Saturday, April 25, 2009

Personally Accountable Representation

I have been sent a copy of The Cure for Our Broken Political Process, by Sol Erdman and Lawrence Susskind (Potomac Books, 2009).

The book addresses what it describes as the partisan gridlock fostered by non-competitive, safe-district, low-turnout Congressional elections and proposes a solution the authors call Personally Accountable Representation. The idea is to create a system of proportional representation in Congress based on preferential ballots (you rank your top candidates; the winners are chosen by gradually eliminating the person with the least votes and awarding their votes to the next person on each voter's ballot, until the number of remaining candidates equals the number to be elected). Erdman and Susskind advocate doing away with the current system, in which each Congressional district is represented by one candidate, enlarging the districts to include several representatives, but keeping Congress at about the same size it is now, with members of Congress representing about 600,000 people.

The idea is that those elected would be peronally accountable to the voters who elected them, and thus motivated to actually deal honestly with real problems, and to negotiate in good faith with other politicians.

It is more complicated than I have been able to represent it as here, and I'm frankly skeptical whether this would in fact create a more productive legislative process, though the argument that it would motivate voters sounds persuasive.

This is an intriguing idea, and it is recommended by some presumably sensible people, so my own hesitation may be simply the conservatism of habit. The book itself presents the case as a fictionalized account of the conversion of a newly elected member of Congress to the PAR scheme. The tone is sometimes annoyingly E-Z reader, but perhaps that's what it takes to involve the casual reader.

From a rhetorical point of view, any broad electoral proposal identifying itself as THE CURE surely seems to tempt the gremlins of unintended consequences.


Wayne Smith said...
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Tom Benson said...

Wayne Smith seems to have a formatting problem here. How about