Eight Steps Towards A Less Dysfunctional Congress

by Kyle Mathews

If there’s one thing that most political commentators and Americans can agree upon, it’s that Congress is bad at its job. Presidential approval ratings go up and down, Congressional approval ratings pretty much stay down. These days, it’s become de rigueur to point to hyper-partisanship, legislative relics who’ve all but become permanent fixtures in both houses, the pervasive and harmful influence of special interests in the legislative and electoral process, and the regularity of ethical lapses and scandals.

The prevailing sentiment of the day seems to be “Congress is good, but the people in it are terrible,” and many of our attempts to address Congressional shortcomings stem from that mindset. Recent examples include campaign finance reform, lobbying disclosure requirements, hiring bans, transparency initiatives, and “the most ethical Congress in history.” These reforms aimed to keep bad people out of politics so good people could do good work.

This focus on bad actors; however, ignores the ways in which the system itself incentivizes bad actors. To run for Congress, stay in Congress, and pass legislation requires money, votes, influence, popularity, allies, and expert knowledge. Those requirements increase the value and leverage of organizations or individuals that can provide one or more of those to a significant degree, making those groups something of a super-constituent. These include donors, interest groups like the NRA or SEIU, think tanks like Brookings or Cato, fellow politicians, and the parties themselves.

Super-constituents distort representative government by creating incentives to value the priorities and contributions of a select few over those of a legislator’s constituents. Super-constituents also retain the power to punish elected officials more easily and more severely than regular constituents, by endorsing competitors, stripping legislators of seniority or committee membership, and cutting off access, particularly to donors. With this in mind, more significant reforms modifying the structure of the United States Congress or rather how it does business, not just who shows up to do it, need to be considered.

Broadly, we need reforms to accomplish more legislative/legislator independence, a better representation of people and collective interests, and a greater emphasis on work rather than optics and political gamesmanship.

More specifically, we would benefit from:

· More accurate representation of constituencies;
· Less partisanship;
· Incentives for legislative leadership;
· Breaking up entrenched power;
· Addressing the disproportionate influence of extra-legislative entrenched interests;

To accomplish some of those goals, or at least put us on the road to a less dysfunctional legislature, consider this slate of 8 reforms.

1.) Resolving the electoral status of D. C.

Any effort to make Congress more representative should start with ensuring that all citizens are represented. An American expat living in Paris has more congressional representation than an American living down the street from the Capitol and that’s not only a bizarre quirk of federal law, it’s also particularly un-American. Retrocession isn’t an option because – frankly – Maryland doesn’t want the district. The District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act of 2009 is undistinguished partisan deal making and blatantly unconstitutional.

The best solution is simply to apportion the residents of the district to Maryland and allow them to vote accordingly. It was introduced in 2004 as the District of Columbia Voting Rights Restoration Act, but used to be standard practice prior to the Organic Act of 1801. It’s constitutional, it’s fair, and it doesn’t involve some quid pro quo get congressional representation quick scheme. Apportioning the residents would also allow their representation in the House of Representatives to be population based, as it is with the states, and arguably should be. It’s also population based, which is kind of important in the house of Congress meant to be population based. Also, unlike the House Voting Rights Act, which gives 591,000 people only one seat in the House, this solution would give DC residents representation in the Senate, through Maryland.

2.) Discouraging Electoral Carpetbaggery

There’s an unsung principle at the heart of American democracy, the idea that those who make the laws should follow them; and conversely, those who are beholden to laws should have some say in creating or modifying them. It follows from that principle that people with no discernible stake in laws should have less of a say. As such, we ought to limit – to the best of our ability – what I call electoral carpetbaggery, the influence of outside persons and organizations in local elections.

States should establish content neutral laws that require funds spent on campaign broadcasts (radio and television ads) be raised by eligible voters or residents of the voting district, including corporate residents. The aim is to accomplish two effects, curtailing the unabated influence of monied interests and reducing the expenditure amounts required to run for public office. Moreover, candidates would be more dependent on local fundraising as opposed to national organizations and advocacy groups.

For example, in a gubernatorial or Senate race, only residents and businesses with locations in the state could contribute funds used to broadcast campaign materials. In a Congressional district, only personal and corporate residents of that district could contribute, but not residents of a neighboring district, even if they’re in the same state. Given the history of broadcasting regulation and its disparate effect on campaigning, it stands alone as a regulatory target. We also already itemize contributions from within the district. Print materials, canvassing, campaign travels, new media campaigning, and rallies would remain unaffected.

3.) A mechanism for automatic cloture in the Senate

The flaws of the filibuster are well known, but eliminating it outright seems certain to fall victim to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Moreover, it would effectively end any and all checks and balances on majority power in the Congress. To break the power of the filibuster without giving dual-branch majorities carte blanche, including the power to ram through war authorizations and such, the Senate should establish a new rule to limit consideration by allowing a majority vote to establish a maximum amount of time for debate of a bill above a standard minimum that can only be overridden by a 3/5 vote or amended upwards by another majority vote. This would allow the Senate to retain its prerogative for lengthy consideration and debate but allow the chamber to set some limits to get work done rather than the current options of none or cloture, which are dysfunctional to say the least. I envision the standard minimum as somewhere in the ballpark of 10-16 weeks, not including recesses for vacation.

4.) Eliminating anonymous holds

The Senate’s rules and quirks may be annoying but the anonymous holds are a blatant and opaque abuse of power. Good governance doesn’t stem from a vacuum of consequences. Constituents should know if their Senator is holding up legislation they want or an administration appointment, to better assess their job performance. The anonymity of holds is eroding but it should be eliminated outright, if not the hold system entirely.

5.) Increasing the size of both houses

Despite our general disdain for politicians we need more of them. Congress is too small.

In the House, the average size of Congressional districts is over 700,000, which vary from Montana’s at-large district with just over 960,000 people to Wyoming’s at-large district with just over 530,000 or either of Rhode Island’s half million large districts. Such large sized districts require money to campaign in them and a city sized number of votes to win, which places a premium on the organizations that can provide one, the other or both.

The relatively unobtrusive Wyoming Rule would increase the house to 592 members. If we were to reduce the average size to 500,000 per member, the house would be 616 members; both numbers – I’d like to point out – are well under the size of the House of Commons, which represents a population of just over 60 million with 646 members. The question of how much larger we ought to make the House is an open one, but we can’t reasonably expect members to effectively represent 700,000 people in a population this heterogeneous.

The Senate has to maintain equal suffrage and the constitutional article that says so isn’t easily amendable, if at all. However, we could increase the Senate to 150 members, allowing each state to elect a Senator every two years. This would have the effect of making the Senate more representative with more members. It would also make the Senate less of a lagging indicator when electoral shifts occur in the country.

The final effect of increasing the size of Congress is to make it more likely that the winner of the popular vote in Presidential contests will also win the Electoral College, which is overdue in presidential politics.

6.) Increasing the capacity and role of the Congressional Research Service

Yes, the CRS is large, expensive, and operates outside of the public purview. However, it is also an independent think tank that, like the CBO produces well-respected work to aid Congress in the work of legislating. Beyond the fancy lunches and campaign contributions associated with lobbying, information can be just as valuable a commodity for Congress and indeed the executive branch as well.

Some lobbyists are shameless power brokers but others are knowledgeable advocates whose assistance to legislators and role in crafting legislation is invaluable, which is why Congress needs to have more expertise on hand to provide an alternative source of reliable research. The CRS should also be required to publish issue briefs geared for public consumption on topics addressed by legislation given a CBO score.

Certainly this wouldn’t replace the role of advocacy groups and think tanks by any measure but it would enable Representatives and Senators to be less dependent on the expertise provided by extra-Congressional institutions. It would also provide the public with an apolitical avenue towards understanding the issues at hand while simultaneously giving less cover and credence to popularly repeated rumors, innuendo, and falsehoods.

7.) Restructuring the committee system

The real work of Congress is hashed out in committee. Committee assignments and sizes are determined by the parties, which gives party leaders more leverage to penalize members who don’t hold the party line making such actions less likely, even when in individual cases such actions might better reflect constituents and the country. The system prizes institutional seniority over ability, which in turn benefits constituencies that keep sending the same person to Congress over new constituencies and those electing new representatives.

Reducing the incentive for legislators to stick around and amass power as well as reducing the leverage parties wield over their members could be accomplished by reforming the committee system. The size of committees should be unrestricted and the leadership of each committee voted on by the full membership of the committee. However, limits restricting the number of committees on which members can sit should remain in place.

Members couldn’t stretch themselves too thinly by working on too many committees, but committee size would better reflect members’ interests. Self-directed leadership of committees would reflect ready-made legislative coalitions and create incentives for coalition building along bipartisan or issue focused lines, rather than discouraging the same. Incidentally this would make Congressional committees parliamentary in their governance. Chairs with initiative would reflect legislative coalitions rather than seniority in the party with most number of people, if Senator Baucus is any indication, these aren’t the same thing. Not only would chairs be more powerful (at the expense of party leaders) and better able to deliver on legislation but it would force opponents to develop alternative coalitions rather than riding a wave of dissatisfaction into the majority and eventually positions of Congressional leadership.

8.) Non-partisan elections

Finally, I think we should work to make Congressional races non-partisan elections. Nebraska’s legislature is uniquely non-partisan and its continued ability to function without explicit labels is certainly encouraging. My point, however, has less to do with the labeling than the structure of the elections themselves. In a partisan primary, candidates duke it out within their parties, open primaries and general election run offs excepted, and then most Americans are confronted with a choice between one Republican and one Democrat.

Thrilling.

Between the reductionist nature of our politics and gerrymandered districts that look designed by M.C. Escher, our system of government routinely leaves citizens out in the unrepresented cold.

With non-partisan elections; however, the top two vote getters in a primary move on to the general, opening the door for electoral choices more in-line with the district. Take for example a heavy Republican district, where a tough primary between a moderate Republican and a Conservative Republican ends in a relatively small victory for the Conservative (52.5%). The district’s 20% liberal democrats all vote for a liberal Democrat who hasn’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. The Conservative Republican goes on to win the general election despite only being the preferred choice of say 42% of the district.

The moderate Republicans split their differences with their new Representative and the Democrats get nada.

In a non-partisan election, the Democrat gets creamed early on, but the Democrats in the district get to choose between their district’s versions of James Inhofe and Olympia Snowe. This system would result in one more person who’s at least willing to negotiate and compromise on liberal issues and one less hyper-partisan conservative, who’s solid base of 42% means they can ignore or work counter to the interests of the remaining 58% of their district.

The creation of solid Democratic seats and solid Republican seats creates political monopolies that despite elections every few years attract many of the same problems and social costs associated with monopolistic behavior in an economic sense. Non-partisan elections would challenge these monopolies and make them more competitive, more responsive to citizens, and more in-line with constituent preferences.

A major focus of the last two reforms is challenging the power of the parties. Not to over-estimate the problem of partisanship but California’s cautionary tale, one of paralysis by partisanship, super-majority requirements, and term limits, makes an effective Ghost of Christmas National Partisan Gridlock Future. The political parties aren’t all bad, but increasingly they are distractions from actual governing and tackling the issues they’ve formed to address. Just look at the parties, today. The GOP is the New Coke of politics. And the Democrats…well let me ask: how many Democrats does it take to change a light bulb? 60 Senators, 256 Congressmen, a President, and Olympia Snowe to lend them a ladder.

Maybe it’s not their fault, the parties can’t help but see everything in terms of score-keeping – after all politics is something of a game. However, it’s about time we treated Congress less like a field of competition and more like a workplace. That doesn’t require “taking on the big special interests,” as much as taking on the incentive structure that makes special interests valuable.

While no doubt incomplete, the reforms outlined above are a start, making it harder for individuals to engage in power plays for their own interests and making the system better suited for functional working without sacrificing checks and balances along the way.

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34 thoughts on “Eight Steps Towards A Less Dysfunctional Congress

  1. 1) That is all well and good, but I do not see how it relates to reform. (I’m sure Maryland will also love the new K Street influence on their Congressional election.)

    2)Rent office space, make a contribution.

    3)This does eliminate the filibuster outright.

    4)No problem there.

    5)The likely outcome of this is even more gerrymandered districts.

    6)More information is always nice, but politicians only cite the CBO when it is to their benefit. Also, they will surely enact more rules that allow them to game the more empowered CRS.

    7)Good luck with that. The Democrats actually removed term limits for Committee Chairs. The inertia seems to be moving against reform in this area.

    8)I like the idea in theory. However, you are creating more gerrymandered districts in #5. So just throw the 20% liberal Democrats into some other district and Voila! More party line votes.

    Maybe I am just too cynical.

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    • Can you elaborate on #5?

      6.) Perhaps but citing a CBO number is almost always to somebody’s benefit and it – like the CRS – has a non-partisan authoritativeness that think tanks and industry groups lack. The big CBO rule that allows for gaming the system is that they have to score what’s in the bill not what’s likely. Which doesn’t apply at all to the CRS, so I can’t imagine what kind of rules they would put in place to game CRS reports without undermining the very reason they’re respected/useful in the first place.

      7&8 are more of a package deal, but I think they’re both borderline sisyphean/herculean. I actually don’t think term limits on committee chairmanship is a good idea, chairs develop a strong body of knowledge and expertise in an area and I think that’s probably better than rotation for the sake of rotation.

      The largest two obstacles, in my opinion, to number 7 are that senior members would balk at their seniority meaning less and the majority party wouldn’t be guaranteed chairmanship of all committees. If, however, we were to get a large influx of freshman congressmen in both houses who cared more about advancing their own legislative interests than party domination, I think committee reform would be far, far more likely.

      As for the party line vote issue, I think more ideological votes aren’t necessarily a problem if Congress is more accurately representative.

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  2. Some of these are good ideas, some aren’t, but I want to applaud you for leading off with voting rights for DC. Every taxpaying American citizen deserves equal representation in both chambers of the legislature, full stop. Thanks.

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  3. All giving voting right to the folks in DC would do is add more Dems to the congress. That would hardly be an improvement. I can see Senator Marion Barry. That would make congress more of a laughing stock than it already is.

    If you want to fix the congress then you could repeal the 17th amendment, stop the gerrymandering of districts by incumbents, allow campaign fund to be donated only by natural born persons that reside in the congressperson districts or state in case of a senator, stop counting illegal aliens in the census count for apportionment of congressional seats and move the date taxes are due from 4/15 to the day before elections.

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      • I probably should have said real person not natural born. However, why should non-citizens be able to give money anyway? I meant to phrase it so that only real people and not companies, unions or PACs could give money to a candidate. Let me also add that only those in the congressperson districts or state should be able to give money.

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        • Ah, I see. Natural-born citizens means people born in the US. So if only natural-born citizens can donate, that means that US citizens who happened to be born in a foreign country wouldn’t be allowed to.

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        • Yeah, but that’s pretty directly unconstitutional. Corporations are to some degree “people,” groups of people are just that. Even if a ban on contributions from organizations were allowable, that would increase the influence of formal/informal bundlers.

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    • I agree with repealing the 17th amendment. Or, if not that, just eliminate the senate entirely and become a unicameral legislature. It was not intended to be a more powerful, centralized version of the house of Reps. It was supposed to be a true upper house.

      I think term limits are one of the more effective reforms that we could do though, one that is likely to have a lot of popular support.

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        • Here here. Imposing term limits is a cop out as it relieves citizens of taking responsibility for who gets elected. We already have the power to limit terms, it is called a vote. If more people actively participated we would have better government.

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        • I’m with Kyle on this. Term limits have the effect of making our legislators perpetually green. And newbie legislators are much more prone to listening to seasoned lobbyists with years of experience and big impressive research papers. Look at California. There’ve been some excellent arguments made that term limits converted their legislature from a thoughtful branch of their state government into a partisan slugfest.

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  4. Kyle:

    Lots of interesting thoughts here, and I think your preamble hits it right on the head.

    1. Doesn’t address the central problems, but a long-overdue reform nonetheless. The way you propose it is exactly how it should be done as well.
    2. I have to think about this one a bit. It’s an interesting idea that on the surface makes a lot of sense. That said, it probably runs into some free speech issues under Buckley and may be unremarkable in practice due to the nature of corporations. Specifically, many/most corporations will have some sort of presence in many/most Congressional districts.

    3. As noted above, this would effectively end the filibuster outright. For the most part, I remain a fan of the filibuster.

    4. This really is the most appalling practice that the Senate has and definitely needs to go.

    5. Most definitely on the House side. It may well be that this will result in more gerry-mandered districts (though I’m not at all sure about that), but the effect of increasing the size of Congress would be to substantially mitigate the problems of gerrymandering by ensuring that the House is more reflective of the population they represent. On the Senate side, I like your point about creating elections every two years in every state, but I’m not at all certain that this would wind up being a meaningful reform.

    6. CRS is a very useful operation, but I wonder if increasing its role would undermine its objectivity, leading to it being less objective and more non-partisan (by which I mean that it will wind up just presenting the arguments on both sides without doing much fact-checking of its own).

    7. Most definitely. I’d also add that this is something that nationalizing the election of Speaker of the House would help on tremendously.

    8. Hells, yeah! This is one of my favorite electoral reforms and something I’ve been meaning to write about for awhile.

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    • Thanks!

      #2 is definitely quasi-constitutional but I think it’s one of the more interesting proposition. You’re right about the corporation thing – though I imagine that’s really industry based. Retail and finance wouldn’t be impacted and manufacturing tends to be pretty local already. What it would do – I hope – is deal a critical blow to PACs and a less serious blow to the power of inside the beltway gatekeepers.

      Politicians’ PACs, I think, are an often overlooked avenue for both fundraising and peddling influence.

      #3 could be tinkered around a bit by say requiring a 2/5 or 1/3 vote to extend debate rather than 1/2. I really wonder how creating another parliamentary option that would require action on behalf of the minority party rather than just threats would affect the Senate. It’s a lot harder to break a filibuster than to sustain one but with this rule, Senators would actually have to vote. Which means they’d have to be present and they’d be on record. I don’t mind the minority having an effective legislative veto but I do mind them not having to work for it.

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  5. A slate of ingenious reforms. As with all slates of ingenious reforms, alas, it is dependent on the actual dunces in power facing the actual institutional absurdities that they face for its enactment. I won’t say it’s hopeless, but I’m not holding my breath.

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  6. OK, having thought about it a little more:

    1. Definitely a good idea, and Mark’s right–this is probably the best way to do it.
    2. Seems wrong to me. After all, people in the entire country are affected by the laws passed by Congress–I can’t vote against Tom Coburn, but I can at least donate to his opponent. Not to mention the problem that this will enhance the power of nationwide corporations at the expense of everyday citizens and nonprofits.
    3. Hell yes. Having a 60-vote supermajority requirement in an already-unrepresentative chamber is beyond obscene.
    4. Doubleplus hell yes.
    5. Seems like a good idea, and it would make it cheaper to run for Congress, which is a major plus.
    6. Also seems like a good idea. I would add that more of their materials should be made public–no reason not to give the rest of us the same knowledge.
    7. Beats me.
    8. I don’t even think this would be possible in a first-past-the-post electoral system. You could get some of the same results with fewer problems and complications by adopting instant runoff voting, I believe.

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    • I’ve been thinking about a reply to your concern for #2 for sometime and I think the best I can do is to say that the problem with representative democracy isn’t that there are representatives you don’t like but constituencies represented you don’t like and no amount of donating to opponents is going to address that issue.

      There are some problems that are a facet of partisanship and politics as gameplay. Then there are problems that are the natural results of deliberative democracy is a nation this large and heterogeneous. I think Virginians should decide issues for Virginia and who they want to represent them in the national legislature. If I want them on board with something I care about as a Californian shouldn’t I have to convince the Virginian people and their representatives why they should support it?

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        • I KNOW, right. That would’ve been really good/effective snark.

          I could, however, spend money on mailers, bankroll an e-mail/internet campaign, travel around the state sponsoring town halls and meetups. I could donate funds to air issue ads over broadcast media that don’t endorse candidates or ballot propositions. Essentially, I could hustle to change minds by doing almost anything and everything up to donating money for broadcast endorsements or hosting an out-of-state fundraiser for such a goal.

          I just feel that if I contribute to an opponent of someone I dislike – say Jim DeMint – then I’m endorsing a system that allows politicians to ignore their own constituents in favor of well-funded external interests. (not that I’m well-funded)

          A system that says it’s ok for Lockheed Martin and Pfizer to donate to my representatives to support policies that don’t represent me. Most importantly, as I live in a western state, that the citizens of Utah, Illinois, Arizona, and Alabama could contribute money to pass a law via ballot initiative that restricts my civil rights or is fiscally unsound.

          That said, thanks for the comments and the IRV suggestion, I’ll probably think about that one some more.

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  7. I don’t even think this would be possible in a first-past-the-post electoral system.

    It’s possible. Cities all across the country do it. However, in my home city it doesn’t work the way that Kyle wants it to. What happens is that the moderate candidate gets squeezed out first because the liberal and conservative candidate have deeper bases of support. Being “everybody’s second favorite” doesn’t actually get you in second place. Louisiana doesn’t have primary systems and their primary-less system is what produced the infamous Duke/Edwards race. The moderate candidate (the incumbent, even) was eliminated in the first round.

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        • With IRV, it’s quite possible that you could have more parties emerge, so it’s theoretically possible could get your desire of having say four or five parties that are each less powerful than the current two in weeding out candidates and providing a select number of candidates for an IRV election. Or very little would change. It would depend in part on what you did with the presidency. If the presidency is dominated by two parties, it’s unlikely we’ll get more than two serious parties.

          I took a Constitutional Design theory class. My professor would say that all reform is hopeless absent a more pariamentary system.

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      • The Louisiana elections are partisan, but the mayoral elections I’m thinking of are not. However, even in non-partisan elections, if the race has enough attention thrown to it, people know who the Republicans and Democrats in the race are. They’re just not running as Republicans and Democrats.

        That being said, two of the reasons they align themselves are (a) to try to get party support, (b) to get the support of party figures, and (c) to run for higher office. Strip congressional races of their partisan tagging and you can at least address the third and you may weaken the parties themselves enough that (a) becomes less of an issue and there are fewer (b) folks around. Maybe.

        I agree about IRV.

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    • This is a really good point. Nonpartisan elections do have their drawbacks. Gaming the system has payoffs. If you run two consensus conservative candidates in a liberal area running five or six liberal candidates, the vote concentration could result in the two conservatives emerging as the top two.

      Though I want to point out that I favor non-partisan elections because I think the partisan primary system is anti-competitive not because I think a system that favors moderates is better on that basis.

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  8. As someone who believes that gridlock is the most important thing for the Federal Government to engage in, I don’t know how much a fan of reform I would be.

    That said, I am definitely in favor of 2, 4, and 5.

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  9. I tend to see posts like this as speculative, because they’re such large changes from the current system that they’re immensely unlikely to happen. 4 seems achievable and like a good idea.

    The other thing that needs to be done is end gerrymandering. In Canada the electoral district boundaries are set by an Electoral Boundaries Commission for each province. They’re independent and non-partisan; their decisions are reviewed by public consultation and by MPs, then the commission makes its own final decision and submits the description of districts and their populations to the House of Commons.

    Each commission is three people: the head, a judge appointed the the province’s chief justice (or, if for some reason this doesn’t happen, any resident of the province can be appointed as the head by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada), and two other people appointed by the speaker of the House of Commons.

    The US couldn’t adopt precisely this system because Speaker of the House of Commons in Canada is a specifically non-partisan post (our current Speaker is a Liberal, our current government is Conservative) and the US Speaker of the House of Representatives isn’t. And our Supreme Court is a lot less politicized and less paid attention to than yours. But surely there’s some non-partisan official you could call on for appointments to the commission.

    The system generally works well for us, and citizens’ input is valuable to it, so people generally end up with boundaries that work for them.

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    • Well, structurally, it’d have to work differently because congressional districts are determined by state governments, not the federal government. So, for example, Iowa and Arizona have a non-partisan method for districting but the remaining 48 don’t. California just adopted a method for state legislative districts but not congressional districts.

      Yeah this was speculative, I was curious to see what some thoughts were on the approach, the individual items, and the analysis of the problem. Thanks for reading and commenting Katherine.

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  10. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The Constitution gives every state the power to allocate its electoral votes for president, as well as to change state law on how those votes are awarded.

    The bill is currently endorsed by over 1,659 state legislators (in 48 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. This national result is similar to recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, New York — 79%, and Washington — 77%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 29 state legislative chambers, in 19 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Oregon, and both houses in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. The bill has been enacted by Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington. These five states possess 61 electoral votes — 23% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

    See http://www.NationalPopularVote.com

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  11. I like many of your ideas, Kyle. But I want to make one larger point. Just as you noted in reply to term limits being called elections, I think the same can be applied to some of your suggestions. (The following critique does not apply to #s 1, 3, 4 or 6.) What I am getting at is that we, the people are ultimately in charge of who represents us. We may not like our choices in any particular election, but that is not the fault of the parties or the PACs or entrenched interests or anything/anyone else. The fault lies entirely with us.

    Just as term limits are a shortcut to injecting new blood into our legislative bodies, reforming some of our political institutions, however well intentioned, is of that same kind.

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