[EM] PR via self-chosen districts? (was Re: voting reform effort in DENVER - PLEASE HELP)

Allen Smith easmith at beatrice.rutgers.edu
Sun Jun 11 08:21:06 PDT 2006

In message <000401c68d61$7a9f4440$0200a8c0 at u2amd> (on 11 June 2006 15:15:22
+0100), jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk (James Gilmour) wrote:
>Promoters of the many different voting systems need to stand back from all
>the competing technicalities for one moment and ask the question: "What is
>the purpose of this election?"  In the case of Denver it appears to be to
>elect a 'city council' (a body of 13 members) that is supposed to be
>representative of the community it is elected to serve. Analysis of
>election results worldwide shows time and again that the only way to elect
>such a body that is properly representative is to use a voting system that
>gives proportional representation.  All voting systems based on
>single-member districts will give PR only by chance.

I had an idea a while back, which I suspect others probably have had before
me but I haven't been able to locate much on (probably due to lack of time
to look thoroughly, just as I haven't had time to reply to some emails on
and off this list - sorry!), for how to do PR with single-member
districts. Instead of district assignments based on geography or any other
essentially arbitrary criterion (for elections to a multimember body
governing a particular set of voters, as opposed to a non-arbitrary
criterion of voters being only allowed to vote in elections for
individuals/bodies governing them), allow individual voters to decide what
district they are in. Voters would be randomly assigned voters to districts
at first (or to the district with the lowest number of voters, for newly
registering voters), but allowed to switch districts as desired (probably
with some limits on frequency of switching per election). Voters would be
kept as currently informed as possible as to the numbers of voters signed up
for a given district (any limits on frequency of switching per election
would be to make this easier and give other voters time to react to numbers

Candidates would run on "district 1", "district 2", or whatever. A
_very_ limited number of switches from district to district during an
election would be allowed (none allowed in some time period prior to voting,
except in the event of another candidate withdrawing/dying/whatever and a
district's election becoming noncompetitive as a result, for instance).

This system would admittedly give an advantage to well-organized groups, who
could arrange to be just barely a majority in a given district. I am not
sure whether this is a disadvantage or not (and this may differ depending on
the rest of the electoral system - a parlimentary form of government may
find the presence of well-organized groups necessary in order to maintain a
given government in office long enough to get anything done, for
instance). (A similar occurrence - arranging to be just barely a majority -
takes place in gerrymandering, of course, but at least in this system the
ability to do this would not be limited to those currently in power or
otherwise able to control the (geographic) district assignment process. In
the US, for instance, most geographic assignment of districts takes place
by either the current majority party or a bipartisan, not multiparty,
commission, Iowa being about the only exception - and even in Iowa, the
decisions of the nonpartisan body they use (which is unfortunately advised
by a _bipartisan_ commission) can be overriden by the legislature (or the
judicial system, of course).)

The same can be said for well-informed voters (who will be better able to
predict which district they should be in to make the most difference in an
election). Whether one views this as a problem depends on one's political
viewpoint (one can argue that well-informed voters are also more likely to
make rational choices about what elected officials are best; on the other
hand, if the ability to be informed is correlated with already having some
degree of power (e.g., wealth) and said power is due to governmental bias
(instead of, for instance, merit), this will perpetuate said governmental

I am biased, and cannot really evaluate these potential objections fairly.

>The question then is: "Proportional representation of what?"  If all you
>want is PR of registered political parties, or other formally organised
>groups, there is a wide range of party PR systems available.


>But if you want PR of the voters, and want to make the elected council
>members truly accountable to the local electorate, you have only one real
>choice - STV-PR.  Worldwide, we have a hundred years of practical
>experience of STV-PR.

I would certainly not argue that we have extensive experience with the above
idea, nor that one should try using it without more extensive analysis
(unless more analysis has taken place that I'm not aware of; I would be
grateful for pointers to said analysis, if it exists!).



Allen Smith                       http://cesario.rutgers.edu/easmith/
February 1, 2003                               Space Shuttle Columbia
Ad Astra Per Aspera                     To The Stars Through Asperity

More information about the Election-Methods mailing list