Review of "Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics" by Steven Hill

By David Baker
Published November 1st 2002 in Yale Magazine

Fixing Elections: The Failure of America's Winner Take All Politics Routledge, $27.50,

Between capricious voting machines and the corrupting influence of campaign gifts, the American electoral system is not enjoying its finest hour. But these problems are not what bothers Steven Hill, a cofounder of the Center for Voting and Democracy (a think tank led by former presidential candidate John Anderson). In this tireless jeremiad, Hill maintains that the true threat to our democracy is "Winner Take All," the voting system that reduces an election to a crude all-or-nothing contest that is often decided by special-interest groups.

It will surprise some former U.S. civics students to learn just how many voting systems exist. "As political scientist Robert Dahl and others have pointed out," Hill says, "the Winner Take All voting system was pretty much all that the Framers knew, since other voting systems like cumulative voting, choice voting, limited voting, proportional representation, instant runoff voting, and the like had not yet been invented... [so] we can hardly blame the Framers."

Somewhat sweeping in his judgments, Hill blames this culprit for ills ranging from poor voter turnout to self-protective redistricting, from ruthless partisanship to the power of lobbies to subvert the popular will. Yet, despite the repetition, his explanations are well worth following. For one thing, he is a true scholar of the electoral process, illuminating state assembly votes and presidential campaigns alike, and able to tell you exactly what voting system has been used -- and when -- in nearly every precinct in the country.

Hill's tour of the U.S. political landscape today gets the book off to a lively start, and anyone who stays with him through the mountains of evidence may well agree that some of our sacred cows are ready to be put out to pasture.