Key moving parts and 2022

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.

Essential reading for reformers

The current PR (aka RCV) movement is very much a continuation of one that died in the 1960s. That is, this movement has come out of abeyance.

Since most of the work is concentrated in cities, here are two essential pieces of political science.

In the old days, winning PR (and ranked ballots in general) depended on political compromise — combining the desired reform with rules that other people wanted. And, as I have shown in research, this made it easy for many cities to remove PR from such “packages” on adoption.

1) Bridges, Amy and Richard Kronick. 1999. “Writing the Rules to Win the Game: The Middle-class Regimes of Municipal Reformers.” Urban Affairs Review 34 (5).

2) Trebbi, Francesco, Philippe Aghion, and Alberto Alesina. 2008. “Electoral Rules and Minority Representation in U.S. Cities.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 123 (1): 325-357.

The first piece argues that reformers were successful where (a) middle-class people could be made to fear immigrants and (b) Progressive Era voting restrictions allowed the middle class to constitute a referendum majority. Note that, in this paper, PR charters are not distinguished from non-PR charters.

The second piece argues that, after voting rights were restored, reforms developed during the Progressive Era spread throughout the American South, as a way to dilute the votes of re-enfranchised persons. Needless to say, these later “reforms” did not include PR.

Some are likely shaking their heads at a piece I co-authored last week. This is partly why I wrote it. Our generation can have effects that are unforeseeable, and that we might deeply regret.

Popular books on voting reform

Note: Updated Feb. 28, 2020.

My RCV bibliography lists books and articles that are research-heavy, but I wanted to keep track of other important texts as well. Some are from the movement itself, and others debate its proposals.

This is a non-exhaustive and evolving list. Entries are organized by period: recent books, slightly older (1990s-early 2000s), old (1890s-1940s), and very old (1860s-80s). Readers interested in very deep PR history can visit this page at the PR Foundation website.

It is an interesting list to compile. The farther back one goes in time, the harder it is to distinguish social science from advocacy.

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