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Beyond gerrymandering and Texas posses: US electoral reform

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It was grand political theater when Texas Democratic legislators crossed into Oklahoma earlier this month to avoid Texas Rangers pursuing them for a quorum call to vote on a Republican redistricting plan.

But the underlying problem is national in scope. And for all their pretense of bravery for principle, not even Texas Democrats were willing to take the proverbial steer by the horns - the winner-take-all electoral system used in every federal and state election in the United States but almost nowhere else among the world's advanced democracies.

At issue in Texas, as occurs periodically in all of the other 49 states, was a redistricting map for the election of representatives to the US Congress. Because the lines between districts are arbitrary, and because one can just as effectively win a district with 60 percent of the vote as with 90 percent, the party in power has every incentive to gerrymander.

Congressional districts are often molded into snake-like shapes in order to concentrate opposition voters into a few districts. That allows the dominant party to secure far more seats in Congress than would be justified by its share of the statewide vote.

Both parties play this game. When the Democrats controlled Texas, they shaped the districts to their advantage. Now the Republicans are trying to do so.

There are, of course, greater or lesser degrees of gerrymandering, but there is no way to avoid it altogether in a winner-take-all system. The only real remedy is some form of proportional representation.

Proportional representation not only gets rid of arguments over district boundaries, it also enfranchises minorities, because the party that wins the most votes in a district gets most, but not all, of the seats. Minority parties can also win seats, which in the US would break the duopoly held by Republicans and Democrats.

With roughly one-third of American voters identifying themselves as independents, isn't it time their interests were properly represented in Washington? The essence of representative democracy, after all, is to have a legislature that accurately reflects the makeup of the citizenry, not one that is skewed for partisan advantage.

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