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Fair Representation Act (HR 3057) (fairvote.org)
115 points by 0x45696e6172 98 days ago | hide | past | web | 56 comments | favorite

I don't buy the argument that "the system is fundamentally broken" because the political divisions of our times are some how uniquely worse than at any other point in US history. If you go read books like "A People's History of the United States" or other historical accounts that go beyond the typical 8th grade / high school US history you will find a lot of examples of when things were as bad as they are today or arguably much worse. The whole rural vs urban interests clash isn't even a new phenomenon that goes back to the beginning of the United States.

That's not to say that the system of government could never be improved but if your argument starts out with a premise that doesn't really seem true I question whether the whole idea isn't a little half baked.

> I don't buy the argument that "the system is fundamentally broken"

This animation visualizes the increasing partisan nature of Congress over the last 60 years:


So the trend does not seem to be ideal here.

It seems like the proposed act will directly impact this increasing split.

More details: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/23/a-stu...

> This animation visualizes the increasing partisan nature of Congress over the last 60 years

I've worked in government, and when we were asked to generate reports, there was a conclusion that they wanted to draw and they were looking for data to back it. If you ever hear something like "during the Carter era" it's likely because that's the only time the data showed what we wanted to make a point.

In this case, I would need to see why they chose 60 years rather than say 100 years. 60 seems like an arbitrary number that needs to be investigated. They may be right, but having read their pitch, there are a bunch of red flags that scream that this is ideologically driven rather than actually being "fair".

I'd be interested if someone did a deeper analysis.

You can look up DW nominate scores from since late 1800s and you'll see the rise since 1975


There's an xkcd that used the same data to produce a graph since the beginning: https://xkcd.com/1127/

True. There indeed could be a selection bias in this range. The one reason why I was initially okay with that date range is because it is from after WWII (which was an exceptional event).

Partisanship didn't increase in a vacuum. The parties lined up more closely with longstanding ideological and cultural divides. There are fewer Southern conservative Democrats, but that's because they became Southern conservative Republicans. Liberal Northern Republicans became liberal Northern Democrats.

It's not clear to me how this proposal would change that fact. And it could very well do the opposite. If 51/49 super-districts are always electing one Republican and one Democrat, what incentive does either representative have to play to the center?

> The parties lined up more closely with longstanding ideological and cultural divides.

They don't though, for instance the dixiecrats ultimately had to choose between (to use the political compass's axis) left or authoritarianism with no party providing both. I'm sure there are left-authoritarian or right-libertarian voters in either main party which have to choose which they value most, unable to vote for any party which actually represents them as US politics puts them not just on a linear axis but on a completely bipolar one.

Interesting point about the north/south split -- I hadn't considered that. It very likely is just the parties stabilizing over time.

Here is an article on this divide during the Civil Rights era which, proportionally, was supported more by "Republicans" than "Democrats" but the true story is a little more complex (and largely geographical).


This "half baked" idea is just proportional representation. It's not like they invented it, and it seems to work well enough in New Zealand, in fact most complaints seem to be that it isn't perfectly proportional.

Agreed. Though this looks like it's an STV system more like Australia. Which would be the most logical system for the USA as implementing something like MMP would be a big shift requiring the formalization of the role of parties in government with party lists and a party vote.

One indication of a problem is that in a country split roughly 50-50 most Congress races are not competitive: the 50-50 area is jerrymandered into two 75-25% districts (with weird boundaries), so during election each party is guaranteed one seat.

This makes election not driven by general population, but party faithful during primaries and closed door maneuvering.

I agree that we should be careful trying to change things and use minimal actions -- the current system is not horrible

Sure, things were worse during the civil war for example. But that's a really low bar.

Even if you discount the civil war period as an extreme there are many examples.

My horse in the race did not win. It wasn't HRC. However the feeling I get is a lot of her voters are in disbelief she lost and can't understand the opponent having won. It feels as if they felt entitled to a result that didn't pan out. If HRC had won, we would not be seeing these calls for reform gain attention.

That said, gerrymandering has two effects, one negative, one positive. On the negative side, there is little competition, on the positive side, the vast majority are happy with the result. Moreso than that of a 51:49 split.

If you ask me competition is healthy, if I look at the previous election, people don't like close elections.

Gerrymanding also gets used to deny the majority representation, it doesn't just get used to make safe seats.

(Take an outcome matching the rightmost example at the top of this article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/03/01/this-... )

edit: Actually, no need to say "majority" above, the 2 rightmost examples end up with people being denied representation.

What's the frequency of the "red wins" scenario? versus typical gerrymandering?

You should read OP. It's about making districts with multiple representatives, not changing districts with the current system.

You would be hard pressed to find a political scientist who believes races for the legislative branch are deeply competitive. Seat turnover has been less than 5 percent excluding incumbents retiring.

HRC has nothing to do with this.

By that line of reasoning, this proposal is great because not only the first but also the second and third candidate are elected, making an even later portion of the voters happy

That's a fair point and it has merit. I however don't think the big two will care for it as it does two things, weakens their positions and two give fringe/radicals on both sides voices, of course regular run of the mill third parties (who would syphon votes from the big two).

Of course they wouldn't like it, they loose the boogeyman of "if you vote third party you're just helping the party you really don't like!"

Ranked choice gives smaller parties a chance while preventing them from being a spoiler, I think it's great because it would actually force the two incumbent parties to actually work for their vote instead of assuming you have no real choice (hey, you're pro-choice/pro-life so you HAVE to vote for us or the other guys will have their way, ha ha).

If this made the entire state one giant district, then it would give real power to third parties. But a district with just 5 representatives is not enough to pose a huge threat. They would get some more power, but surely not much. Or perhaps I'm missing something. (When it comes to politics, I'm usually missing something, often something big.)

> the vast majority are happy with the result

See the congressional job approval numbers http://www.gallup.com/poll/1600/congress-public.aspx

> If HRC had won, we would not be seeing these calls for reform gain attention

Does it matter what inspired people to ask for reform? They have a valid point that for solidly held districts, the minority's voice is completely erased in Congress.

If HRC had won, we would not be seeing these calls for reform gain attention.

This proposed legislation has nothing to do with presidential elections and the debates, legislative fights, lawsuits, calls for reform have been going on for many years. You're confusing something you hadn't noticed with something not receiving much attention.

What? My rep is of the party of my choosing and I'm not happy at all. I think most people care about the power they have on the national level, not just or even much who their personal rep is.

I guess this is mainly about Ranked Choice voting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instant-runoff_voting

"The Fair Representation Act (HR 3057) gives voters of all backgrounds and all political stripes the power to elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress."

What incentive is there to "work constructively with others" in this system?

Instant Runoff Voting is severely flawed. It can solve basic problems like the Bush-Gore-Nader election where Nader voters probably would have preferred Gore, but it can also get the wrong answer and has in a real world election in 2009 in Burlington, VT: http://bolson.org/~bolson/2009/20090303_burlington_vt_mayor....

I find this example kinda 'eh'. FPTP also elects a 'wrong' winner, and it's not clear to me that the IRV is substantially wronger.

I agree that there's probably a better way, but I fear that it could be at the cost of either ease of use or methodological clarity. Ranking candidates is relatively intuitive, and so is sequential elimination with votes reassigned to the next preference.

I recognize that you could transform the rankings people provide into head to head match up, but if the methodology is too opaque to the layperson, it's going to breed distrust in the system, and I fear that that would be overall worse (if it discourages participation) than having a minority of elections be won by the 'wrong' candidate versus better approaches.

I recognize that this could also be an argument in favor of FPTP. I do think there's a continuum here of conceptual difficulty, and I think finding the sweet spot of correctness vs intuitiveness is tricky.

IRV is less wrong than pick-one; but more wrong than a dozen other election algorithms. If you want to read about one, read about Condorcet.

It's a bit more than just ranked choice. Since you have multiple congresspeople per district you can in theory have one extreme liberal, a centrist liberal, and a moderate conservative (I'm taking an example of a left leaning state, but the opposite could happen in a right leaning state). This eliminates the winner take all district which encourages partisanship and removes accountability.

I don't really understand that 2nd bit. How are you going to end up with the same number of congress people? And if you are dividing up seats by party doesn't that incentives you to cater to the base more?

You aren't dividing up seats by party. You make big districts with at least 5 representatives. Anyone with 1/n of first place votes is elected. The candidate with the fewest first place votes is removed, and you repeat until all the seats are filled.

Removing winner takes all is more powerful than ranked choice. In Utah, Republicans would still likely take all seats, but this new system would practically ensure that at least one Democrat was elected.

Doesn't the Constitution afford the states the prerogative to decide how to allocate their representatives? Would a federal law imposing this structure be constitutional?

Section 4 of the US constitution, the federal congress is allowed to make regulations on how elections are handled that supersede the states - the only exception is the places which elections are held, that power rests fully with the state itself.

The current system is already mandated by federal law passed in 1967. http://archive.fairvote.org/library/history/flores/district....

This would make some progress towards fixing one of the biggest problems with our winner takes all electoral system.

No way this actually passes, though, since it's against the interests of most congresscritters - whose seats in their own gerrymandered districts are safe, even if it puts their party at a disadvantage.

Looks like this implements multi-member districts elected via STV, similar to the system used in Republic of Ireland to elect members of the Dáil.

Overall I think this is better than single member districts with plurality voting, but IMHO there are simpler reforms that offer better mathematical properties.

MMP [1] (used in Germany, New Zealand) ensures proportional representation and still allows for small geographic-based districts. The overhang allocation mitigates the incentive for gerrymandering. A minor but significant enhancement would be to use approval voting instance of plurality to elect the single winner district MPs.

RRV [2] (not implemented anywhere I'm aware of) is similar to STV in that it uses multi-member districts, but uses a simpler range ballot (think amazon 1-5 'star' ratings for candidates) rather than a ranked ballot.

The Center for Election Science [3] has some very good resources on this general topic. Electoral reform is a terribly important issue that is very difficult to make progress on. My hope is that we start to see some reforms at the state and local levels that can provide indication that these reforms are legitimate and are not being done to game the vote.

Speaking of, "Gaming the Vote" [4] is a really good book on this subject.

I think reforms like HR 3057 are well intended but I think it's too early to attempt this at the federal level. Voters in the US have very little context for electoral reform and it's an issue that tends to (perhaps legitimately) cause people to be suspicious.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mixed-member_proportional_repr... [2] http://rangevoting.org/RRV.html [3] https://www.electology.org/ [4] https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003K154R0/

The problem definition is so wrong, the solution does not bring any real improvement. There are many problems with the government system, but the election part is not the root cause of the problems and it will solve almost nothing. As people learned how democracy works and they are already manipulating it, what good will do minor patching? How it makes it better for a system where incompetent people vote for everyone else, where the vote of someone that have certain beliefs will eventually make it mandatory by law to do things that I don't want, that others can decide by vote how I can and should live my life? Solve this, don't waste time and energy on distractions.

Do you want a secession? Because this is how you can get things to a secession. The law of the land applies to everyone, and the only way to have a law applicable equally to two groups with conflicting interests is to force one or both of them to sometimes do things they don't want.

A half-way solution is a confederation, Switzerland-style. Weak central government, large variation in laws between cantons. Good luck trying to pull power back from a central government, and make people of California agree that people of Alabama should be allowed to live according to their [add derogatory terms] principles, and vice versa.

A possible solution is to reduce the surface of what can be imposed by law, so that what people vote can affect less the people around them. This can be done by more and stronger liberties (not rights, that's a different story). But even this one is far from enough. I am not thinking of any secession, that would solve nothing.

You want fewer things regulated by law? It's a fail goal, but you will face a huge number of "think of the children (elderly, environment, etc)" type of legislation, completely well-intentioned.

One of the problems with democracy is that governing a state is a job that should require certain qualification, experience, etc, but voting does not require any of this. Presumably the elected officials should be the experienced, reasonable people good at governing the state and making the least harmful compromises. But it's only a presumption. (Authoritarian governments are usually no better in this regard, too.)

I don't think the problem is districts. Governance in the US works through compromise. The hyper-partisan environment is caused by bases pushing representatives apart and not allowing for understanding. To make matters worse, a tiny percentage of voters are educated on the issues in a meaningful way. They are educated in soundbites though which exacerbates the issue. A representative democracy can't function with the representatives being accosted at every turn (either democrat or republican).

> I don't think the problem is districts.

Districts, and more specifically FPTP single-member constituencies are a huge part of the issue, they're a large reason for the bipolarisation endemic to the US (for both voters and candidates) since they promote, nay, can only result a 2-party system in which voters and representatives have to align or be ignored entirely.

Part of the reason for the hyper-partisan environment is that the districts are safely held by their respective parties, so the only real competition is in the primaries.

I think this is a good solution. It is going to take a while for people to accept it though. It's been clear to me that most Americans think our version of democracy is the only possible version of democracy, and that anything else would lead to tyranny. Or that our Constitution is perfect and we're just using it wrong. People hate our government, so it's strange that they love the document that makes it the way it is. I think we should change the Constitution or write a new one, but I know that's hard, so this FRA is probably more practical than my solution.

I hope people will soon recognize that they're not going to get major change in the way government operates just by changing the people who get elected. We need to change HOW people get elected.

Ranked choice voting is still fundamentally flawed [1]. Voters will be incentivized to vote strategically in this system rather than according to their preference, just as they do now.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arrow%27s_impossibility_theore...

Arrow's theorem says there isn't a 'perfect' method given Arrow's constraints. There are still good and better systems. Our current 'pick one' ballots are pathetically weak and real improvements could be made.

None is perfect, but not all are equally bad! You can compare them by how often they would pick the condorcet winner when one exists. Any ranked choice system would be better than what we have.

Furthermore, the OP is mostly about the problems with geographic districts. They take any voting system, and make it waaaay worse by adding aliasing.

Need to just somehow create a new country with better election procedures from the start. This will never pass in our existing system.

Has "ranked choice voting" been extensively studied in game theory? Is it the consensus that RCV is the voting system with the least number of drawbacks?

Range voting seems to have the least drawbacks from an actual political science view, but its complexity makes a hand counted audit rather challenging when you don't want to trust anything electronic with counting votes.

For that reason I prefer approval voting (as well as how simple it is to explain) but I'm happy to get behind any change that has momentum. We have the worst possible system right now, so any movement is good.

I've been in online discussion forums for over a decade with theory nerds discussing the merits of dozens of possible algorithms for counting votes and picking a winner. There are lots of known shortcomings and advantages and tradeoffs and there are some generally agreed on pretty-good solutions. Condorcet's election method is my current pick for what to advocate we actually enact.

The electoral college also should be replaced with popular vote.

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