House cleaning (5 Dec 2005)
I’m rather proud of having started a little discussion in some serious American political science blogs (Matthew Shugart’s Fruits and Votes and Steven Taylor in Poliblog) about one idea for a minor but consequential electoral reform – the “Wyoming Rule”.
The Wyoming Rule would fix a minor bit of malapportionment, in that the base size for a Congressional district would be set at the population of the smallest entitled unit, which at the moment is the state of Wyoming. Instead of a fixed total of 435 (a ridiculously small number for a national legislature) there would be 568 or 569 members of the House. Taylor at PoliBlog has put up the numbers. The Wyoming Rule would also affect Electoral College entitlements in the Presidential election.
It’s minor, but it would allow an organic growth in the size of the House and do something to balance out the slight malapportionment in favour of small states. It’s also evidently fair and simple. However, it is vulnerable to the easy populist criticism of creating more politicians.
As well as the Wyoming Rule, if it were possible I would like to see redistricting rules nationalised and made independent of state legislatures. Criteria other than pure numerical equality within each state should be allowed for consideration.
Beyond this, a further step would be to relax ballot access for minor parties but at the same time introduce the Alternative Vote (known as Instant Runoff Voting in the US) for all Congressional seats.
But none of this would guarantee a representative Congress – because it would still have single member districts. Sometimes in the US there is a contorted attempt to produce proportional outcomes on one dimension from a non-proportional system, by drawing contrived ‘majority-minority’ districts to ensure that African-Americans and other minorities can win seats. Much better to have an actual proportional system in the first place. I would argue that STV in multi-member districts has advantages given the candidate-centred nature of American politics, but others would argue for MMP.
Anyone interested in electoral reform in the US should consult the website of the ERS’s sister organisation in the US, FairVote, who operate against even more forbidding odds than ourselves. Also the two blogs I’ve mentioned earlier in the post are venues for serious discussion of ideas about reform.