Another Way To Neutralize Gerrymandering. Don’t Change The Map. Change How The Votes Are Counted.
David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)
What Is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is the practice of adjusting the boundaries of election districts in a way that maximizes the number of candidates your party can elect. The party in power maximizes its winning seats by dumping as many of the other party’s voters as possible into as small a number of oddly shaped districts as possible.
In other words, you put all of your enemies into one or two baskets, thereby allowing you to win the rest of the races without any effective opposition.
The Standard Fix Is To Push For Neutral Election-District Maps
Most the of the plans proposed to fight gerrymandering focus on creating neutrally drawn election-district boundaries. See my column: How To Quickly Create A Neutral, Non-Gerrymandered Election Map
A Different Fix Is To Ignore District Boundaries And Instead Count Votes Across The Entire State
Recently, Jameson Quinn published a column in which he suggested a better way to nullify gerrymandering: Counting the votes differently:
While I think that Jameson Quinn’s PLACE voting system is a good idea that would work, I’m concerned that voters and politicians will be deterred by its somewhat complicated nature and the fact that it would require both a change to the form of the ballots and that it would also require both voters and candidates to make additional decisions.
When people are confronted with a request to make a change, their default response in the face of any confusion is to say “no” because doing nothing is easier than expending the effort to understand a new concept and then take the risk that things won’t turn out the way you might want.
A body at rest tends to stay at rest.
Another Voting System — Party Voting
So, I’d like to propose a less elegant but simpler way to defeat gerrymandering than Mr. Quinn’s ingenious PLACE voting system. It’s not quite as powerful as PLACE but I think it makes up for that in increased simplicity.
I call it “Party Voting.”
It doesn’t require any changes to current election practices or ballots.
To implement Party Voting all the election officials have to do is apply some arithmetic to the vote totals after the polls have closed.
Registered Voter Statistics For The Fictitious State Of Columbia
Let me give you an example of Party Voting using a Congressional election in the imaginary state of Columbia.
Columbia has five Congressional districts. Each district has approximately 711,000 residents of which approximately 530,000 are adults of which about 470,000 are eligible to vote and about 330,000 are actually registered to vote.
In any given election between 45% to 60% of the eligible voters, about 180,000 people, will actually vote. So, we can expect to see anywhere from about 150,000 to 200,000 people vote in each of Columbia’s five Congressional district elections.
Under the current winner-take-all voting system we can see that gerrymandering was successful in that while the Democrats received a total of 474,000 votes to the Republican’s 423,300 total votes, a majority of the five seats went to the GOP candidates, Bill Smith, Mary Webster and Sam Black, with the Democrats winning only two districts, Carlos Sanchez and Wanda Gleason, in spite of receiving more votes.
How would “Party Voting” change the result?
An Example Of How Party Voting Would Work In A Congressional Election
In Party Voting we divide the total number of votes cast for all candidates, 924,900, by the number of candidates being elected, 5, and we get 924,900/5 = 184,980 votes per seat.
Next we divide the total number of votes for each party by that 184,980.
So, 423,400 votes for all GOP candidates divided by 184,980 = 2 candidates elected with 53,040 votes left over.
474,000 total votes for the Democratic candidates divided by 184,980 = 2 candidates elected with 104,040 votes left over.
The party with the highest number of remainder votes gets the last seat. Since the Democrats had 104,040 votes left over versus the Republican’s 53,040 votes left over, the Democrats get the fifth seat.
The three top vote-getting Democrats were Carlos Sanchez (4th District), Wanda Gleason (5th District) and Sally Jones (1st District), so they’re declared winners.
The two top vote-getting Republicans were Sam Black (3rd District) and Mary Webster (2nd District) who are also declared winners.
The result of the election under each voting method would be
Party voting essentially ignored the gerrymandered district boundaries and, instead, looked at the total number of votes cast for each party across the entire state.
897,300 total votes were cast for both Republican and Democratic candidates across all five Congressional districts. Of those 897,300 votes the Democrats got 474,000 or 52.8% and the Republicans got 423,300 or 47.2%.
Therefore the Democrats won the remaining fifth seat.
The three Democrats who got elected were the three Dems’ with the highest vote totals and the two Republicans who were elected were the GOP’s two highest vote getters.
Contrast this with the current gerrymandered system where the GOP received only 47% of the total Republican-Democratic vote but won a majority of the five seats because of the gerrymandered district lines.
If either the Green party or the Libertarian party had received a total of at least 184,980 votes they would have won one of the seats and the results would have been two Democrats, two Republicans and one Green or one Libertarian.
Not A Perfect System
One possible concern with this system is getting a result that picks two candidates from one district and no candidate from another district.
In our example election, the third-highest vote-getting Democrat was Sally Jones from the First District, but suppose that we swapped Sally Jones’ vote total with Janice Wilson’s in the Third District so that Sally Jones got 75,200 in the First District and Janice Wilson got 77,700 in the Third District.
That would make the top three Democratic vote-getters Carlos Sanchez (5th District), Wanda Gleason (4th District) and Janice Wilson from the Third District.
Here’s the problem. The top two GOP vote-getters were Mary Webster (2nd District) and Sam Black ALSO from the 3rd District.
Unless we do something, Sam Black (R) and Janice Wilson (D), both from the 3rd District, will BOTH be elected and no one will be elected from the 1st District.
To avoid something like that, if two people would otherwise be elected from the same district, for example, Sam Black and Janice Wilson, both from the Third District, the candidate from that district with the most votes will represent that district. Since Sam Black got 108,700 3rd District votes and in this example Janice Wilson got 77,700 3rd District votes, Sam Black would represent the 3rd District and Janice Wilson would be knocked out.
She would be replaced by the next most successful Democratic candidate, namely, Sally Jones from the First District who would be the third Democrat elected.
Benefits From This System
No Changes For Voters — No Changes In Ballots
The most important advantage of this system would be that as far as the voters were concerned nothing would change. The ballots would be unchanged. Candidates would be unchanged. The voters wouldn’t have to do anything or make any additional decisions.
The Registrar of Voters wouldn’t have to change anything. He/she would print the ballots the same way they’ve always been printed.
The voters would vote the same way they’ve always voted.
The only thing that would change would be the arithmetic that would be applied to the vote totals after all the voting and counting was completed.
The second advantage to this system is that it makes gerrymandering irrelevant. Gerrymandering no longer gives a party any advantage because seats are won based on total votes received by a party across the entire state not the number of votes received by a candidate in only one district.
With the incentive to gerrymander gone, the parties might actually use a neutral computer program to draw the districts around social/neighborhood lines or geographical features (rivers, mountains).
It Gives Smaller Parties A Chance To Elect A Candidate
A third benefit of the Party Voting system is that it gives third parties a realistic chance to elect a candidate.
Right now it’s very difficult for a new party to elect a candidate even if that party has widespread support. In our example, if the Libertarian, Tea Party, Green Party or whatever had managed to get a total of at least 185,000 votes across the entire state it would have gotten one of the five seats.
This method introduces real competition for existing parties and competition is usually a good way to motivate an institution to adopt productive change.
A system like this is not a magic bullet that will fix all of the problems with our election system. Specifically, it won’t fix the very real drawbacks that are endemic to the party-primary system, nor will it fix the structural problems that restrict and sometimes suppress voter participation.
But it would go a long way to making a successful end-run around politicians gaming the system with gerrymandered election districts.
–David Grace (www.DavidGraceAuthor.com)