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Proportional System Can End Two-Party Rule

  • A system used around the world to elect a broad range of candidates to the legislature may be the cure for America's two-party woes.
Exclusive to The SPOTLIGHT
By M. Raphael Johnson

Given our current electoral mess, many, often uninformed, ideas for electoral reform have been floated. Many nationalists and populists, including Liberty Lobby, advocate a proportional representation system (PR) rather than the single district, winner-take-all system of elections.

Presently, the winner-take-all system means that in any legislative district, the candidate that receives the absolute majority of the votes wins, regardless of the size of the margin.

On the other hand, PR requires a voter to vote for a list of candidates under a par ty label.

In any legislative district, ubder PR, the voter votes for a party. Internally, within the party, those who will represent that party in the legislature have been chosen beforehand and are listed in order of party preference. Seats in the legislature are distributed according to the proportion of the vote the party receives. If the party can take only one seat, then candidate number one on the party list takes it, if two, then the first two, and so on.

The improvement that proportional representation will bring to our present winner-take-all system is obvious.

Small parties are encouraged and party cohesion is necessary for the slate of candidates to be decided upon. Thus, not only are small parties encouraged -- for they have a good chance of receiving seats -- but the activism within parties is also encouraged in the method of choosing the slate.

PR would result in growth in public participation in the electoral process and, if adopted in the United States, would re verse the trend toward diminishing voter turnout in legislative elections -- as low as 15 and 20 percent in off-year elections.

In single member, winner-take-all districts, a two-party system is encouraged. If all that matters is receiving the most votes, then parties are encouraged to consolidate. Parties are weaker -- in that a single popular candidate, independent of the party structure, can win -- but small parties have little to no chance.

A few exceptions are England, concerning the Liberal Party, and Germany, concerning the Free Democratic Party. Given that, in Germany particularly, the Free Democrats win just enough to gain a few seats in winner-take-all elections, they are often the key for the executive to get anything done in the legislature. Therefore, the third party is important. In the United States, there is no such balancing force.

Encourage small parties

Regardless, even with the three-party system some non-proportional systems encourage, small parties are nowhere to be found in the legislature. In proportional representation, small parties proliferate, and must form coalitions in order for any government to function, thereby en suring the most representative coalition possible to pass bills.

On the other hand, executives must form their cabinet out of the multitude of these parties in the legislature, or else his projects will not receive parliamentary support. The entire system is based on coalition building between like-minded parties, while still maintaining representation for minority views.

Italy, for example, maintained a proportional representation system for years (recent EU-induced reforms have modified this a bit). Its governments were radically unstable. Dozens of parties were represented in the legislature, and the average length of time for a government to exist was about 18 months. Given this, since World War II, Italy has surpassed England in industrial output and has enjoyed consistently rising standards of living.

In other words, Italy, with probably the best-known example of a proportional representation system -- Israel and France are the others -- had a government that, given the number of parties it had to deal with, from communist to fascist, could actually do little, and thus never actually has any specific "agenda."

A weak national government is exactly what patriots, populists and conservatives want. No doubt this is why PR is strongly opposed by all statists, including Marxists.

PR shines in the all-important arena of representation. It eliminates the perennial problem in winner-take-all elections where one candidate receiving 50.01 percent or even less can be elected.

PR would require no modification of the Constitution. The states are constitutionally empowered to set the manner and method of elections occurring on their territory.

PR, as Liberty Lobby has been advocating for years, will increase the level of representation for populists, nationalists and patriots who, though making up a major voting bloc in America, have minimal congressional representation.

It might be time for proportional representation to get a hearing in the American debates on electoral reform.