Representation Reimagined

At its roots, a representative government ought to, at the very least, do one thing well — represent. We have every right to expect our representatives to reflect the vastly diverse America we know and live in.

But why doesn’t it? Why do women constitute over half of the U.S. population, yet less than 20% of its House of Representatives? Why do nonwhites constitute 38% of the U.S. population, but only 19% of Congress?

These disparities are due in part to our winner-take-all voting districts and are further compounded by gerrymandering, the combination of which make it exceedingly difficult for minority populations to achieve proportionate representation. 2012 brought a great illustration of such barriers to fair representation, when 51% of North Carolinians voted for democratic representatives, yet 9 of the state’s 13 elected representatives were republicans.

The basic flaw of a system with multiple winner-take-all districts is that it fails to account for minority populations that are not clustered within confined areas. As a result, a minority group could represent a sizable portion of a state’s total population, but none of its representatives because it does not constitute a majority in any one voting district.

Massachusetts is an excellent example of this all-too-common phenomenon. There, although ~ 25% of voters are republican, no republican representatives have been elected for over 20 years. I cannot speak for that 25%, but I would be willing to wager that they do not feel adequately represented. Conversely, would it not be more sensible to create a system in which a minority group could achieve a fair share of representatives?

The America we live in is one of a myriad of values and political beliefs — a country in which we each identify the most with unique individuals (and representatives), and it is unlikely that if given a wide array of options, a majority would mutually agree upon a singular choice. Therefore, in the interest of fair representation, we ought to explore the possibility of multiple representatives for a given area.

Enter the Fair Representation Act, introduced by Representative Don Boyer last week. This bill, which could go a long way toward eliminating gerrymandering and increasing proportionate representation among minority populations, would mandate all U.S. Representatives be elected using a ranked voting system in which multiple representatives serve larger voting districts. States with 5 or fewer available seats would have one voting district served by all the state’s representatives, while more populous states would have a few voting districts, each served by multiple representatives.

By ranking our preferred candidates in a multi-representative district, we will create an environment in which we empower minority voices by establishing a means through which our group of representatives better reflects the constituents they represent.

All too often we forget that the majority of today is the minority of tomorrow. We are all minorities in some way, shape or form, and as minorities in our own right, we should respect the importance of protecting the minority voice in our republic. With the introduction of such innovative representation methods as those proposed by the #FairRepAct, the days of a brazenly unrepresentative House of Representatives may, at long last, be numbered.

Nathan Musgrove is founder of Voters for a Voice, a non-partisan Brooklyn-based organization engaged in educating citizens, exploring creative solutions to and advocating for policies that promote equal representation in the American political system.