Earlier this year, I posted an atypical political essay on how to clean up the Senate and free it from partisan gridlock. I usually try to confine myself to art and literature, with occasional dumb memes. But there’s a debate these days on the partisan gerrymandering of the districts that feed into the US House of Representatives, and a case before the Supreme Court. The same policy I proposed to reform the Senate would do even better applied to the House.
The elephant in the room (or the donkey, depending on your allegiances) is that the US Constitution does not require districts at all. It requires a two-year election cycle, a twenty-five year age limit, seven years of US citizenship, and living in the state represented. And, it sets the number of Representatives for each state by population. It does not requires election by district.
So, an obvious solution to the problem of gerrymandered districts is to just ditch the districts. I call this model Free Constituencies.
This is how it would work. Instead of corralling voters into geographic enclosures, which politicians have designed to give them no real choice, we let voters choose their own constituencies statewide. The technical term is proportional representation. A slate of candidates run statewide, everyone gets to vote for whomever they want. Since a given state gets x number of Representatives based on population, the top x vote-getting candidates in that state win seats in the House. The rare tie for the bottom seat could be handled by a run-off.
This model maintains constitutional legality, liberates voters from manipulation, and utterly eliminates the ability of party bosses to gerrymander their states. Why do I call it Free Constituencies? Because any group of people can organically create their own constituency, not based on race or economic status, but based on each voter’s individual values. If they want to vote by race or economic status, they can. But, if they’d prefer to choose candidates based on single-issue attitudes toward climate change, law-and-order, LGBT rights, or national security, they’re free to do so.
In other words, it’s in a sense a free market election reform, but I avoided calling it something like Market Constituencies because “free market” signals a partisan alignment that belies its non-partisan intention and effect. In fact, “free market” often serves as a dog whistle for policies that have nothing to do genuine free market economics, which (as Adam Smith himself realized) require certain regulations, for example to fend off collusion, oligopolies, perverse incentives, fraud, and unintentional information gradients.
But, existing election laws would help serve that regulatory purpose under a Free Constituencies model, and could be easily tweaked to help keep candidates honest.
Not only would Free Constituencies be a legal and effective reform, I think it is the only reform that would effectively address the political corralling of voters that gerrymandering imposes on our republic. This is probably why partisans on both the right and the left don’t want to talk about it. It removes a centuries-old power tool from their kit.