The U.S. Constitution provides few guidelines for how we elect our representatives, yet many voting rules and standards have hardly changed over time. While other countries, such as Mexico and Sweden, have embraced contemporary voting techniques that improve representation, the U.S. system is past due for modernization.
Read more about how parity is over a century away with our current system and what we propose instead.
Most of the U.S. uses single-winner, winner-take-all elections. This means everyone in a community votes for their favorite candidate, the candidate with the most votes wins, and then that person represents the entire community.
If Candidate A gets 51 percent of the vote and Candidate B gets 49 percent, Candidate A represents everyone and those who voted for Candidate B get no representation.
Our research (2016, 2020) shows this type of election disadvantages women - especially women of color. It will take multiple generations for women to reach parity if we keep this antiquated system.
Here is how winner-take-all elections are disproportionately bad for women candidates:
The alternative is fair representation voting, which represents communities proportionally through:
Ranked choice voting - voters rank candidates in order of choice
Multi-winner districts - districts represented by more than one person.
Here is how fair representation elections help level the playing field for women candidates:
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)
Under ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. They mark their favorite candidate as first choice and then indicate their second and additional back-up choices in order of preference. Voters may rank as many candidates as they want, knowing that indicating a lower ranked candidate will never hurt a more preferred candidate.
Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices.
When used as an "instant runoff" to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor - as seen above - RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature, or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.
How Does RCV Work in Different Elections?
The U.S. uses single-winner districts to elect the House of Representatives, which means each congressional district has one Member of Congress. Some state legislatures and city councils use multi-member districts, where multiple people represent the same district. We propose that all legislative bodies adopt multi-member districts to better represent the opinions, diversity, and values of their constituents.
Compared to winner-take-all elections, ranked choice voting in multi-member contests allows more diverse groups of voters to elect candidates of choice. This promotes diversity of political viewpoint as well as diversity of candidate background and demographics.
Multi-winner districts increase women's representation for two key reasons:
- Voters tend to balance their tickets
- Political parties seek to appeal to as many voters as they can
Amy (2002), Zimmerman (1994), and Troustine (2008) find that in the multi-winner environment voters are more likely to vote for male and female candidates to balance their choices, meaning parties have more incentive to run female candidates. This leads to more recruitment and support of female candidates, and therefore more women in office.
The Fair Representation Act (HR 4000) 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.
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