By Dan Brown
The result of gerrymandering is the antithesis of representative government. As Phil Power recently noted, when the 2012 election gives one party 54 percent of the seats in the Michigan House of Representatives while receiving only 45 percent of the vote, the concept of representative government is negated.
But, is it only gerrymandering that does harm to representative government?
One needs to look further into the workings of the present system of elections to realize that another factor detracts significantly from the “representative-ness” of our system of government.
A closer look at the 2012 election results shows that, in total, 1.5 million voters end up not being represented in the Michigan House. These are the voters who voted for losing candidates; a half million Republicans in 51 districts and nearly 1 million Democratic voters in 59 districts. These unrepresented voters constitute nearly 36 percent of the total vote for House candidates.
In 2011, the Center for Michigan studied the current electoral system in Michigan and found that rules were leaving large swathes of the Michigan public without representation.
Add to that the consequences of gerrymandering and the result is an irretrievably broken system.
The focus on and fascination with a new process of drawing legislative districts with an eye toward more competitive districts is not going to solve the problem. Under our present winner-take-all system, typically, one-third of voters end up not being represented. Redrawing districts in a nonpartisan manner or with an equally balanced commission is not going to give the desired result — if the desired result is a truly representative House.
A word on “competitive districts”: A “competitive district” is, essentially, the least representative of all districts. To be a “competitive” district appears to mean that the district could swing either way, Republican or Democratic. Thus, for all practical purposes, this means that nearly 50 percent of voters in it will be unrepresented after each election.
What’s the answer? A system that gives full representation to all voters and eliminates any chance or gerrymandering is demanded.
The solution is to go to multiple member (two or more representatives) districts.
Each elected representative would go to Lansing with a vote the strength of which would be exactly equal to the number of votes she/he received in the general election. Thus, in my district, the 93rd House District, Tom Leonard would have a vote of 25,283 and Paula Silva a vote of 19,377. In the age of computers, handling the computations should present no problem. With a total of 4,464,132 votes cast in the election, passage of a measure in the House would require 2,232,067 votes, one more than one half of the total. Consideration may need to be given to the number of representatives wanted in the House. Possibilities include reducing the number of districts and setting a minimum number of votes required as a threshold for getting a seat in the House.
The advantages of making every vote count would include:
* Gerrymandering would be eliminated. A Republican vote would be a Republican vote, regardless of which district boundary it was in. Same for Democratic votes. In a real sense, district boundaries would no longer matter in terms of which party controls the House.
* All voters would be represented – even the ones who voted for an otherwise losing candidate.
* Those voters voting for a minor party candidate would at least have an impact in that their votes affect the number of votes needed for passage in the House. It would be possible to give a minor party candidate a seat in Lansing if she/he received a minimum number of votes (determined as a percentage of the statewide total).
* The notion of competitiveness disappears. The drawing of district lines becomes, essentially, a ministerial one of balancing out the population of districts.
There may be issues related to demographic, racial, ethnic, economic, etc. factors that need to be considered in the formulation of district lines.
All parties, regardless of geographic location in the state, will be encouraged to get out the vote, thereby increasing citizen participation in this most democratic process.
Dan Brown lives in DeWitt.