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Should US Democracy Be Based on Proportional Representation?

In the United States, candidates can win elections without popular support. Just look at the 2000 presidential election, won by George W. Bush with 47.8 percent of the vote. For a democratic nation, this is a big problem.

American Flag DemocracyBecause the outcomes of elections can make real differences, our government should represent the population’s views as accurately as possible. There are other problems in our political system: for instance, anybody who does not fall into one of two major ideologies goes unrepresented, because third parties almost never win. In the U.S., because people are forced to side with one of the two major parties, the parties are often extremely polarized and unpopular. This issue is evidenced by both major parties’ favorability ratings falling well under 50 percent.

These problems can be solved by a system of proportional representation.

In this system, voters are shown a list of parties, and vote for one. The parties are then given seats proportional to their percentage of the popular vote. If, for example, the Green Party wins 2.7 perecent of the vote, it wins 2.7 percent of the seats. Those seats are filled by representatives chosen by the party. The parties can choose members by whatever mechanism they want. If no party has a majority, two parties whose votes add up to a majority form a coalition.

Proportional representation is a type of electoral system that decides the make-up of a parliament by allocating seats on the basis of the number of votes each party received. Although there are many different types of PR, this is the base requirement for a system to be described as proportional.

This system gives the majority of seats to members with the majority ideology, even if these members come from multiple parties. Voters tired of the major parties can vote for a third party without wasting their vote, with the added benefit that major parties have to reign in their extreme wings if they want votes. Furthermore, fringe causes not served by either major party can be represented. We know this system can work: out of the 10 most democratic countries according to the democracy index in 2014, eight use proportional representation.

To implement a system of proportional representation in the United States would be difficult, requiring multiple constitutional amendments and reforming central pieces of our constitution.

Parties would need to be added officially to the constitution for voters to vote for parties instead of candidates on ballots.

One drawback would be that citizens would no longer have specific representatives for their districts, because all senators and representatives would be elected on the state or national level. This could be partially remedied by requiring parties to send people from all geographical locations to Washington, and assigning representatives and senators to certain areas.

The president could continue to be directly elected, or we could transition to a parliamentary system, with the president elected by the legislature.

A final issue would be that we would vote for parties instead of individuals, which would increase the power of parties. That said, parties already have significant sway over the political system. We would not lose much voting for parties directly.

Discomfort with change is not a strong reason to stick with our current system.

One important, looming question remains: Why even talk about something so politically infeasible when we can barely even pass a budget? There are two good reasons.

First, it is important in our increasingly global world to understand how other systems of government work in relation to our own form of government and the benefits and drawbacks of different types.

Second, there is the issue of the longevity of the country. When we talk about political feasibility we usually think in the timespan of years or decades. However, to be successful long-term and have our government function as effectively as possible, we need to be talking about ways to improve our system, even ways that now seem politically unfeasible.

Joseph Lamps is a McCormick freshman. He can be reached at josephlamps2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor.

Bob Whitaker 2016

“Diverse” means formerly White… –Bob Whitaker

Bob Whitaker: A true American and former Reagan Administration appointee.

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