Rob Richie is executive director and Devin McCarthy is a policy analyst at FairVote.org, a nonpartisan organization based in Takoma Park, Md.
In shutting down the government, Congress reached a new level of dysfunction. While many pundits castigated individuals and parties, others more insightfully focused on institutional rules, such as the role of gerrymandering, closed primaries and campaign spending.
Others went further. Most healthy democracies combine parliamentary government with legislatures elected via party list forms of proportional representation. Under such rules, Germany, possessor of Europe’s strongest economy, just elected a broadly representative legislature and is forming a functional coalition government.
Even though we vote for individuals for Congress, we now have de facto party-based elections. Ticket-splitting has all but disappeared, reflecting a widening cultural and ideological gap between the parties. The parties’ traditional big tents have collapsed, leaving few remaining “bridgebuilders” able to forge compromises.
If we accept such politics as inevitable, parliamentary government with party lists makes sense. But rather than abandon James Madison, we call for the restoration of the quintessentially American ideal of a candidate-centric federal republic. With a simple statute, Congress can eliminate the root cause of our party-dominated politics: winner-take-all voting rules that silence the minority.
The essential reform is electing House members with ranked choice voting in multi-member districts. As simple as voting 1-2-3 and proven in local elections, ranked choice voting rewards voters who cast sincere ballots and candidates who reach out to more voters. When used in multi-member districts, it guarantees more diverse representation.
As shown in our 50-state plan at FairVoting.us, the House would have fewer and larger districts drawn by independent commissions. Each voter would have one potent vote in elections for between three and five representatives, according to the district’s population. Like-minded voters could elect someone with about a quarter of the vote, meaning that most voters would first help nominate someone in a primary and then help elect a candidate in the general election.
Under our plan, every single multi-member district would likely elect representatives of both major parties. When parties are more geographically and ideologically diverse and when nearly all House Members share constituents with representatives of the opposing party, Congress will have new incentives and opportunities for cooperation.
Congressional leaders often praise the Constitution. But the best way to honor the Constitution is through statutory reforms that would allow the Founders’ vision to work in modern politics. Let’s take the bold step of ending gerrymandering through the adoption of ranked choice voting by the start of the new decade.
Rob Richie is executive director and Devin McCarthy is a policy analyst at FairVote.org.