The electoral system used in the United States has led us into an era of fierce partisan division and limited voter power. The problem goes beyond gerrymandering, redistricting, and money. The zero-sum, winner-take-all system in which only one person is elected to represent each district no longer works in this era of hardened partisanship - and it has never worked for women.
The Fair Representation Act (HR 3863) gives voters of all backgrounds and all political stripes the power to elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress. Under the Fair Representation Act, there will be more choices and several winners elected in each district. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger, each electing 3, 4, or 5 winners. Voters will be free to rank their choices without fear of "spoilers." No district will be “red” or “blue.” Every district will fairly reflect the spectrum of voters.
Voters are clamoring for change. The Fair Representation Act is effective, constitutional, and grounded in American traditions. It will ensure that every vote counts, all voices are heard, and everyone has an equal opportunity to serve in elected office.
The U.S. Constitution does not say how states should elect their Members of the House of Representatives, and states used a variety of methods for most of the nation's history. However, since 1970, every state has elected only one per district in a winner-take-all election, due to a federal law passed in 1967. After nearly half a century of exclusive use of single-winner districts, we need a new standard.
Elections are not competitive. More than 85% of U.S. House districts are completely safe for the party that holds them. and only 4% were true toss-ups in 2016. As a result, millions of Americans are perpetually represented by politicians they oppose, with little hope of changing things at the polls.
The Fair Representation Act (HR 3863) is a proposed federal statute to change elections for Members of Congress. Beginning in 2022, House Members would be elected by ranked choice voting in primary and general elections. Members would be elected in multi-winner districts of up to five seats in states with more than one seat, with districts being drawn by independent redistricting commissions. The bill consists of four core components
Ranked Choice Voting for Primaries and the General Election
Multi-Winner Districts in States with More Than 1 Seat
Drawing Districts with Independent Redistricting Commissions
Fair Representation Voting Rule Instead of Winner-Take-All Voting Rule
The Fair Representation Act requires that primary and general elections for in Congress be held with ranked choice voting. The goal with this system is to maximize the number of voters who help elect a candidate.
The ballot will give voters the freedom to rank candidates in order of choice: 1st, 2nd, 3rd and so on.
Vote counting proceeds in rounds. At first, every ballot counts only for its 1st choice.
For the election of only 1 Member, if a candidate receives a majority (50% + 1) of the votes, then that candidate will be elected.
For the election of more than 1 Member in a multi-winner district, the threshold to win goes down. It is just over 1/3rd of vote for 2 seats, 1/4th for 3 seats, 1/5th for 4 seats , and 1/6th for 5 seats.
If a candidate exceeds that threshold of votes from 1st choices only, then that candidate will be elected.
Votes cast for winning candidates are “reweighted” so that any part of the votes that did not help elect that candidate can count for the next ranked choice in the following round.
In a round where no one passes the threshold, the candidate in last place is eliminated. If a voter’s top choice loses, their vote will count for their next choice.
This process repeats until all seats are elected.
In June of 2021, states will receive $1 million plus $500,000 per Representative to pay for election administration and education costs associated with ranked choice voting.
The Act would become part of the Help America Vote Act.
The Fair Representation Act repeals the single-winner district mandate (2 U.S.C. 2c) and replaces it with a multi-winner district mandate in states that have more than one seat.
Any state electing 5 or fewer Members will not use districts, but will elect all statewide.
Any state electing 6 or more Members will elect from multi-winner districts. Multi-winner districts may not elect fewer than 3 or more than 5 Members each, with an equal number of persons per seat.
For primary elections, each political party will nominate candidates equal to the number to be elected in the district. States with “Top Two” will advance twice the number to be elected in the district.
A state using districts—only one of those electing 6 or more Members—must do so by establishing a citizens’ independent redistricting commission. This approach is based on the proposal in the Redistricting Reform Act of 2015.
In states that must draw districts, a nonpartisan agency develops a pool of 60 candidates: 20 affiliated with the state’s majority party at the time of redistricting, 20 from its minority party, and 20 who are unaffiliated with either of those two parties. After a bipartisan legislative committee approves that pool, the nonpartisan agency randomly selects 4 from each category to create the 12-member commission. Those 12 choose a chair, who must come from the unaffiliated group. The commission then can operate.
After assembling an independent redistricting commission, a state is entitled to $150,000 per Representative to offset its costs.
Districts must be drawn according to criteria, in the following order of importance:: contiguity; consistency with the Voting Rights Act; no district can be completely safe for one political party (based on presidential vote totals from prior elections); as few districts as possible should elect 4 candidates (to avoid frequent 2-2 splits); as many districts as possible should elect 5 candidates (to maximize proportionality); respect for existing political boundaries and communities of interest; compactness; and respect for visible geographic features.
Each independent redistricting commission must operate transparently. After holding hearings around the state, it will publish preliminary maps, and then hold at least three further hearings with chances for public comments.
A majority of the commission (including at least one from each of the 3 groups) must approve a final congressional district map by August 15th of the year ending in the number one.
If the state does not establish the requisite non-partisan agency or legislative committee, if the legislative committee fails to approve a pool of applicants, or if the independent commission fails to approve a final plan, then a panel of federal judges will develop and adopt a congressional redistricting plan, guided by the same criteria.
In the current district system, mandated in 1967, a candidate is only sure to win if receiving a majority (50% + 1) of the votes. This is called a “winner-take-all” voting rule.
Many states and cities with multi-winner districts also have winner-take-all voting rules. That means a majority (50% + 1) of the voters can elect 100% of the seats.
The Fair Representation Act establishes a “fair representation” voting rule. A majority (50% + 1) of voters can elect a majority of the seats, but not all seats. In a 5-winner district, 17% of voters can always elect 1 seat, 34% of voters can always elect 2 seats, and so on.
Under the Fair Representation Act, Congress will still be the same size it is now, but the districts will be larger and each will elect 3, 4, or 5 winners. When more than one person wins in a district, more voices in that district can be represented. With ranked choice voting, there will be no "red" or "blue" districts. Voters in the majority will elect most of the winners, but not all of them. Voters in the minority also get a seat at the table.
Below are examples of multi-winner district maps for every state. The states that elect 5 or fewer Representatives will have no districts and elect all statewide. States larger than that are divided into multi-winner districts that elect 3, 4, or 5 winners each. The analysis of each map assumes the state will use ranked choice voting, as required by the Fair Representation Act. Details about how each district map was drawn are below the table.
|Alabama||Hawaii||Massachusetts||New Mexico||South Dakota|
|Florida||Maine||New Hampshire||Rhode Island||Wisconsin|
|Georgia||Maryland||New Jersey||South Carolina||Wyoming|
To create these maps, FairVote partnered with Kevin Baas, creator of the Auto-Redistrict program. The maps are computer-generated based on user-specified criteria. Because the maps are computer-generated, they cannot take into account communities of interest and other considerations that an independent redistricting commission would. Instead, the program attempted to draw districts that would keep counties intact.
We do not claim that these are the actual districts that would be used under the Fair Representation Act. They are examples. We did not attempt to "put our thumb on the scales" to increase fairness in any of these. For more analysis of these districts, see FairVote's Fair Representation Act Report.
Partnering with 13 leading scholarly authorities on electoral reform and legislative functionality, FairVote conducted an in-depth assessment of 37 different structural reforms. Each scholar assessed the impact of each reform on 16 different criteria to assess how it would impact legislative functionality, electoral accountability, voter engagement, and openness of process. The reform at the heart of the Fair Representation Act, ranked choice voting in five-winner districts, was assessed to be the most impactful.
Monopoly Politics exposes the undemocratic and destructive nature of winner-take-all elections to elect "the people's house." Use the interactive map to learn more about our fair voting solution: a plan to combine existing congressional districts into a smaller number of multi-winner "super districts," each electing between three and five Members by ranked choice voting. Read comprehensive analyses about the impact of reform, and descriptions of House elections as they are and as they could be in all 50 states.
The Fair Representation Act Report outlines how multi-winner ranked choice voting will transform the U.S. House of Representatives. Using the model established by the Fair Representation Act, the report simulates the impact of multi-winner ranked choice voting in maps drawn by independent commissions with district maps drawn by the Autoredistrict computer program. It includes a report on the impact on each individual state as well as analysis of the overall impact in making elections more competitive and representative.
Ranked Choice Voting and the Voting Rights Act
Read Drew Spencer and Rob Richie’s analysis of the impact of ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts on the Voting Rights Act.
Ranked Choice Voting and Money in Politics
Analysis on “The Supply Side: Alternative Reform Approaches to Campaign Finance.”
Ranked Choice Voting and Increasing Civility in Politics
Resources and data from comprehensive scholarly analysis of impact of ranked choice voting on the tenor and substance of campaigns in the United States.
Anne Moses, Founder and President of IGNITE
"Political polarization is higher than ever and research shows that having more women in office will reduce the dysfunction and lack of collaboration crippling our legislative bodies. Ranked choice voting and multi-winner districts will move the United States to political parity faster. It couldn't be more imperative that we create more opportunities for women to run and win."
Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, VP for Social Policy and Policy
Americans across the political spectrum are growing increasingly frustrated with our system that offers binary choices and privileges the ideological extremes. Third Way applauds the introduction of the Fair Representation Act, which would be a major step toward empowering the full spectrum of American voters in Congressional elections. Under its proposed system, voters would know that they are choosing their elected officials, rather than politicians picking their voters.
Anita Earls, Executive Director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice
If we want to stop gerrymandering, and move beyond constant litigation over how lines are drawn, we must rethink the way we do districting itself. That’s why the Fair Representation Act, recently introduced before Congress by Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia and Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland creates such an exciting path forward.
With the Fair Representation Act, we'd end gerrymandering and ensure that everyone gets real representation in Congress. We support the Fair Representation Act and call on Congress to take action.
Reihan Salam, Executive Editor of National Review
The Fair Representation Act would ensure every voter matters in every election and likely helps elect a representative no matter where they live. Congress would have new incentives to get its work done.
Lee Drutman, Senior Fellow at New America
The Fair Representation Act would be a game changer for American politics. It would mean that everybody's vote counts. You don't have to live in a swing state, or a swing district in order to have your vote count. Everybody's vote will count equally after the FRA, and it would scramble the winner take all, zero-sum dynamics that are just tearing this country apart. Totally changes the incentives of politics. It will reduce polarization and partisanship, and give every person an equal voice in our politics.
Justin Nelson, President of One Nation, One Vote
The Fair Representation Act would allow all people to have a say in who represents them, regardless of party or race. This proposal is an important reform that would make our democracy work better.