Addressing Common Concerns about Multi-Seat 
House Districts for U.S. House Elections 
(HR 1173, 1999-2000 Session)

 A Center for Voting and Democracy Factsheet

Would the States' Choice of Voting Systems Act require states to change their electoral system? No. The Act would remove a mandate established in 1967 that requires states to use one-seat House districts. The Act would simply give States more options for electing their representatives -- options they have had for much of our nation's history and which are used in most states for lower-level elections.

Aren't the rules fine as they are? Not always. Conditions have changed since 1967. The great majority of states had their one-seat district plans challenged in federal court since 1990. Some states have dealt with repeated challenges, based on concerns dealing with both partisanship and race. The federal government created the reasons for these lawsuits, yet the states must carry the burden of handling them. Giving states more options to handle redistricting is sensible and fair.

Doesn't this Act change what we've done for two centuries? No. States have had the option to use multi-seat House districts for approximately half of our nation's history. A majority of states initially used multi-seat districts to elect their House members. Several continued to use multi-seat districts until the first mandate for one-seat districts in 1842. In the 1960's, Hawaii and New Mexico preferred at-large elections to carving up their relatively small populations into one-seat districts every ten years.

Would multi-seat districts make campaigns more expensive? No. Some states use a mix of multi-seat districts and one-seat districts to elect their legislatures. Analyses of such "mixed method" elections in North Carolina and Vermont demonstrate that candidates in multi-seat districts in the 1990's on average spent less than candidates in smaller one-seat districts. One reason is that candidates from the same party can share campaign costs. Illinois' experience with cumulative voting for state assembly elections indicates that some alternative election methods likely would decrease costs even more. In elections with a 50% threshold, most money is spent on the relatively few "swing voters" -- those willing to vote for either major party candidate and those who might not vote. Most candidates in a cumulative voting system could focus on the majority of voters who do not "swing."

Do multi-seat districts violate the "one person, one vote" rule? No. "One person, one vote" means that voters have equal voting power, not that voters have only one vote. Tens of thousands of offices in the United States -- including many state, county and city legislative seats -- are elected in multi-seat districts where voters cast more than one vote. In addition, the Department of Justice, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, has upheld every local request to use cumulative voting in multi-seat districts.

Would larger districts make it hard for representatives to handle constituent requests? No. With more than one representative in a district, a Member would have more flexibility to specialize in certain areas -- they would not need to be "all things to all people." In addition, if cumulative voting were adopted by a state, most multi-seat districts would have bi-partisan representation and more diverse representation within the major parties. As a result, most voters could approach a representative who generally shared their views on issues.

Would changes to the voting systems be too confusing? No. Many Americans each year move from one place to another with different voting rules. Learning these rules is a one-time exercise that poses few barriers to their participation. If a state were to change its election method, it of course could educate its citizens about it. As to alternative methods like cumulative voting, more than 80 U.S. localities have adopted such systems in the past decade. Exit polls show that voters can quickly learn how to vote.

Does this bill have any chance of passing? Maybe. One-seat district mandates have been adopted and repealed several times; the mandate was not in effect for nearly half this century. With Congress' recent emphasis on giving more power to the states, there is every reason to believe it will provide states with options they have had for much of American history.