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Washington Post

Elections and Real Representation
Letter to the Editor
May 5, 2004

Fred Hiatt is quite right to finger redistricting as a major problem with our democracy -- it's simply wrong to allow elected officials to help their friends and hurt their enemies ["Time to Draw the Line," op-ed, May 3]. But with nonpartisan redistricting, the number of competitive districts around the nation would probably increase from one in 10 seats to perhaps one in six -- doing little to address the polarized nature of policymaking on Capitol Hill and under-representation of women and minorities.

It's time to modify winner-take-all elections, as nearly all other enduring democracies have. One American example comes from Illinois, where from 1870 to 1980 candidates for the state House of Representatives ran in three-seat districts, as is done in most of Maryland. A full-representation voting method was used that lowered the victory threshold for candidates from 50 to 25 percent.

The Illinois system didn't threaten the two-party system, but it broadened representation within the parties and promoted more bipartisan policy. It also gave most voters better choices and fairer representation, and it boosted representation of women and African Americans.

It would take only a statute to enact the Illinois system of multi-seat districts for electing the U.S. House members and most state legislators. Without it most voters are doomed to electoral irrelevance no matter how we draw district lines.

Rob Richie


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