Why STV was repealed

“Dance with the one that brung ya”

Grassroots wins for ranked-choice voting will be met with Beltway hot takes. One recent piece attempts to say why early use did not persist into the present. It makes some errors, which were knowable. The first conflates proportional voting with the system in the news today. The second uses PR’s history to explain the abandonment of single-winner reforms.

We do not yet know why reformed single-winner systems ended up repealed. Also, the account of proportional-voting repeal invokes some old wisdom: cities couldn’t handle all that diversity. That is not quite right. What killed proportional voting was a series of failures to honor coalition commitments, some in places with very little diversity.

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The reform wave in context

Fractious, supermajority parties, then and now

This post is on the connection between oversized majorities and waves of political reform. Here I am thinking about ranked-choice voting in historical context, though one might say the same about direct primaries. I think reforms like this take off when:

1) Most people lean to one side of the ideological spectrum;

2) But that side of the spectrum has serious, internal cleavages.

The basic idea is that the logic of minimum-winning coalition is not holding in some way. The political majority is oversized, so much of the action is inside it. That fighting finds expression first as party splits, then as reforms to foster coordination. I have floated this hypothesis before. Others are starting to touch on it. Let’s look at some data.

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