MMD-PR: multi-member districts with proportional representation

Gerrymandering is a hot topic right now, with some significant cases recently decided, and a Supreme Court ruling expected by June in the case of Gill v. Whitford, which may settle big questions about partisan gerrymandering. A “Geometry of Redistricting Workshop” was recently held at UT by Tufts University’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group. FiveThirtyEight recently published a 6-part podcast series called “The Gerrymandering Project“. Many smart people have been thinking hard about this subject.

This led me to think that the time may be ripe to call attention to one “big” way to stop gerrymandering, which is to stop using single-member districts in favor of multi-member districts (MMD). Instead of making each district winner-take-all, we could let, say, five elected officials represent it, through proportional representation (PR). This is vastly different from the old style of MMDs which were elected at-large. In a typical at-large election, there’d be a separate vote for each of the five seats up for grabs — so a majority party would have a candidate in all five of the races, and would have a good chance of winning all the seats. In a PR election, there is just one contest, and seats are distributed in proportion to votes — so if there were two parties, with one the favorite of 60% of voters and the other of 40%, then the first would get three seats, the second the other two.

We can refer to this idea by the name “MMD-PR”: multi-member districts with proportional representation. Last week I presented a slideshow on precisely this topic to a meeting of the Fair Maps project:

MMD-PR: multi-member districts with proportional representation

I hope it largely speaks for itself, although of course it was actually meant to be talked through.

One thing that I think needs elaboration is the claim (on slide 17) that MMDs lower the stakes for (would-be) gerrymanderers. What I mean by this is that when a district is not winner-take-all, parties have less incentive to bend the rules to their own advantage, because the battle is over the difference between, say, two vs. three seats out of five, or three vs. four out of seven, instead of zero vs. one out of one.

I know it’s a big political “lift” to implement MMD-PR, but I think that now is a good time to think big, and it starts with raising awareness. One problem with getting people to accept MMDs is that they are associated with at-large elections, which are not very fair — they’re known to be very disproportional. They overrepresent the majority and leave little or nothing for minority representation. That’s the opposite of proportional representation. So it’s really a misconception to think that MMDs necessarily mean at-large elections.

MMD-PR solves several problems at once. I think it’s worth considering seriously. What do you think?

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2 Responses to MMD-PR: multi-member districts with proportional representation

  1. John Keohane says:

    Are we talking party slates, rather than individual candidates? Looks to me like this is what you propose. I know, in some other countries that might be, but it seems to me that this would have some problems here.

  2. Dan Eckam says:

    I agree that party-list voting would have some trouble being accepted. I’d rather go with the single transferable vote (STV, slides 11-12), though in the long run I’d be happy with either one.

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