Lt. Gov Grunge

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According to the Seattle Times, former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic is considering running for lieutenant governor of Washinton state in 2004. One truly interesting proposal of his is to group the state's current 49 legislative districts into 9 large ones, from which the 11 top vote getters from each would become representitives of their respective districts (this would apply to the house only, and not to state senate races).

Part of the purpose behind this quasi-parlimentarian approach would be to insure that members of 3rd parties will be represented in Olympia, though Novoselic himself would most likely run as a Democrat.

You can read more at his own website: www.fixour.us—while also taking note of how much this former grungster-turned-would-be-politico looks like a young Jerry Brown in the site's photo.

NEXT: Cyborg Power

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  1. Hooray for Peter Bagge on Hit & Run! Can we expect some one-panel blog cartoons now and then?

    (And Tim and/or Nick, could you make the main page show more posts again? By the time my lazy ass gets to Hit ‘n Run, half the day’s posts are already in the annoying archives. Yr loyal reader, KDL.)

  2. Of course, a bassist runs for *Lieutenant* Governor.

  3. I like the idea of multi-member districts to ensure proportionate representation of third parties.

  4. Funny cartoons and all, but can this guy spell?

  5. Are there any legal obstacles to states implementing proportional representation for their own governments?

  6. if the 11 top vote getters are elected, does that mean a voter gets 11 votes?

  7. If he wins, let’s hope he doesn’t throw a flag in the air to celebrate….

  8. The problem with such large districts was pointed out by the antifederalists 200 years ago: the larger the district, the harder it is for anyone to run who doesn’t have lots of money or the backing of powerful interests. It’s the same principle you see at the local level, where it’s the moneyed interests who want at-large aldermen.

  9. It is better for governance for coalitions to be made explicitly before elections rather than after.

    Thus I would not tinker with the current system.

    The weakest member of any coalition always calls the tune. Better to have these adjustments voted on than made defacto after an election.

  10. I guess I can never be satisfied with the political process, but I don’t think this is satisfactory. I don’t mind partisian politics, I just don’t like being forced into it. I would still rather be able to vote for an individual first, and take party representation as a consolation prize.

    I would propose a kind of reverse primary. Vote for the candidate you want. Any candidate who gets, say, 25% of the vote gets a seat; you don’t HAVE to declare a party to vote. This way, a true independent CAN get in without having to declare party allegiance, leaving the possibility that person could still join a party later. This is 4 seats at most “at large”. The remaining seats could be porportioned based on the party splits of the overall vote, but rather than letting the party decide, you have a party run-off after the general election, if Dems are awarded 3 of the eleven seats and one dem got 25% of the vote, registered dems get to vote for who fills the remaining two seats.

    I don’t like the winner-take-all approach most of government works, but I’m a little leery of the clusterfuck approach too after seeing how this only semi-works in Boston. Some neighborhoods do wind up without representation and some get more than they might deserve because the “districts” are sliced too big, less grass roots. Seems like there’s a better way than going from 49 winner-takes-all districts to 9 who-knows-if-your-locale-within-the-district-gets-represented “supersections”. Senates are enough supersizing of government, maybe the house would be better with 21 districts, 8 reps each.

    (I know that’s more overall seats, just reduce the individual salaries accordingly. The at-large winners get real desks in the house, the remaining ones have to bring folding chairs or sit on the floor. No sense in awarding construction contracts so that every representative gets a cushy chair. Or maybe the at-large winners get a salary and the other reps are pro bono.)

  11. I do not know how it works now but when I lived in Tasmania 40 yrs ago the lower house (House of Assembly), consisted of five Seven-member districts elected by the Hare* system of proportional representation. The upper house (Legislative Council) was elected in single member districts by preferential ballot (“instant run-off”) by property-owners or leaseholders of over ten pounds (at that time about $22.50) per year (which of course included just about everyone, except adults who still lived with their parents).

    As I recall it produced rather satisfactory representation. The major parties did not like it because it did not produce the big majorities that are liked in the parliamentary system. The minor parties liked it because it gave them a voice even if they did not have a chance at ruling power [of course the five districts (rather than a statewide vote) were created to dilute the minority vote (on the other hand they may have been created to respond to Kevin Carson’s complaint that large districts remove the elector from his representative)].

    My father was a big fan of the system, as was a friend of his, a political scientist who had come from the US to Tasmania especially to study it. According to my father’s friend’s estimates 80% of voters were represented by their first choice.

    *Hare was an Irish barrister who invented a system of proportional representation which allowed the voter to pick individual representatives rather than parties. The system used in Tasmania is called Hare-Clark because of modifications that were introduced by Clark, the Premier of Tasmania at the time of Australian Federation.

    The Hare system is quite different from the Party-list systems that are used extensively in Europe.

  12. “come as you are”….nah, ain’t gonna happen.

  13. I just reread the article and what Novoselic is advocating is “Party-List” proportional representation rather than the “at-large” representation that Bagge’s post suggested. The “Irish” or “Tasmanian” system allows you to pick the actual person you want as a representative. Party-List simply lets you pick a party and the divvies up the votes and puts the party hacks in office. While “at-large” is not really satisfactory it is better than “party-list” but the Hare system wins in my book.

    JDM

    To the best of my knowledge, there is no obstacle to states using PR for their state govts and furthermore to elect their Congressional delegation. Furthermore as far as I know there is no obstacle to their using preferential balloting (“instant run-off”) to elect Senators (or for that matter Governor, AGs, county commissioners*, sherriffs and the like).

    *The Hare system is ideal for small bodies (like City Councils and County Commissions). The advantage here is that gerrymandering cannot be not excercised.

  14. Proportional Representation doesn’t have to be done on a party basis (i.e. you vote for a party, and the parties get seats). It can be done on a candidate basis in such a way that anybody with the support of, say, 10% of the voters gets one of the 10 seats.

    The simplest one to describe is cumulative voting. Say there are 5 seats and 100 voters. Each voter gets 5 votes to distribute as he pleases (yes, it might take some careful ballot design, but let’s leave that aside for now). So there are 500 votes out there.

    Say that 20 voters (hypothetically) like a candidate who doesn’t fit the mold of the 2 big parties. If we were only electing one candidate then they would never get representation. (Hmm, sort of like the problem facing libertarians, both small-l and big-L.) But if we elect 5, those 20 people could put all of their votes behind one person, and he’d get 100 of the 500 votes. He’d be guaranteed a spot. Meanwhile, larger interest groups, be they parties, or single-issue groups, could endorse, say, 2 or 3 candidates and urge like-minded voters to distribute their votes among those 2 or 3 instead of among 5 candidates.

    I know, big districts have problems. But single-member districts have one huge problem that has been around for 200 years and only gotten worse: gerrymandering. (Named after a politician named Gerry who drew a salamander-shaped district 200 years ago to ensure the election of somebody from his party.) Gerrymandering destroys competition.

    Kevin talked about large districts distancing people from their representatives. I’d rather be in a large district and have the ability to make sure at least one of the representatives shares my philosophy, rather than be in a small district that is gerrymandered to the point where election outcomes are already determined and I have almost no chance of influencing the outcome.

    Now, some people have talked about the problem of coalitions disintegrating. Those matter in parliamentary systems where the executive is chosen by the legislature. But if the executive is elected separately, coalitions exist only to pass legislation. And I don’t mind if legislative coalitions fall apart and they aren’t able to push through some huge bill full of subsidies, regulations, tarriffs, taxes, pork, etc.

    Finally, somebody asked if there would be any legal obstacle to a state using proportional representation for at least one branch of its legislature. Let’s assume there’s nothing the state constitution barring it, or that the state constitution is amended to allow it. There would undoubtedly be some political group (party, ethnic group, whatever) who currently benefits from gerrymandering, and they would undoubtedly try to claim that the multi-member district violates their equal protection under the 14th amendment. However dubious the argument is, they could probably tie it up in federal court for a while. I don’t know if they’d win, but they could create delays.

  15. “Are there any legal obstacles to states implementing proportional representation for their own governments?”

    I guess there are. I was mistaken earlier.

    http://www.prairienet.org/icpr/

    and scroll down to
    “Bill in Congress would alllow States to use Proportional Representation”

    As you might have guessed I think PR would be a big improvement over the current system.

  16. thoreau,

    When a country is the size of the U.S., there’s never a completely satisfactory solution. I’d like to see multiparty representation that more accurately reflects the range of opinion. But I’d also like to see districts small enough for a working class person to get elected by knocking on doors. Not only are the two values pretty much mutually exclusive, but the latter can’t be done at all without increasing Congress to an unwieldy number of representatives.

    When the Constitution originally called for districts of 50,000 people, the antifederalists rightly complained that it would lead to a class of professional politicians responsive only to moneyed interests. But if we went back to that ratio today, there’d be around 6000 members in the House. Just more evidence that it’s impossible for any centralized state operating on a continental scale to function as a genuinely popular government.

    Now on a state level, the trade-off might be different. But even in the 1780s, people were arguing that Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts ought to be broken up because they were too big for genuine republican government. They were probably right.

  17. Ken – Good suggestion about displaying more entries on the main Hit & Run page. Just changed it from 15 to 25.

  18. Here we are now, legislate us.

  19. One good thing can be said about our two-party system — it keeps the under-represented loonies under-represented.

    I don’t believe we stop to appreciate that nearly enough.

  20. Kevin-

    I see your point, but I still think proportional representation in one chamber of a bicameral legislature is a good idea.

    It’s nice to think of an ordinary guy knocking on doors, running without a party label, and simply persuading enough of his fellow citizens that he’s a good guy to represent them. Then he goes to Washington and holds his own against the “good old boys” via honesty and hard work. And then he marries his high school sweetheart before the credits roll, but only after he first loses her and then wins her back by proving that he’s still the same simple and honest guy she’s always known. And he even saves a lost puppy while he’s at it.

    But when’s the last time that happened in the US Congress?

    Anyway, it’s very unlikely that we’ll see proportional representation in the US Congress for a while. But it is worth experimenting with at the state level. One chamber of the legislature could be elected from districts of 5 to 10 people and still have districts of manageable size (certainly smaller than US House districts) while the other chamber is elected from single-member districts. We could see how well it works at the state level before trying anything with the US Congress. (Maybe a good place to look for inspiration would be Switzerland, which has strong traditions of stability, bicameralism, federalism, multi-party politics, and decentralization.)

    My motivation isn’t just the selfish desire to see a Libertarian in office. (Although I freely admit to that.) The simple fact is that when you have only one vote and you elect only one legislator a two-party system is inevitable. Look around the world and you’ll find plenty of examples (although I freely acknowledge that Britain has a sizable third party). On the other hand, even going to something as simple as instant runoff voting produces at least some third party involvement, and multi-member districts produce lots of third party competition.

    Why am I such a big fan of multi-party systems? Competition is just as valuable in the marketplace of ideas as it is in the marketplace of anything else.

    Now, some might engage in political ancestor worship and insist that our system is perfect and should not be modified in the least bit. Well, are you really all that happy with your state and federal governments? Are you actually happy that your choices are always Democrats and Republicans? However big or small the differences between those parties might be, it’s clear that libertarian ideas (big L or small l) aren’t getting much attention in DC or the state capitols. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see more than 2 ideas out there competing, and actually have a chance to elect somebody who will represent real libertarian ideas (let’s face it, Ron Paul is kind of lonely right now).

    Finally, somebody will probably point to the horrors of multi-party systems and say that we could wind up like modern Italy or Nazi Germany. Those sorts of instabilities are much less of a problem if the executive is elected separately from the legislature (i.e. keep a presidential system rather than a parliamentary system) and also depend considerably on political culture. There are plenty of countries that have used proportional representation without sinking into some nightmare.

  21. The man who knocked himself out by dropping his guitar on his head is running for populat office. Interesting.

  22. fyodor, if the supporters of the big parties used all their votes to put one candidate way over the top, they’d only succeed in electing 2 of nine candidates, despite having 70-90% of voters. That wouldn’t be “catching on.”

    Anon, being underrepresented not only keeps the wackos underrepresented; it also keeps them wackos. Why bother to distinguish between your good, workable ideas and your silly hobby horses when there is no downside to going crazy and keeping the troops fired up, and no upside to adopting a reasonably workable platform?

  23. Fyodor-

    When there are 500 votes (100 people, 5 votes apiece), and you’re electing the top 5 candidates, anybody with 100 votes is guaranteed to be in the top 5. For that matter, anybody with 500/6 = 84 votes (when rounded up) is guaranteed to be in the top 5.

    I should emphasize that the reverse is not always true: The top 5 candidates won’t always have 84 or more votes apiece, some will have less, but anybody with 84 or more votes is mathematically guaranteed to be one of the top 5 in this scenario.

  24. Joe & thoreau,

    Of course, if everyone had one vote each, the single votes of those twenty voters would accomplish the same thing, no? Because getting 20 of 100 votes would guarantee you being in the top five, right? So okay, thoreau, the numbers you use make you right about that your “guarantee” for that particular scenario. But my point is that once the backers of major party candidates start grouping their votes like the backers of “third party” candidates, the effect cited by thoreau would vanish. At least the effect of having multiple votes. Now, maybe having at large candidates by itself would accomplish the same thing. And that is why I ask if there’s any conclusion we can draw based on municipalities that already do this. If it hasn’t worked this way thus far, why expect it to in the future?

  25. One vote per voter would certainly give that group of 20 people one representative. But it would give a group of 40 people only one representative instead of 2, which would seem more reasonable considering their size. Giving each person 5 votes to distribute as they wish would mean that the 40 voters could each give their candidates 2 or 3 votes, and the result would be each of those candidates getting somewhere between 80 and 120 votes (the sum being 200), enough to virtually guarantee the group gets 2 representatives, as it should with its size.

    If those 40 voters each only got one vote they’d have to decide on a way to decide who votes for whom, so that each of their candidates would get in the ballpark of 20 votes and hence be guaranteed a win.

    Of course, what I described is the simplest system. There are more complicated (and arguably better) systems that ensure proportionality and don’t require codifying the role of parties (i.e. party list systems like many European countries). For a description of such systems go to http://www.fairvote.org. I just described a very simple system to illustrate the point that one can get proportional representation of different groups without resorting to a party list system.

  26. thoreau,

    Re: “But if we elect 5, those 20 people could put all of their votes behind one person, and he’d get 100 of the 500 votes. He’d be guaranteed a spot.”

    At the risk of quibbling, aren’t you overstating the case quite a bit to say it would be guaranteed? Besides the fact that nothing is so easily guaranteed, sooner or later backers of major party candidates might just start doing the same thing, i.e. use all their votes for one candidate, or at least go part way in that direction. Wouldn’t that nullify the effect of having several selections? And BTW, doesn’t some form of this already take place in some city elections? And wouldn’t that provide some empirical data we can use to test our conjectures?

  27. Thank you Peter Bagge for starting this thread. I look forward to meeting you again and hope to do so soon.

    I am enjoying this discussion so much that I feel the need to join such good company.

    Many people are responding positively to Super-Districts. With all of the apathy and cynicism today, I feel Proportional Representation is an idea worth considering.

    A frequent criticism of my proposal is the closed party list. The term ?party-hack? was used in this thread and I admit that sentiment does carry a certain amount of weight.

    The plan can be amended to an open list. This way a voter would check the party -and- their favorite candidate from the same party list on the ballot. Seats are allocated by the same formula but the difference is the top vote getters on the list would win the proportion of seats .

    Super-Districts are good for retail politics. Each party would have a team of 11 members engaging constituents. The ?team? could reflect diverse ethnic, economic or other sensibilities of the district. 11 members could attend neighborhood association meetings or business community forums — to name a few. 11 members could fan out over the district knocking on doors.

    As far as ?keeping the under-represented loonies being under-represented?, it can be said our current system keeps plenty of, so-called, loonies over-represented too. Super-Districts more accurately reflect the ideological make-up of the constituency in the legislature than our current system. The threshold for representation of Super-Districts is about 9%. In a district of 300,000 voters a party would need about 27,000 votes to win a seat. That is very near the vote total House Rep?s currently get in Washington to win. 9% is a much higher threshold than most of the proportionally elected democracies around the world use.

    Super-Districts will not change the way our State Senate or executive officers are elected.

    Thank you,

    Krist Novoselic

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