A Systems Framework for Remedying Distortions in U.S. Democracy

21 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2021

See all articles by Samuel Wang

Samuel Wang

Electoral Innovation Lab, Princeton University

Jonathan Cervas

Carnegie Mellon University - Institute for Politics and Strategy

Bernard Grofman

University of California, Irvine - Department of Politics and Society

Keena Lipsitz

Queens College, CUNY

Date Written: March 8, 2021

Abstract

Democracy can fail to meet its ideals, and electoral institutions can intensify the failures. Unwanted outcomes include polarized institutions, unresponsive representatives, and the ability of a faction of voters to gain power at the expense of the majority. Various reforms have been proposed to address these problems, but their effectiveness is difficult to predict against a backdrop of complex network interactions. Here we suggest that systems-level modeling can help understand and optimize repairs to U.S. democracy. Following the tradition of engineering and biology, models of systems include mechanisms with dynamical properties that include nonlinearities and amplification (voting rules), positive feedback mechanisms (single-party control, gerrymandering), negative feedback (checks and balances), and integration over time (lifetime judicial appointments). To illustrate a systems-level approach we analyze redistricting procedures that can generate partisan or racial bias or create seats whose legislators need respond only to their core constituency. Restoration of regulatory feedback leads to representation that more closely follows classical seats-to-votes relationships. New voting rules can moderate mechanisms that lead to partisan sorting at the level of candidates for office, especially if the political scene has a second dimension, thus escaping the limits imposed by national polarization. Reforms such as ranked-choice voting, campaign finance reform, and redistricting reform must be understood in the context of the politics and procedures of individual states. An understanding of how mechanisms interact can help not only scholars, but aid reformers in designing effective and lasting outcomes.

Keywords: democracy; complex systems; voting rights

Suggested Citation

Wang, Samuel and Cervas, Jonathan and Grofman, Bernard and Lipsitz, Keena, A Systems Framework for Remedying Distortions in U.S. Democracy (March 8, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3800433 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3800433

Samuel Wang (Contact Author)

Electoral Innovation Lab, Princeton University ( email )

Neuroscience Institute, Washington Road
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States
6092580388 (Phone)
6092581028 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://election.princeton.edu

Jonathan Cervas

Carnegie Mellon University - Institute for Politics and Strategy ( email )

5000 Forbes Avenue
Posner Hall 3866
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
United States

Bernard Grofman

University of California, Irvine - Department of Politics and Society ( email )

Irvine, CA 92697-5100
United States
(949) 824-6394, 5361 (Phone)

Keena Lipsitz

Queens College, CUNY ( email )

Department of Political Science
Flushing, NY 11367
United States

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