Toward Fairer Representation in State Legislatures
51 Pages Posted: 10 May 2022
Date Written: March 1, 2022
Many state legislatures lack democratic legitimacy in that they comprise legislators who, in total, do not accurately reflect the views of the state’s voters. In several states, for instance, the party that wins a minority of votes for the statehouse routinely wins the seat total by large margins. This reality leads to all kinds of problems, including a disconnect between voters’ policy preferences and the policies that their state legislature produces. There are two key factors that aid this phenomenon: intentional partisan gerrymandering and “unintentional gerrymandering,” the latter of which arises due to the geospatial sorting of voters. As much as reformers try to take the politics out of district drawing, under current geopolitical alignments, voters in more densely populated areas will be at a disadvantage at translating their votes into seats in the state legislature. Hence, to better align voters’ preferences with legislative outcomes, more substantial reform may be needed than merely depoliticizing districting.
As a proposal for such reform, this article uses a bill that has been proposed at the federal level—the Fair Representation Act—as a template for reforming state legislatures. By using multi-member districts and ranked-choice voting, the FRA aims to provide more diverse and balanced representation in the House of Representatives. States could do the same for their legislatures, although the means of implementing such reform would vary by state, and there are a number of threshold questions each state would need to resolve for itself about such a system’s scope and details. This paper walks through those steps and choices in an attempt to illustrate how FRA-type reform at the state level could make state democracy more representative.
Keywords: gerrymandering, districting, state legislatures, one-person-one-vote, malapportionment, urban
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