Addressing Common Concerns
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
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
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
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.