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Proportional Representation is one of the most important election reforms that we could make to improve democracy in the United States. There is a major flaw in the current method by which we elect officials to multi-seat offices such as City Council or Congress. Here I will explain this flaw and then describe how Proportional Representation solves it. I will then give some resources where you can learn more and get involved in advocating for the more widespread use of Proportional Representation in your community and our country.

You may also be interested to learn more about the problems with single-seat elections and their solution with Instant Runoff Voting.

The Problems with Multi-Seat Elections in the United States

It is a simple fact that when it comes to single-seat offices like president, governor or mayor, some percentage of the population will go unrepresented. Even using an Instant Runoff Voting system to ensure the winner has a majority of the vote, 49% of the people may still be unhappy with the winner. This is simply the nature of having executive offices for which we must ultimately choose one person.

However, it should never be the case that 49% of the people are completely unrepresented. This is why we have other governmental bodies with multiple seats, such as City Councils and Congress, to represent us. Yet, even in these bodies it is possible for a huge percentage of the population to go unrepresented.

Imagine a hypothetical state that has 5 districts. Imagine that in each district, 60% of the voters are liberal and 40% conservative. If each district votes for one Representative (a single-member district system) according to these demographics, and the person who gets the most votes wins the seat for that district (a winner-take-all system), the state would end up with 5 liberal Representatives and zero conservative ones. On the surface, this may sound fair. In each district the person who was supported by the majority won. And yet the end result is that 40% of the population has no representation.

This is a common outcome when we use a system based on "single-member districts" and a "winner-take-all" voting method. Yet this is exactly the method used throughout the United States. There is a better way: Proportional Representation.

Proportional Representation: Solving The Problems with Multi-Seat Elections in the United States

Imagine in the previous example if, instead of having each of the 5 districts vote for one Representative (a single-member district system), we pooled all 5 districts together and had them vote for 5 Representatives (a multi-member district system). Now, imagine that we have a similar outcome - 60% vote for liberal candidates and 40% for conservative candidates.

In a winner-take-all system the 60% vote for liberal candidates would lead to all of the Representatives being liberal. But in a Proportional Representation system, we would end up with 3 liberal Representatives (60%) and 2 conservative Representatives (40%). In other words, the state would end up represented by a group that proportionally mirrors the demographics of the voters. Now everyone, including minority groups, has representation, while still ensuring that the majority has more representation as it should.

Obviously the system works in the same way in areas where the minority group is the more liberal group. Regardless of the demographics, Proportional Representation makes sure that each group has a level of representation that relatively matches its prevalence in the population. And of course the system works in similar fashion for other multi-seat bodies, such as City Councils, at all levels of government.

In reality, there are a number of different forms of Proportional Representation voting systems. Each has its quirks, but all are grounded in the basic principle that the people should be represented in proportion to their views in the population. Visit the Center for Voting and Democracy to learn more.

More Resources Regarding Instant Runoff Voting

Learn More about Proportional Representation

Organizations that Promote Proportional Representation

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