Imagine the United States with single-payer healthcare, paid maternity and sick leave, a living minimum wage, and tuition-free public colleges and universities. This imaginary America would be designed to benefit the average person: Main Street rather than Wall Street or K Street. Is this imaginary America a liberal pipe dream or is there a chance that one day this dream will be a reality?
Believe it or not, America should already have many of these policies in place. According to a September POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, 49 percent of Americans support a single-payer healthcare system, 80 percent support the continuation of the DACA program, and 63 percent support tuition-free public higher education. With a majority of Americans supporting these policies, shouldn’t there be a concerted effort in Washington to realize these reforms? Shouldn’t there be, at the very least, politicians talking about these programs? It is certainly clear that in a typical democracy, the will of the people should be taken seriously and there should be an effort to carry out the will of the majority.
However, the U.S. is not a typical democracy.
When the Framers were writing the Constitution, they were haunted by the fact that every previous attempt at democracy had failed. Democracy was an experiment that had been tried before, and it had failed. Robert Dahl explains that although the Framers were limited to republican forms of government, they tried to create a new government that was the least democratic possible. Senators were chosen by their State’s legislature, the President was elected by the Electoral College, and judges were (and still are) appointed by the President. The common man had very little influence over politics.
However, the U.S. did have one purely democratic institution: The House of Representatives — the People’s House. This body is elected by the direct popular vote of citizens. It is supposed the be the place where the voice of the people is best heard, but that’s not how it is currently functioning.
Even though Secretary Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, the House of Representatives still has a Republican majority. This also happened in the 2012 election. President Obama won both the popular vote and the Electoral College, but Republicans still controlled the majority of seats in the House. This occurs because of the American single-member, winner-takes-all system. Whoever is able to win the majority of votes in a given district takes office. On the surface, nothing seems wrong with this, but when coupled with intense gerrymandering, it becomes toxic to democracy. Take Virginia for example, Clinton won Virginia by five points, but Republicans walked away with seven out of 11 congressional seats. In any other “democracy,” this result would be incomprehensible.
To make matters worse, in 2016, 53 incumbents in the House ran unopposed. There are 53 districts in the U.S. that are so heavily gerrymandered that the opposing major party didn’t think it was possible to win there. Two of these unopposed representatives are Democrats in Texas — yes, Texas. If gerrymandering has become so intense that Democrats can go unopposed in Texas, representatives are no longer serving the electorate. They are serving their state capitols and national party committees.
Congressional districts don’t have to be this way. There is nothing in the Constitution dictating that congressional districts be single-member. In 1967, Congress created 2 USC 2c, a section of U.S. Code mandating that every representative be the only representative from their district. This eliminated all multi-member districts in the country.
Multi-member districts are much better for democracy. In single-member districts, if a candidate wins 51% of the vote, they are elected to that seat, but the 49% who didn’t vote for that candidate now don’t have any representation. Multi-member districts allow many more voters to be represented because candidates only need a plurality to win. This means that smaller groups of voters are able to be represented and third-party candidates have a shot at winning. In multi-member districts, women and minorities have a much greater chance of getting elected. Voices that currently have no chance of being heard are suddenly given a bullhorn.
Creating multi-member districts would return the House to its original purpose — providing a voice for the American electorate. Policies with nationwide support would suddenly have a real chance of coming to fruition. We have the opportunity to enact reform that will actually benefit our posterity.
Repealing 2 USC 2c would do wonders for American politics. The reintroduction of multi-member districts will be another step towards the ideal American democracy we all dream of. A democracy that is “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” If Americans want a country that works for them, they have to demand a political system that responds to their votes — without that, politicians in Washington will continue to do whatever the hell they want.