Virginia has become one of the few true swing states in presidential elections and, in recent years, has experienced divided partisan control of its state legislature. You’d think that this would have prompted hotly contested state legislative races on Election Day, but in fact only 52 of 140 races had candidates from both major parties – including just 27 percent of elections for the House of Delegates. Another round of largely uncontested races is just the latest evidence of the failure of winner-take-all, single-member district elections.
Winner-take-all inherently represents voters poorly and tempts partisans to gerrymander outcomes. Although we need other changes like independent redistricting, it’s time to look for a better way grounded in our electoral traditions: fair voting, which is an American form of proportional representation in elections taking place in larger “superdistricts.”
Fair voting may seem new to many readers, but it is used in many national elections and in a growing number of American cities as an alternative to winner-take-all rules.
Fair voting systems allow like-minded voters to pool their votes in multi-seat superdistricts to elect representatives in numbers that reflect the level of public support. It puts voters in charge of their representation in every election, rather than leaving it to redistricting mapmakers once a decade.
Several candidate-based forms of fair voting have been upheld by our courts and fit well with American traditions. Choice voting, in which voters rank candidates in order of choice in at-large elections, helped break the power of urban political machines in New York and Cincinnati. It’s used currently in Cambridge, Mass., and in Minneapolis for their citywide elections.
Used in dozens of U.S. cities today, cumulative voting provides another alternative. From 1870 to 1980, members of the Illinois House of Representatives were elected this way, with voters able to allocate three votes however they wished, with the option to give three to one candidate. Nearly every district elected both Democrats and Republicans.