Saturday, October 12, 2013
Crackpot Idea Number #435: Representative Representatives
My subconscious mind is a veritable fountain of totally crackpot ideas, which my higher brain functions have to bat down on a regular basis. Sometimes I succeed. But other times, well, I end up blogging about them.
One that surfaced this last week felt utterly unworkable, meaning that while it's probably being tried in any number of alternate universes, it ain't about to happen in this one. Still and all, I felt like sharing.
Our political system just seems to be doing a kind of craptacular job of representing us lately, particularly our House of Representatives. It's always been a mess, the down and dirty manifestation of our national id. That is how it should be. It's a mess by design.
But with political participation dwindling and gerrymandering gamesmanship now honed to a fine edge by demographic analysis, our "representatives" are frequently elected by only a small subset of the individuals they putatively represent. If you "win" with a slight majority of the 57% of the voters in your district who bothered to show up, you still win. With those as the dynamics of elections, it makes it far easier to rely on a loud and highly motivated partisan base instead of attempting to have broader appeal.
So I got to thinking: what if we messed with that a bit? What if every member of the House of Representatives didn't cast one vote, but instead got exactly the same number of votes as were cast for them in their election? My representative, for example, would cast 176,686 votes.
This would mean the vote tallies in the House of Representatives would be much larger numbers, sure. But it's just addition, eh? Get a spreadsheet. Tally 'em up. It's not hard. House vote results wouldn't be two hundred and something to one hundred and something. They'd be in the millions.
Such a system would be perfectly reflective of the actual "representativeness" of a Representative.
It also seems...although here it's hard to say...that this would increase the value of voter participation in the system. The more participation, the more weight would be given to a particular Representative's influence on a piece of legislation. If you've got 85% turnout in your district, and you're trying to appeal as broadly as possible to your electorate, you would have more influence than if you made it harder for folks to vote.
Every vote becomes important. Registration and participation suddenly becomes a priority, because winning is leavened with participation.
And even losing candidates would influence the system. Take, for example, John Boehner's last two election cycles. When he was re-elected in 2012, he got over 209,000 votes. He ran unopposed. Your choice in the Ohio 8th District was John Boehner or John Boehner, exactly the kind of choice you'd have in the good old days in the You Ess Ess Arr.
Well, there was a proto-fascist running, a hard-core right winger. He took a total of 409 votes from Boehner.
But in the previous election, when there were four choices (Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Crazy Person) Boehner only pulled in 149,000 votes. Meaningless in the current system, in which he's still the winner. But in a vote-tally House, it would reduce influence by over 25%. Third and Fourth parties suddenly matter. You wouldn't be "throwing away your vote" if you voted libertarian, for example. You're saying: You have not persuaded me you deserve my power.
Finally, if you're centrist...a capable, pragmatic person with broad appeal and competence, not just one playing to a surface froth of wingnuts...you'll garner more of those votes. That might make you even more able to influence the direction of the country.
There'd be potential downsides, sure. With any system, there might be ways to game it.
But as a political concept, it's interesting to play around with.