Political polarization last year reached its highest level since the Civil War. As a result of gerrymandered districts, even though more total House votes in 2012 went to Democrats nationwide, the majority of elected House seats went to Republicans.
In fact, Alabama is so gerrymandered that in the December 2017 special Senate election, even though Democrat Doug Jones won the state, Republican Roy Moore would have won six of the seven districts.
What the bill would do
- Change House elections from “winner take all” to “ranked choice voting.” Currently, voters can only vote for one candidate and only one candidate wins each seat. Under the new system, voters would rank all the candidates in order and giving each a points value, so the candidates with the highest “points” win.
- Mandate that each state with six or more House members create multi-member congressional districts. All districts would elect between three and five members. The total size of Congress would be the same, but individual districts would be geographically bigger and (in most cases) more demographically diverse.
- Require states to redistrict by independent commissions, not through partisan legislatures. Legislatures currently draw congressional districts in 37 states. Independent commissions are used in six states, although they were a bipartisan mix of red and blue: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington. (Seven states currently contain only one congressional district, and thus would not be affected by the legislation unless their populations grew enough to warrant multiple districts.)
The bill was introduced on June 26 by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA8), labelled in the House as H.R. 3057.
What supporters hope
“The Fair Representation Act is designed to restore the faith which so many Americans have lost in our political system,” Beyer said in a press release. “This bill would ensure that every voter has their voice represented in Congress, and make real progress towards bipartisan focus on getting results for the American people.”
One hope is that this new system would provide the voting public with more proportionate and reflective representation. The other hope is that this new system would encourage elected representatives to be more bipartisan, compromising, and centrist.
FairVote’s video describes the example of Connecticut, which has five Democratic congressional seats — despite 43 percent of the state’s voters voting Republican. Under the status quo, those voters’ choices receive zero representation. Under the Fair Representation Act, Connecticut’s five seats would instead be held by about 43 percent Republicans, a.k.a. two Republicans and three Democrats.
Last year, only 40 of the 435 House elections were considered “competitive,”because most districts were so gerrymandered that either a Republican or Democrat was virtually guaranteed to win in November. Accordingly, the only truly competitive aspect of the election was the party primary, which incentivizes the candidates further towards the left wing of the Democrats or the right wing of their Republicans, in order to win over their ideological base.
By essentially making every House election “competitive,” the idea is that politicians would have to appeal to a broader swath of the public. This would in turn produce something of a “regression to the mean” and result in more compromising and centrist policies. (At least in theory. Donald Trump won the Republican nomination by running an ideologically extreme campaign, yet still won the general election among the broader public without pivoting to the middle.)
Odds of passage
This bill is so expansive and revolutionary that its odds of passage are zero, even if Democrats were to win back control of all levels of government in 2020. But it could serve as a template for states to individually adopt some of these reforms; again, only six states currently have independent commissions design redistricting.
The bill has attracted three Democratic cosponsors. It awaits a vote in the House Judiciary Committee.
GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any statements from members of Congress expressing outright opposition. This is likely because the bill stands such low odds of passage that opponents don’t want to give it public attention.