Rework republic's governance

By Ryan Scarrow
Published May 4th 2006 in University Daily Kansan
On the surface, it would appear the Constitution is still serving us well. Absent a few episodes, the Constitution still seems the product of minds far ahead of their time. We figure the Founding Fathers got it right the first time, and that there is no better system of governance and we shouldn’t think there might be.

This is not what the Founding Fathers wanted. Thomas Jefferson called for a “permanent revolution,” that each generation reconnect with the Constitution and breathe new life into it as deemed necessary by modern life. Case in point: proportional representation.

If you recall, our Congressmen and women are elected from single member districts based simply on getting a plurality of votes. This system works great for representing your city or region, but that’s it. If 49 percent of the electorate votes for the other guy, they might as well have not even voted at all.

To put it in real numbers, Republican representatives in 2004 got a 55 million to 52 million margin over Democrats, yet carried a 230-200 majority to completely shut out the minority party and their respective voters. In the Senate, Democrats actually got 44 million votes to the GOP’s 39 million, yet not only did they not win the Senate, they lost seats. Consider that 98 percent of congressional incumbents are re-elected, despite stagnant approval ratings, and we see an electoral system that is woefully out of touch with its citizens.

Which is where proportional representation comes in. It’s focused on apportioning legislative seats based on how many votes a party gets. If 60 percent of people vote for the Democrats, they should get 60 percent of the seats. If 10 percent vote Libertarian, then that tenth must be represented.

Proportional representation opens up the political spectrum. It forces accountability. It allows for constituencies of ideas rather than geographic space. It reduces negative campaigning as voters would have multiple choices who could win. As Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker wrote, “If Americans hate politicians, maybe it’s because our chaotic pile of political systems offers so many perverse incentives for politicians to behave badly.”

So why not use this enlightened electoral process? I have no doubt the Founding Fathers would have included it in the Constitution — had they known about it. It wasn’t until the 19th century that proportional representation was refined for European nations. Several U.S. cities have used PR, but the politicians have such a stranglehold on the elections that they refuse to cede any power to minor parties or even — gasp! — the voters.

The Constitution can and should be changed to include this much-needed improvement. The benefits are incalculable. The Founding Fathers would be proud, because we would have taken this great document — and government ­­— into our own hands.

Scarrow is a Humboldt senior in history.