By James Dail (CMC ’20)
Something has gone horribly wrong with Congress. In 2015, there was a study done analyzing Congressional Roll Call Vote Data that found that over the past sixty years, there has been a marked increase in the partisanship of Congress. This has led to fewer Democrats voting for Republican sponsored bills and vice-versa, as well as fewer bipartisan co-sponsorships of bills. This increase in partisanship has been preceded by an increase in the number of Congressional districts that either vote solidly Republican or solidly Democratic. If a House member has a majority of Republicans in his district, for example, then it makes sense that he would do all that he could to appeal to his base and not compromise on the issues. One possible solution to fix this is the Fair Representation Act, which would aim to defeat partisanship by enlarging House districts and having multiple candidates be elected per district.
The bill was proposed by Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, and the idea behind it is a simple one. Much in the same way as there is more than one senator per state, there should be more than one representative per House district. So as to not expand the number of representatives in the House, there would be fewer congressional districts, and their size would increase. The bill proposes that each district would have anywhere from three to five representatives. If a state has more than five representatives, then one possible scenario is that there would be three to each district. States that have fewer than five House seats would automatically hold their House races at a statewide level, regardless of how else the state could be divided.
Now if this plan relied on the voting system that is currently in use, where a Republican would face off with a Democrat for each of the seats in the district, then many of the positive effects of the Fair Representation Act would be minimized. Even though the electoral makeup of a district would be more politically diverse, this diverse electoral makeup would not necessarily translate to accurate representation in the House. If a district’s composition was sixty percent Republican and forty percent Democrat, then the Republicans would always win. In order to solve this, every election would be conducted through the use of something known as ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting is conducted by having voters rank their candidate preferences on the ballot, instead of choosing a specific number. For a district with five seats, whoever first receives a 20% share of the district’s vote would automatically gain a seat in Congress. From there, the votes would be re-tallied with the votes of the candidate who won in the first round no longer being counted, until another candidate reached the benchmark percentage. This process would continue until five members of Congress were elected. Now, supposing that the field of candidates is especially crowded, and that no candidate clears the 20% benchmark after the first round, then the candidate who garnered the fewest votes would be eliminated until the benchmark was cleared.
The chief advantage of the Fair Representation Act is that its adoption would compel more members of Congress to vote their consciences instead of the party line. This way, every member of Congress would have to cater to all of their constituents, not only those who are members of their party. This would ease partisanship by allowing for compromise on legislation and for members of Congress to build more professional relationships with members of the other party. It also comes with the added benefit of allowing all Americans to have a voice in Congress, not just the members of the party whose candidate won a race. What’s more, adopting this important change will not have to be accompanied by an arduous process like an amendment to the Constitution. There is precedent for the adoption of multi-member districts. Before an Act of Congress banned the practice in 1842, it was quite common to see multi-member House districts.
In Congress, growing polarization means growing paralysis. Unless the same party has a majority in the House and Senate, legislation is not getting passed, and both parties share a growing hatred of the other. The Fair Representation Act would compel House members to moderate their political views in order to appease a more politically diverse electorate. There is nothing to lose by its adoption, and it gives Americans a chance to reverse these troubling trends and begin moving forward together.