"We have 435 Congressional districts in the United States. In any given election year, in at most around 50 of those districts there will be a pretty close election, and therefore in those districts it makes sense to vote and organize and pass out leaflets and be a good citizen. In around another 100 districts there's a chance that given an extraordinary confluence of events -- let's say, some massive Vietnam- or Watergate-style upheaval in the country, plus the incumbent being about to go to jail, plus an unusually attractive and well-financed challenger -- you might get a meaningful contest.
"But in around 275 districts at the very minimum...one side or the other is simply going to get blown away -- crushed, obliterated, neutron-bombed -- and the outcome is totally predictable. And in these districts it doesn't matter which side you're on, because if you're on the losing side your vote is wasted and if you're on the winning side your vote is superfluous. So you may as well stay home. And of course, that's exactly what a lot of voters do -- stay home."
"Even if we don't adopt proportional representation any time soon, even if we never adopt it, it's worth knowing about it as an analytic tool. We are in the habit of jumping to moralistic conclusions about our political and public problems. We automatically blame everything on bad people -- bad politicians, bad media moguls, bad voters. Because we take it for granted that our political institutions are perfect, we have no choice but to blame the people who administer them when things go wrong. This is dangerous."
Hendrik Hertzberg is editorial editor of the New Yorker magazine. He has been editor of the New Republic and chief speechwriter for Jimmy Carter during his presidency. He is a board member of The Center for Voting and Democracy.
Produced in July 1997 by
The Center for Voting and Democracy
PO Box 60037 Washington, DC 20039
Table of Contents