OregonPEN, Vol. 3, No. 18 – 17 June 2017 – Real Representation Issue

Sightline Institute’s Kristin Eberhard has been doing outstanding work toward helping people in the Northwest understand how much of what makes us most frustrated and angry about our politics is built into the DNA of our system, reflecting the DNA of our election methods. This issue of OregonPEN presents two of Everhard’s latest pieces, which focus on Portland as the example, but which also present lessons that apply to cities and towns throughout all of Oregon.

The most important thing to understand about our elections is that the reason we wind up with a two-party system in America is that we typically use a “single-member district” (one member of the elected body — Congress, or city council, or state legislature) is elected per district. That means that, even if we used a smarter ballot that let voters rank their choices instead of voting for one choice only, the election threshold would be 50%. (This single member form of ranked-choice voting is also known as Instant Runoff Voting, or “preference voting” in Oregon’s Constitution, which specifically allows it.)

Given Oregon’s unique history of racial exclusion and discrimination, we realistically only have one way to attain better representation of minorities and historically disfavored groups in our city councils and state legislature and in Congress: reduce the voting threshold to win a seat by electing several members at once from larger districts, rather than pitting candidates into single-winner races. All over the world, multi-member districts are the solution that provides for majority rule while allowing minorities to win fair representation.  Here’s the reason: the more seats you elect at once, the lower the percentage of votes needed for a candidate to win a seat (threshold).

With lower thresholds, minority voters and supporters of minority candidates can concentrate their votes on their favored candidates, and ensure that they win a seat — even as the majority continues to win a majority of seats.

The remedy to our toxic politics is not a magical “coming together” — it’s changing the system that has produced such a toxic politics by completely excluding people from having any voice unless they can muster a majority of votes.

In multimember districts, the winning vote threshold for a district of n seats is(1/(1+n))
As the number of seats elected in the same district at the same time goes up, the voting threshold for winning one seat goes down

Based in Seattle, the Sightline Institute (originally Northwest Environment Watch) didn’t make the OregonPEN Best Investment nonprofits for 2016 because that list is limited to Oregon organizations. But Sightline would make any top 10 list of US nonprofits ranked for thoughtful, effective analysis and advocacy. OregonPEN is grateful to Sightline for making their work available and proudly presents these pieces for benefit of OregonPEN readers.

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