Friday, April 01, 2005

Support Builds for Common Sense Election Reforms

The San Jose Mercury News editorialized today in favor of three very promising election reforms: multi-member districts, a smaller number of citizens represented by each legislator, and instant run-off voting. In a bit of a companion op-ed, Heather Barbour also writes in favor of increasing the number of legislators in California.

The Merc News editorial appears to be a sign that after years of preaching multi-member districts and proportional representation in the wilderness of little-read reports and poorly-attended symposia (and often being mocked by defenders of the status quo), election reformers can now come in from the cold.

A look at California demonstrates the wisdom of all three reforms.

Multi-member districts: In 2004, none of the 153 Congressional and legislative seats in California changed parties. None. Governor Schwarzenegger has rightly decried this lack of competition in his arguments for taking the reins of drawing districts from the legislature and handing them over to a nonpartisan commission.

However, California's demographics, as those in many states, make it difficult to draw districts that are both competitive and for which one representative can provide accurate representation of the various viewpoints of its citizens. So, as the Merc News points out, a nonpartisan commission might be a little better, but it doesn't address the problem. It's like getting louder speakers in your car to fix your broken muffler.

Multi-member districts allow representation of multiple viewpoints in one district, while simultaneously providing competitive elections.

More legislators: this one probably makes us all a little uneasy at first glance -- More politicians? Are you crazy? But, as Ms. Barbour's op-ed points out, California's state senators represent more people than the governors of six states. That is not the kind of number that gets Californians quality representation.

Increasing the number of legislators in the State Senate and Assembly would increase legislator accountability and accessibility for citizens.

Instant Run-off Voting: With IRV, voters rank their candidates in order of preference. This ranking only comes into play if one candidate doesn't get a majority of votes, in which case the candidate with the fewest number of votes drops out. The votes of that candidate's supporters then go to their second choice, at which point the votes are tallied again. The process repeats itself until one candidate gets a majority.

IRV allows people to vote for the candidate that best represents their viewpoint - like Libertarian Michael Peroutka or Green David Cobb - without sacrificing their ability to cast a vote to defeat a candidate they truly detest, like John Kerry or George Bush. Again, better representation.

With a popular governor that supports reform and an interested and engaged press willing to tackle big ideas, California provides a great opportunity to improve democracy in America.

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