For political junkies, Monday’s release of a new map for Pennsylvania’s Congressional Districts was one of the biggest news events of the 2018 midterm elections. The State Supreme Court imposed new District boundaries for every single district in the state and created more opportunities for Democrats.
The impact of this ruling has national implications. Prior to the new Pennsylvania map, the projections at ScottRasmussen.com showed that even with a decent midterm turnout for the Democrats, the GOP might cling to a narrow 219-216 majority in the House of Representatives. With the new map, the same projections show the Democrats picking up three more seats and winning control of Congress.
Of course, there’s a long way to go until November and the battle for control of Congress may not end up as close as it appears today. But the fact that a court ruling in a single state could alter control of Congress reveals a much deeper problem with American politics. Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote has spent years stating the uncomfortable truth that “American voters don’t select their Representatives, the Representatives select the voters.”
More precisely, both Republicans and Democrats draw district boundaries to select groups of voters who will vote for their team. While there will be elections in all 435 House Districts this year, the way the boundaries were drawn pre-ordained the winner in at least 390 of them. In November, over 90% of voters will have no meaningful choice and no say as to who represents them in Washington. That’s why Members of Congress typically have more job security than a tenured college professor.
This wretched dynamic contributes mightily to the dysfunction of Congress and to the nation’s toxic political environment. It is time to seriously explore and experiment with other mechanisms for electing Members of Congress.
It’s worth pointing out that the Constitution does not mandate our current system of electing representatives by District. Originally, the states were allowed to select their Representatives in whatever manner worked for them. It would be great to once again allow and encourage states to experiment with new approaches to empowering voters.
One experiment might be to use some form of proportional representation. If 60% of the voters in a state voted for a Republican, 60% of the Representatives would be Republican. That has a certain intrinsic appeal and insures that every vote would truly count. It would also provide an opening for third parties to gain traction because they could attract enough support to win a seat or two in Congress. That can’t really happen in the winner-take-all district approach.
There are other approaches worthy of consideration as well. Check out FairVote.org to learn about Ranked Choice voting and additional alternatives. It would be wonderful for our nation to have state and local governments experiment and see which approaches give voters the greatest power to hold politicians accountable.
The 90% of Congress that the status quo protects from electoral competition won’t like these changes. But, it’s way past time to end the practice of representatives picking their voters.