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Reflecting All of Us: The Case for Proportional Representation (New Democracy Forum) Paperback – January 14, 1999
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Many Americans aren't aware that there is any other way to count votes than the way it is done in the U.S. They don't know that most established democracies use a different system called proportional representation. Richie and Hill present the basic case that proportional representation leads to higher voter turnouts and results in better representation of the political, racial and gender diversity in our society. Furthermore, proportional representation negates the problems of gerrymandering -- the engineering of district boundaries to benefit the party that is drawing the boundaries.
Through their nonpartisan organization, the Center for Voting and Democracy, Richie and Hill have demonstrated that gerrymandering has resulted in an uncompetitive democracy in the United States, leaving voters with few choices in districts designed to be safe forincumbents. Richie and Hill have documented the large number of state legislative races (41%) with only one major party candidate, and further how 80% of Congressional elections consistently have a large margin of victory, with incumbents winning reelection over 90% of the time. With a major redistricting approaching after the 2000 Census, reforming this process will again be a major topic, which should fuel a debate about proportional representation..
The book has a unique format. After an introduction by Lani Guinier, the authors argue the general case for proportional representation, followed by a series of responses by independent commentators. While none of the essayists are in direct opposition to proportional representation, a few are skeptical of some of the arguments made by the primary authors. Others deal with the practical difficulties of getting voters to accept proportional representation.
But none of the contributions are exhaustive. The very shortness of the book -- only 90 pages -- makes it unintimidating. The prospective reader isn't confronted with a dense tome of political science. But this strength also leads to the main weakness: the briefness of the debate leaves many issues unresolved. A good bibliography for further reading would have been useful. There are a few reading sources cited in the footnotes.
The first essay is by Cynthia McKinney, a Democratic Congresswoman who is a supporter of the proportional representation alternative and has introduced laws in the U.S. Congress to make it possible.
Political scientist Gary Cox claims that proportional representation will not work well with the presidential system used in the United States. While many commentators confuse the parliamentary system with proportional representation, Cox attempts to show that the combination of proportional representation and a presidential system leads to poor governance. But I think he ignores the shifting nature of coalitions in the Congress, so I find his argument unconvincing.
Third party activists Daniel Cantor of the New Party, and Ross Mirkarimi of the Green Party, comment on the practical question: how do we get proportional representation, particularly when sitting politicians wouldn't benefit from it? Cantor stresses the importance of the initiative, while Mirkarimi recommends that higher voter turnout be emphasized as a benefit.
Other commentators include Stanford Law Professor Pam Karlan, legal expert E. Joshua Rosenkranz from the Brennan Legal Center, political scientist John Ferejohn, and Los Angeles community activist Anthony Thigpenn.
The book closes with a response from Richie and Hill to some of the comments from the essayists. Considering that they had no control over the choice of essayists, this exchange is valuable, if only a taste of serious debate.
I found the nuanced criticisms from some of the contributors to have increased my awareness of the issues. Some criticisms need further discussion, but the purpose of this brief book is to further open the debate on the practical aspects of proportional representation. I am sure that "Reflecting Us All" will succeed in doing so. -- Dean Myerson is Secretary of the Association of State Green Parties and lives in Boulder, CO
About the Author
STEVEN HILL is a Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation and a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin. He is a veteran journalist and author of five books, including the internationally praised "Europe's Promise: Why the European Way is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age", which was selected as one of the "Top Fifteen Books of 2010" by"The Globalist". His articles and media interviews have appeared in the" ""New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Financial Times, The Guardian, Le Monde, ""Die Zeit, ""Project Syndicate, Los Angeles Times, ""The Nation, Politico, ""Mother Jones, Huffington Post, Salon, Slate, " BBC, C-SPAN, Fox News, NPR, PBS, Democracy Now, Austrian Public Broadcasting and many others. He lives in San Francisco, CA.
Joel Rogers, a MacArthur Foundation "genius" prize-winner and identified by Newsweek as one of the 100 living Americans most likely to shape U.S. politics and culture in the twenty-first century, is professor of law, political science, public affairs, and sociology at the University of Wisconsin Madison. The common thread in his academic work is democracy: how to define and measure it, what makes it work, how to make it work better. Rogers spends a lot of time outside the university advising people in politics, government, business, and social movements. He runs the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, which promotes high road (i.e., equitable, sustainable, democratic) economic development and governance, and has produced a stream of influential innovations in worker training; business and labor strategy; and local, state, and national policy.
Lani Guinier is Bennett Boskey Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.