Tacoma News Tribune
representation gives everyone a reason to get out and vote
July 18, 2001
all know about Florida, where a couple of hundred votes and
thousands of disputed ballots determined a presidential election.
But have you ever heard of David Harrison, Joyce McDonald, Adrienne
Thompson and Lois McMahan?
are legislators who could have been if the vote totals had swung
just a percentage point in their favor in Pierce and Kitsap counties
last November. And all are victims of the winner-take-all system of
voting we take for granted here. It is something for our legislators
to consider as they debate a new system of voting.
recent court decision threw out Washington's open primary. So now
legislators must come up with a new primary system. If they fail,
then the decision will be made in the courts, namely by Judge
Burgess in federal District Court in Tacoma.
system makes sense in baseball, but in politics it undermines the
fundamental nature of democracy. Essentially, only one vote counts,
the one that makes the difference between a winner and a loser. All
other votes can be thrown away.
fundamental nature of a representative democracy is that the people
choose their representatives. But with voter turnout in Pierce,
Kitsap, Benton and Franklin Counties hovering at 55 percent of the
total adult population in 2000 and, worse yet, 44 percent in 1998,
we know that in too many elections, the majority of people are
choosing not to vote.
Article I, Section 19
of the Washington State Constitution reads: "Freedom of elections.
All elections shall be free and equal."
Consider this: In the
25th District state Senate race, 48 people voted for Joyce McDonald
(Republican) for every 49 people voting for Jim Kastama (Democrat).
Kastama got elected. The 49 people who voted for him are wholly
represented, while the 48 people voting for McDonald are wholly
unrepresented. So much for equality: One vote translates into zero
power, while another vote translates into total representation.
what to do? There is a different and more democratic system of
voting that ensures votes are translated into political
representation. That system is proportional representation.
Essentially, it means that if 10 representatives are to be elected,
and one party gets 20 percent of the vote, two of its candidates
will be elected.
another party gets 60 percent of the vote, six of its candidates are
elected. Above a certain threshold of support, voters know that they
will have representation in Olympia. And you can design this to
maximize individual choice so the voters (not the parties) choose
the candidates who are to be the parties' representatives in
What would this look
like for Pierce County? Pierce County holds about 12 percent of the
total state population, entitling it to 12 seats in the House of
Representatives. In the next election, the Republicans and Democrats
put up a full slate of candidates, and the Libertarians, Green
Party, and new Labor and Right-to-Life parties also nominate
Election Day, each voter selects a top candidate. The votes for all
candidates are tallied together by party, and each party's
legislative delegation is proportionally determined. The top
vote-getters in each party, if the party meets the threshold for
winning seats, are the people who are sent to Olympia.
the Republicans and Democrats each get around 44 percent of the
total vote, they each get five representatives. But the real
interesting part comes if the Libertarians and Green parties get 6
percent of the total vote: Then they too get representation, maybe
one seat each.
Well, you ask, what
would this do?
current system pushes Democrats and Republicans toward a
homogenization of public speaking and political discussion. Who
isn't for families and work? But behind the rhetoric, Democratic and
Republican parties and legislative leaders can easily sideline
policy solutions, ideas and issues that could and should be part of
the back-and-forth of governance. In short, our current system
allows only a very shallow democracy.
election process that I am suggesting would result in a flourishing
of political ideas, candidates, parties, political participation and
voting. The environment of decision-making by the power elite could
be replaced with real, raucous and democratic debate.
People, instead of
ignoring government, would have a reason to vote. Their votes would
be translated into representation. Most importantly, election
outcomes would be truly and accurately reflected in the Legislature.
For our democracy, this should be more than a pipe dream.
John Burbank, president
of the Economic Opportunity Institute, writes every other Wednesday.
Write to him in
care of the institute at 2400 N. 45th St., No. 101, Seattle, WA
98103. His e-mail address is [email protected].
The institute's Web site is at