Legal & Policy Challenges

Equal Representation Through the Elimination of Congressional Districts

To grant each state its specified number of representatives in Congress, we have devised a system not founded in the Constitution – Congressional districts. Each state is split up into geographical regions approved by the state legislatures and signed by the state governor. Under this system, each geographical district elects one representative who is then supposed to represent those people by voting, debating, and speaking with the will of their district in mind. Members of that district have no say about the state's other Congressional districts – just theirs.

 

As is always with people, manipulation of the system is bound to occur. Districts are, as I said above, drawn by the state legislature, which is a very partisan institution (as are most political institutions, sadly), so they tend to reflect what's best for the majority party at the time the districts were created. Not only do parties get disenfranchised, all sorts of communities – minorities in particular – get the shaft in this system. All the person in power wants to do is continue holding that power for as long as possible; therefore, they try to stack the odds in their favour by drawing districts in such a way that they are almost always assured a win next election. If they can win in a majority of the districts in the state, they win the entire state, regardless of what the other districts say. Power-hungry politicians, then, sometimes try to draw district lines in a way that negates the effect of the opposing vote in a process called "gerrymandering." If there are a lot of Republicans in a certain area, and Democrats control the state legislature, they may elect to split up those Republicans into several districts, so they can't ban together and have power. Another method is to cede a district or several districts to their opponents, and put all Republicans into those districts, making sure that Democrats will still control all the others and thus control the state.

 

While these techniques are technically illegal (due to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and several laws in the 1980s), the U.S. Congress will sometimes look over gerrymandering as long as it's not blatantly obvious that a party or group is trying to discriminate against another party or group. In other words, if you're clever enough to make it look like you had no idea you were putting your opponents at too much of a disadvantage. With enough political whit and manipulation, stacking the odds in your favour are still possible.

 

This, in my opinion, does not signify equality; it signifies the opposite – oppression. If I live in a gerrymandered district and have views differing from the group for which that district was gerrymandered, I may as well not vote; it won't count, or it will count so little that it won't matter anyway. I'm effectively stripped of the ability to vote for someone sharing my beliefs. What are my options? Well, I could move to another district that supports my opinions, but why should I have to uproot my job, my family, and my entire life just because some power-hungry politician doesn't care about me? I should be able to live in any location I please and have just as much say as my neighbour, who may be my exact opposite.

 

In order to accomplish this, I have a proposal: Eliminate Congressional districts. Instead of forcing me to vote for only one of my state's representatives, who probably won't get elected if I live in a gerrymandered district, let me vote for all of them. The chances of me getting at least one representative that truly represents my values is much greater. If I'm a Republican in a highly Democratic area, I can vote for a Republican, and that guy may still get into office. In the current system, there are representatives which hold "safe seats" in Congress. Their districts contain a large majority of their party, and no one from the other party even has a chance, so their opponents may as well stay home and not run – or move elsewhere; they have no say. Eliminating Congressional districts would effectively eliminate safe seats as well. Just because people in your area agree with you doesn't mean everyone in your state does. Now the representative not only has to worry about keeping his biased district happy (an easy feat), but he has to worry about the entire state. I envision the ballots of each state to contain a pool of people, more than likely twice the number of positions.. but not confined to that. In Mississippi (my state), for 4 positions there could possibly be 50 people from which you choose. Naturally, a person will choose the 4 people closest to their beliefs. After voting, the 4 candidates with the most votes would be the representatives because they had the most supporters. This would apply to all states, so in California the top 53 would be representatives, and so on. This would be a popular vote based system, so every person's vote would be equal to that of another person, and not just "roughly equal" as laid out by the Equal Protection Clause. There would be true equality instead of the perversion we have now.

 

Doing this would allow you to have a say for every person representing you – not just one. If you choose not to vote for all 53, you don't have to. Trying to distinguish between 2 candidates is already hard enough; I wouldn't want to even attempt to think about 53. My reply to this is: That's why we have the power of abstaining. Even though there are 53 spots to fill, you don't have to vote for 53 people. You can choose to vote for only 5 or 6 – or even only 1 if you'd like. Any sensible person would find their top choices and check their names, not really caring about the others. If they have 5 or 6 representatives, they're happy. In fact, they'd be happier under my system than the current one! Instead of only having one representative, they could potentially have 20-30 (even all 53!) representing their ideals. They would have more people agreeing with them, and thus would be better represented in Congress as a whole. In essence, while you have the ability to vote for all 53, you aren't forced to. Vote for whomever you want, and the top 53 will get in.

 

This system would not only empower the average American and give him/her a more active role in their government; it would make the House of Representatives reflect the ideals of the American people much more closely than currently. The "People's Branch" would actually become the People's Branch.

 

So in conclusion, my proposal is to eliminate Congressional districts and replace them with candidate pools. People will have the ability (but not the obligation) to vote for all of the representatives in their state and not be confined to just one. A person in an area of conflicting beliefs will still have a voice and be more encouraged to vote. And Congress would reflect the will of the American people more closely... What's not to like about that?

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Idea No. 166