforms would allow Republicans in heavily blue states and Democrats in heavily red states to have a voice in Congress.  Furthermore, they eliminate some of the concerns about fairness that surfaced because of the Shelby County case.  Regardless of party, race, or gender, it is hard to argue against the benefits of multi-winner superdistricts with ranked choice voting, especially in regards to the concerns that Mr. Wolf and Mr. Wasserman brought up this morning.

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