Proportional Representation: a cure worse than the disease

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Proportional Representation: a cure worse than the disease

Postby JEQuidam » Sat May 15, 2010 8:22 am

People sometimes ask me about proportional representation as an alternative to representational enlargement.

There are two aspects of proportional representation which are important to understand. First, because the U.S. Constitution specifies single-member districts, implementing proportional representation would require a constitutional amendment. In contrast, representational enlargement (with single-member districts) can be implemented without an amendment. Though I favor an amendment to compel enlargement (by establishing a maximum district population size), such an amendment is not a prerequisite.

The second point is that the root causes of our problems stem from the massive size of the congressional districts, not the number of Representatives. (This is explained in Taking Back Our Republic.) The main problem with proportional representation is that it preserves the oversized districts and, therefore, all the problems they produce (e.g., political party control, lobbyist and special interest control of the Reps, etc).

As a practical matter, I don't believe there are any success stories we can point to relative to proportional representation. A list of countries using this method is provided by Wikipedia; none of which are paragons of representative democracy.
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Proportional Representation Is Like a Box of Chocolates...

Postby JEQuidam » Sat May 15, 2010 8:29 am

Proportional Representation Is Like a Box of Chocolates: You Never Know What You’re Going to Get
by Azeem Ibrahim – Research Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School’s International Security Program
From the Huffington Post
May 14, 2010

Now that Britain has a coalition, electoral reform is more likely than ever. And yet the post-electoral dithering and huddling is a better argument against proportional representation (PR) than we have had in a long time.

The man in the street is entitled to expect that an election produces a government. Even days after election night, we still didn't have one. PR would mean that this disappointing inconclusiveness, this national post-electoral dithering and huddling, becomes the norm. If you think this result was inconclusive, why would you want it every time?

Part of the problem with most forms of electoral reform is that under it, no one party would win, so no party would do what it wants with the power. The people would only be able to shift the balance of power to the left or the right. It is after the elections that the real decisions are made on how the power will be used.

Proportional representation is the system that the Liberal Democrats have long supported. Us opponents of PR would be foolish to deny that it would be more representative than first past the post, in the sense that it would send to Westminster MPs who better represented the choice of the country. The problem is that because there would normally be coalitions, the laws and decisions they make would normally end up being less representative of the choice of the country. Whereas first past is like letting the electorate choose a driver who will choose where to drive, PR is like letting the electorate choose the passengers who will sit in the car, fighting over the destination. It would not be able to actually go anywhere until and unless they manage to agree.

Worse, coalitions are held together by leaders ‘buying off’ the smaller parties to prevent them splitting and triggering new elections. That inevitably results in leaders kowtowing to factional whims and offering concessions to the preoccupations of small parties, however arcane. That would be a very real risk here, where small party support has grown from 3% to 14% in the last thirteen years. In many countries this results in money for the pet projects of small parties or individuals. This is an awful idea at a time when there is such an urgent need to restrict spending.

The second problem with PR is that coalitions would seriously impinge on the government's ability simply to make a decision. This often results in governmental immobility. PR advocates must accept that sometimes, strong leadership is necessary. Now is one of those times. There are tough decisions to be made on Afghanistan and painful cuts to be made. Coalitions inevitably focus on what governments can do at the expense of what needs doing.

A third problem with PR are the kind of skills it incentivises in politicians. It rewards those skilled in the politics of the bazaar, the hidden backroom give and take. In Britain, we have a tradition of listening to the parties' opposing plans, picking one, and then letting the party which proposed it carry it through.

A fourth problem is that PR would make the Liberal Democrats the kingmakers of British politics. This is ironic: it means that a system designed to disperse power downwards and make sure that everyone's vote counts equally would in fact give it to one man: the leader of the Liberal Democrats. Proportional Representation would give any Lib Dem leader in the foreseeable future a permanent veto over government policy. That would be neither proportional nor representative.

In short, if a party asks you to vote for it, it should be able to tell you what it will do with the power. But if we had proportional representation, it wouldn't be able to, because it wouldn't know. Why should Britain change to an electoral system where you never know what you're going to get?

Azeem Ibrahim is a Research Scholar at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Member of the Board of Directors at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and Chairman and CEO of Ibrahim Associates.
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Re: Proportional Representation: a cure worse than the disease

Postby HouseSizeWonk » Tue Nov 09, 2010 12:35 pm

JEQuidam wrote:First, because the U.S. Constitution specifies single-member districts, implementing proportional representation would require a constitutional amendment.


The Constitution does not require single-member districts. It says only:
"The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators." U.S. CONST. art. I, § 4, cl. 1.

The rule requiring single-member districts is statutory only. See 2 U.S.C. § 2c (2006) ("In each State entitled . . . to more than one Representative . . . , there shall be established by law a number of districts equal to the number of Representatives to which such State is so entitled, and Representatives shall be elected only from districts so established, no district to elect more than one Representative . . . .").

In years past, congressional apportionment laws did not require single-member districts, and many states elected to do something different. Delaware, for example, was apportioned 2 seats from 1813-1823, and elected them both at-large. Georgia used a very interesting system, where the State was divided into districts but all members of the delegation were elected on an at-large basis (i.e., one person needed to be elected from each district, but all Georgia voters voted for all seats) from 1793-1827 and 1829-1845. The practice was basically ended with the apportionment act of 1842.
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Re: Proportional Representation: a cure worse than the disea

Postby Epicurus » Wed Jul 16, 2014 7:07 pm

I am all for increasing the number of representatives as this site suggests, but the winner-take-all, single member district (which as someone else has already pointed out is NOT required by the Constitution) leaves up to 49.1% of the voters with NO representation in the government. Can a Republican represent a Democrat? Can a Democrat represent a Republican? What happened to "no taxation without representation?"
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Re: Proportional Representation: a cure worse than the disea

Postby Epicurus » Thu Jul 17, 2014 11:21 am

Ibrahim's criticisms above have more to do with Britain's parliamentary form of government and the composition of its voters (which he doesn't like--so much for his view of democracy) than proportional representation.
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