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Guest commentary

Guest column: Make every vote count

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.

Re-Drawing Michigan

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.

How political map-making leaves voters with uncompetitive, pre-determined elections

Redistricting: Key findings and systemic partisan advantage

Redistricting: How it works

Redistricting: Reaction to our findings

Redistricting: Calls for transparency, long-term reform options

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.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

12 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Anne

    You say, ” All voters would be represented – even the ones who voted for an otherwise losing candidate.”
    Excuse me, I beg to differ. The winning candidate is elected to represent my interests whether or NOT I voted for her, or voted at all for that matter.

    1. AMF

      THAT is the ideal situation – however, when I repeatedly get back the same pre-printed responses from all 3 of my representatives, no matter what the subject is, makes one pause as to ‘are you really listening’ to my concerns.

  2. Rich

    We need a way to make third party representation available. The days of our two-party system should be numbered.

  3. Mark Pontoni

    Dan, the idea that because you voted for a losing candidate means you’re not represented, is really offensive. I’d be really surprised if any elected official beyond some of the radical Tea Party people feel this way. I may not be getting my Representative to vote my way, but I certainly expect him/her to represent my interests in any number of other ways. Maybe I’m hopelessly naive, but I’d rather be that then think your system would be anything more than a giant mess in Michigan politics. The gerrymandering problem is really the culprit. Michigan needs non-partisan redistricting and it needs to happen now.

  4. Peter Eckstein

    I think this is a very creative solution to a severe problem. Gerrymandering is only part of the problem. The other part is the high concentration of voters of one political persuasion in urban districts. As for representatives of one party voting the interests of voters of the other party, there are so many strict party-line votes that this is more myth than reality. Such a system would put great importance on party primaries, but it also raises the issue of third parties. There might not be room in the Capitol for the many hundreds of legislators–many representing only a handful of voters–who might be “elected” through this process. Some threshold would be required–say, 20% of the votes–before a candidate would be elected.

  5. Robert

    Sorry, this is a dumb idea. Gerrymandering is an issue, and it is getting worse all the time. Both parties do it, just depends on which one is in power at the right time. Why not take it a step further, just eliminate districts and let everyone run state wide. The top 110 vote getters in the house get to serve, with a vote proportional to the votes they receive. No need for local representation. Or better yet, no legislature at all. Technology the way it is, let the people vote directly for the bills they want. Representative government does work, maybe not perfectly, but it does work.

  6. Nancy Shiffler

    This sounds almost like a parliamentary system. I’m not sure that’s what we want.

    The real problem with gerrymandering into non-competitive districts is that elections all too often get decided in the primaries, where often only a small portion of the majority party votes and the minority party has no voice at all.

    1. Dave Maxwell

      Now you know how the Republicans feel about the President and the Senate….unrepresented.

    2. Dan Brown

      Please help me out here. I’m not very well informed about the parliamentary system and don’t understand how my proposal has parallels to that approach to government. In my limited understanding, the executive (prime minister) is selected by and from the legislative body. In the English version, I understand that candidates may run from any district regardless of residence.
      Thanks for your comment and help.

      Dan Brown

  7. David Olmstead

    Gerrymandering is becoming even greater problem, and needs to be nipped before it gets worse. A simpler solution would be to weight each elected legislator’s vote in proportion to her or his party’s total vote across the State for all seats in that chamber. (E.g. one party’s member’s would get, say 1.1 votes in House, other party’s would get .9). This would encourage minority party vote in “single party” districts. Third parties, say, with 2% of vote, but without candidate winning any district, could still have their vote reflected. My initial thought is that the third party’s highest vote getter could negotiate with the major two party’s leaders in the legislative chamber, and agree to add the third party’s total vote for candidates to that chamber to the weighting allocated to one of the party’s members. This change would be by voter-iinitiated state constitutional amendment, to take effect several years out to reduce partisan voters concern with their party’s current advantage.

  8. Jean Rishel

    “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.”

    Creative gerrymandering to give this kind of advantage to one party over another smacks of cheating to the public at large. A democratic republic government “for the people, by the people” is based on fair representation coming from the voting booth of people who expect their votes to count. We were taught to believe that the majority should rule in this type of governing. At the same time, the system is supposed to give those who are NOT in the majority a say in governing as well….but NOT full control.

    tyranny [ˈtɪrənɪ]
    n pl -nies
    1. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy)
    a. government by a tyrant or tyrants; despotism
    b. similarly oppressive and unjust government by more than one person
    2. arbitrary, unreasonable, or despotic behaviour or use of authority the teacher’s tyranny
    3. any harsh discipline or oppression the tyranny of the clock
    4. (Government, Politics & Diplomacy) a political unit ruled by a tyrant
    5. (Historical Terms) (esp in ancient Greece) government by a usurper
    6. a tyrannical act
    [from Old French tyrannie, from Medieval Latin tyrannia, from Latin tyrannus tyrant]
    tyrannous adj
    tyrannously adv
    tyrannousness n
    Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

    When those who represent less than the majority take over rule of governing…they are “usurping” the authority of majority rule and this is considered unjust and thus, is tyranny. It needs to be called out for what it is.

    We should be open to the suggestions here as a way to make changes that keep real “representational governing” alive and well. This is a necessary discussion.

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