Skip to content

Latest Stories

Top Stories

How a new way of electing the House can change our politics

House of Representatives chamber

The House of Representatives

Sha Hanting/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Penrose is the lead author of “Our Shared Republic: The Case for Proportional Representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.” Daley is the author ofRatf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.”

Our country is more politically sorted than it has been in a century, but we are not nearly as sorted as the simple narrative suggests. Liberal voters live in the reddest parts of rural America, and conservative voters live in the bluest of cities. However, they are invisible in winner-take-all congressional elections. Every vote they cast fails to elect anyone.

That means they’re invisible in Congress itself, which John Adams wrote “should be in miniature, an exact portrait of the people.” Instead, the people’s House is the very picture of gridlock and extremism. It’s an unrepresentative body sent to Washington from uncompetitive districts in hyper-polarized times that has hamstrung action even on issues where large majorities of us agree.

While our politics may seem intractably broken, there are solutions available, if we can muster the will to change. Much of the national reform energy revolves around ending gerrymandering or opening primaries, but while both of those fixes would do some good around the margins in a handful of states, genuinely solving the problem everywhere requires a bolder approach.

Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter

The most meaningful change would put an end to winner-take-all, single-member districts and create a proportional House with larger, multimember districts and proportional voting. This might sound like a big lift, but it’s fully constitutional, deeply aligned with our founding vision, and only requires Congress to pass a statute. For example, the Fair Representation Act, a bill to be reintroduced in Congress this week by Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), would do just that by requiring every state to replace its winner-take-all elections with proportional ranked-choice voting.

The advantages of a proportional system would be dramatic and immediate. It would make every contest competitive in every state. It would end gerrymandering and more fully represent the breadth of ideas held by voters. It would greatly expand opportunities for communities of color to build power. And it would create incentives for legislators to work productively in service of the public interest rather than to obstruct and demean their opponents.

Single-member, winner-take-all robs us of the diversity of ideas and interests that exist across all regions of the country. Massachusetts, for example, is a blue state. In 2020, all nine of its congressional districts were safely Democratic. Yet across those districts, 1.2 million people backed Donald Trump for president. Likewise, the band of states running up the center of the country, consisting of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas, elected a combined 14 representatives, 13 of whom were Republicans. Yet across those 13 Republican districts, 1.5 million people wanted Joe Biden to be president.

In every congressional election, around 90 percent of districts have no meaningful competition at all. Polarization of the two major parties has created a self-reinforcing cycle of distrust that has already resulted in one abortive insurrection. New England Republicans and heartland Democrats currently lack a voice – when we know from history that when elected, they’re the bridge-builders who bring coalitions together.

A simulation of the Fair Representation Act showed that proportional ranked-choice voting and multimember districts would yield the equivalent electoral power of 30 new majority-minority districts nationwide. Under this system, a far greater proportion of voters of color would have a representative who is responsive to their community, including nearly all Black voters in the Deep South and nearly all Latino voters in the Southwest.

Today’s winner-take-all methods allow representatives to win elections with only a very small coalition of support, wasting the votes of all others. Too often, the expressway to Congress from a gerrymandered district is to run to the extremes in a low-turnout primary. Consider the election of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, whose safe Republican district is home to about 730,000 people. Yet Greene won both her primary and her primary runoff election with fewer than 44,000 supporters.

The coalition that elected her is tiny, and neither ideologically nor demographically representative of the district as a whole. Her track record as a representative reflects that; she favors incendiary and extreme rhetoric that excites a small, dedicated group of voters over building coalitions for effective governance that would help more people.

If a substantial number of voters in a district want to elect a bombastic populist, it is their right to vote for that candidate. Under proportional ranked-choice voting, however, such a candidate would have to win a competitive general election and demonstrate the support of a substantial constituency. Extremists can win some seats under proportional voting methods too, but the incentives change in a way that tends to moderate, productive government overall. There would be competition in the general election – and with far different incentives to appeal to everyone in November, rather than the fringes in a summer primary.

Proportional representation really means full representation: Nearly every voter (at least 83 percent in a five-member district, for example) can point to an elected representative whom they voted for and helped elect. The proportion of effective votes — those that actually elected someone — is far higher than under winner-take-all.

And with proportional ranked-choice voting, the number of voters who ranked a winner as one of their top choices will be even higher. Voters need not fear “wasting” their vote on a longshot candidate; their vote can simply count for a backup choice if their favorite doesn’t stand a chance.

The adoption of proportional ranked-choice voting in the U.S. House of Representatives would help to realize James Madison’s vision for the chamber: a government able to temper the violence of faction through the representation of a great diversity of interests. So that the republic will not be mine or yours, but ours, and not be ruled, but shared.

Read More

Trump and Biden at the debate

Our political dysfunction was on display during the debate in the simple fact of the binary choice on stage: Trump vs Biden.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The debate, the political duopoly and the future of American democracy

Johnson is the executive director of the Election Reformers Network, a national nonpartisan organization advancing common-sense reforms to protect elections from polarization.

The talk is all about President Joe Biden’s recent debate performance, whether he’ll be replaced at the top of the ticket and what it all means for the very concerning likelihood of another Trump presidency. These are critical questions.

But Donald Trump is also a symptom of broader dysfunction in our political system. That dysfunction has two key sources: a toxic polarization that elevates cultural warfare over policymaking, and a set of rules that protects the major parties from competition and allows them too much control over elections. These rules entrench the major-party duopoly and preclude the emergence of any alternative political leadership, giving polarization in this country its increasingly existential character.

Keep ReadingShow less
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Voters should be able to take the measure of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., since he is poised to win millions of votes in November.

Andrew Lichtenstein/Getty Images

Kennedy should have been in the debate – and states need ranked voting

Richie is co-founder and senior advisor of FairVote.

CNN’s presidential debate coincided with a fresh batch of swing-state snapshots that make one thing perfectly clear: Robert F. Kennedy Jr. may be a longshot to be our 47th president and faces his own controversies, yet the 10 percent he’s often achieving in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and other battlegrounds could easily tilt the presidency.

Why did CNN keep him out with impossible-to-meet requirements? The performances, mistruths and misstatements by Joe Biden and Donald Trump would have shocked Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, who managed to debate seven times without any discussion of golf handicaps — a subject better fit for a “Grumpy Old Men” outtake than one of the year’s two scheduled debates.

Keep ReadingShow less
I Voted stickers

Veterans for All Voters advocates for election reforms that enable more people to participate in primaries.

BackyardProduction/Getty Images

Veterans are working to make democracy more representative

Proctor, a Navy veteran, is a volunteer with Veterans for All Voters.

Imagine this: A general election with no negative campaigning and four or five viable candidates (regardless of party affiliation) competing based on their own personal ideas and actions — not simply their level of obstruction or how well they demonize their opponents. In this reformed election process, the candidate with the best ideas and the broadest appeal will win. The result: The exhausted majority will finally be well-represented again.

Keep ReadingShow less
Person voting at a dropbox in Washington, D.C.

A bill moving through Congress would only allow U.S. citizens to vote in D.C. municipal eletions.

Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

The battle over noncitizen voting in America's capital

Rogers is the “data wrangler” at BillTrack50. He previously worked on policy in several government departments.

Should you be allowed to vote if you aren’t an American citizen? Or according to the adage ‘No taxation without representation’, if you pay taxes should you get to choose the representatives who help spend those tax dollars? Those questions are at the heart of the debate over a bill to restrict voting to U.S. citizens.

Keep ReadingShow less
people walking through a polling place

Election workers monitor a little-used polling place in Sandy Springs, Ga., during the state's 2022 primary.

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

What November election? Half of the U.S. House is already decided.

Troiano is the executive director ofUnite America, a philanthropic venture fund that invests in nonpartisan election reform to foster a more representative and functional government. He’s also the author of “The Primary Solution.”

Last month, Americans were treated to an embarrassing spectacle: Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) tradingpersonal insults related to “fake eyelashes” and a “bleach blonde bad built butch body” during a late-night committee hearing. Some likened it to Bravo’s “Real Housewives” reality TV series, and wondered how it was possible that elected officials could act that way and still be elected to Congress by the voters.

The truth is, the vast majority of us don’t actually elect our House members — not even close. Less than 10 percent of voters in Crockett’s district participated in her 2024 Democratic primary, which all but guaranteed her re-election in the safe blue district. Greene ran unopposed in her GOP primary — meaning she was re-elected without needing to win a single vote. The nearly 600,000 voters in her overwhelmingly red district were denied any meaningful choice. Both contests were decided well before most voters participate in the general election.

Keep ReadingShow less