Early last month, I suggested that Democrats use their trifecta to pass open-list proportional representation (OLPR). The argument for OLPR was that it would be incredibly easy to implement, i.e., it can be done in a emergency-motivated hurry. The argument for PR of any type is now familiar: partisan geography. Related to this is the need to stop/slow down realignment by retaining House control in 2022. Republican congressional obstruction will allow Republicans to claim that Democrats get nothing done, then keep chipping away at the party’s working-class base. Meanwhile, on a parallel track, continued threats to voting access make doing something even more urgent.
In short, Democrats are subject to coalition-raiding, and the overall right to vote is in danger (and has been for seven years).
A natural question to ask is: can the bleeding be stopped by retaining single-seat districts (SSD)? This is an open question. It does seem like any federal-level redistricting legislation will include “partisan fairness criteria,” i.e., provision that new maps not systematically advantage one or the other party. Here are two more relevant considerations:
1) How easy is it to draw fair SSD maps, both as a function of partisan geography, and given operational realities of redistricting within states?
2) Assuming it is doable, does this assessment account for changing district partisanship? In short, are we so far down the realignment road that “fair” districts, drawn using retrospective data, will miss the mark anyway?
As far as I know, the answer to (1) is “well, it seems doable.” With respect to (2), I have not heard anything.
Here is what part of the US House would have looked like, 2019-20, if seats had been allocated under open-list PR based on votes in primaries. The results assume statewide allocation. I used a Hare quota and largest-remainder rule. I also removed runoffs from the data.
What is open-list PR? In this case, you vote for one candidate. This vote counts both for a person and a party.
This is not really the right way to do this. I used primary votes as a way to see how intra-party factionalism might find expression… and as a way to see what might happen if parties just ‘got rid of primaries,’ instead letting anyone who wants join the list (subject to whatever ballot access rules exist for primaries). Problems with my math are: (a) fewer people vote in primaries than generals; (b) not all districts saw primaries.
Anyway, maybe someone will find something interesting in the results. Let me know if you do!
Thanks to this crew for making the primary data available:
Democrats are fundamentally disadvantaged when it comes to winning U.S. House majorities. This is because their votes concentrate in population-dense areas. Independent redistricting cannot fix this. On all this, read Rodden (2019) and McGann, Smith, Latner, and Keena (2016).
Depending on the outcome of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs, Democrats may be in a unique position to fix their “geography problem.” Unified government would make it possible to adopt a modest form of proportional representation.
If Democrats do not do this, they are likely to lose the House again in 2022. That will mean a return to gridlock — and all that it entails for Democrats’ brand.
Here is one plan going forward:
Continue reading “A modest and timely proposal”