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Over 200 Democracy Scholars Call on Congress To End Single-Member Congressional Districts and Adopt Proportional Representation

Our arcane districting process divides and polarizes us and has effectively extinguished competitive elections for most Americans. We urge Congress to adopt inclusive, multi-member districts with proportional representation.

2020 presidential election results by congressional district,Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON, DC– Today, more than 200 political scientists, legal scholars, and historians from academic institutions across the United States released an open letter calling on Congress to reject the United States’ winner-take-all system of elections in the wake of a failed 2020 redistricting process and adopt multi-member districts with proportional representation for the U.S. House of Representatives.

The letter’s 200+ signatories include experts in fields ranging from comparative electoral politics to constitutional law. They include nine Johan Skytte Prize winners, often considered the ‘Nobel Prize of political science’: Robert Axelrod, Francis Fukuyama, Peter Katzenstein, Robert Keohane, David Laitin, Margaret Levi, Arend Lijphart, Philippe Schmitter, and Rein Taagepera. Other prominent signatories include leading voices on the perilous state of American democracy like Steven Levitsy, Jennifer McCoy, and Brendan Nyhan, as well as experts on America’s current electoral system like Larry Sabato, and Matthew Shugart, among many others.

“Our arcane, single-member districting process divides, polarizes, and isolates us from each other,” the letter says. “It has effectively extinguished competitive elections for most Americans and produced a deeply divided political system that is incapable of responding to changing demands and emerging challenges with necessary legitimacy.

“Accordingly, we urge Congress to ensure that this is the last redistricting cycle under a failed single-winner system and to adopt inclusive, multi-member districts with more proportional representation.”

The letter is the latest sign of the growing momentum for proportional representation in the U.S. Despite broad-based scholarly consensus on the desirability of more proportional systems for decades, the instability of American democracy in the last few years has catalyzed greater efforts from activists and academics alike to promote a system for electing Congress that addresses the core problems facing the country.

As the 2020 redistricting cycle made clear, America’s current system of winner-take-all elections allows for gerrymandering, makes the great majority of seats uncompetitive, and fuels the extreme polarization and rigid two-party politics that cause legislative dysfunction. In a proportional system, multiple representatives per district are elected in proportion to their share of the vote, making gerrymandering obsolete, ensuring that every election is competitive, and enabling more electorally viable parties to emerge.

The letter is available here and is included below, followed by the full list of 204 signatories.

An Open Letter to Congress

September 19th, 2022

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As the 2020 redistricting process comes to a close, it is clear that our winner-take-all system—where each U.S. House district is represented by a single person—is fundamentally broken. We call on Congress to adopt inclusive, multi-member districts with competitive and responsive proportional representation.

According to a recent analysis of the newly-redistricted House map, more than 90% of districts are effectively a lock for one of the parties this November. This means that many millions of voters have no meaningful say in general elections, with the overwhelming majority of Congress effectively chosen by low-turnout primaries. In other words, winner-take-all increasingly means we already know the outcome of almost any given race. 

 This collapse in competitive elections helps explain why Congress today is so polarized and held hostage by obstructionist politics. Because 90% of House members don’t have to worry about general elections and are beholden only to their district’s small number of primary voters, extreme elements are overrepresented to the point where one party in our two party system has been taken over by members that reject democracy itself. 

Contrary to popular belief, geography—not gerrymandering—is the primary cause of this districting crisis. As the country has sorted geographically, with Democrats concentrating in cities and Republicans in rural areas, it is often impossible to draw competitive single-member districts that offer any semblance of geographic continuity and that keep communities of interest together. In fact, maps drawn by nonpartisan commissions in this redistricting cycle had just as few highly competitive districts as those drawn by politicians. 

At the same time, our political divisions are far less dire than our electoral system implies. At the level of narrow, winner-take-all districts, only the majority opinion gets represented and we appear divided between fully Democratic and fully Republican districts. But on the scale of our communities, regions, and states, the United States remains a diverse and complex political tapestry. In 2020, there were more Trump voters in California than any other state and more Biden voters in Texas than in New York or Illinois. The vast—even overwhelming—majority of Americans don’t fit precisely into the ideology of their single-member congressional representation. 

Congress has the ability to embrace this political richness by joining most other advanced democracies in moving to more inclusive, multi-member districts made competitive and responsive by proportional representation. 

The effects would be far-reaching and salutary. More proportional representation would render gerrymandering obsolete and help ensure that a political party’s share of votes in an election actually determines how many seats it holds in the House. Larger, multi-member districts would mean almost every voter could cast a meaningful vote, regardless of where they live. And as the Supreme Court further weakens the Voting Rights Act, proportional representation allows communities of color to have their voices reflected—and their candidates elected—at the ballot box. 

This fix would require only an act of Congress. Proportional, multi-member districts are not only constitutional, they are broadly consistent with American history and political norms. In fact, multi-member House districts were common across the country for over 150 years—albeit without proportional representation, which proved a fatal flaw, as at-large districts were used to effectively disenfranchise minority groups and grossly over-represent narrow majorities. Congress must now improve upon, not ignore, this history. 

This redistricting cycle is a wake-up call for voters and our elected representatives. Our arcane, single-member districting process divides, polarizes, and isolates us from each other. It has effectively extinguished competitive elections for most Americans, and produced a deeply divided political system that is incapable of responding to changing demands and emerging challenges with necessary legitimacy.

Accordingly, we urge Congress to ensure that this is the last redistricting cycle under a failed single-winner system and to adopt inclusive, multi-member districts with more proportional representation.

Sincerely,

Daron Acemoglu, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

William Aceves, California Western School of Law

Peter Christian Aigner, CUNY Graduate Center

John Aldrich, Duke University

Tyler Anbinder, George Washington University

Anne-Marie Angelo, University of Sussex

Elisabeth Anker, George Washington University

Bettina Aptheker, University of California, Santa Cruz

Deborah Avant, University of Denver

Robert Axelrod, University of Michigan

David Barker, American University 

Naazneen Barma, University of Denver

John Barry, Tulane University

David Bateman, Cornell University

Rachel Beatty Riedl, Cornell University

Ruth Ben-Ghiat, New York University 

Paul Bender, Arizona State University

Sheri Berman, Barnard College

John Bieter, Boise State University 

Robert Blair, Brown University

Jon Bond, Texas A&M University

Adam Bonica, Stanford University

Nikolas Bowie, Harvard Law School

John Brooke, The Ohio State University 

Nadia Brown, Georgetown university

John Carey, Dartmouth College

Simone Caron, Wake Forest University

Alton Carroll, Northern Virginia Community College

Dan Carter, University of South Carolina

Alessandra Casella, Columbia University

Katherine Charron, North Carolina State University

Erica Chenoweth, Harvard University

Beverly Cigler, Pennsylvania State University

Joshua Cohen, University of California, Berkeley

Lizabeth Cohen, Harvard University

Josep M. Colomer, Georgetown University

Mark Copelovitch, University of Wisconsin – Madison

Michael Coppedge, University of Notre Dame

Robert Cottrell 

Gary Cox, Stanford University

Melody Crowder-Meyer, Davidson College

Matt Dallek, George Washington University

Christian Davenport, University of Michigan

Hannah Demeritt , Duke University School of Law

Matthew Dennis, University of Oregon

Lee Drutman, New America

Thomas Dublin, State University of New York at Binghamton

Chris Edelson, American University

Mark Edwards, Spring Arbor University

Nate Ela, University of Cincinnati

Kevin Esterling, University of California, Riverside

Matthew Evangelista, Cornell University

Sara M. Evans, University of Minnesota

Christina Ewig, University of Minnesota

David Faris, Roosevelt University

Christopher Federico, University of Minnesota

Ronald Feinman, Florida Atlantic University

Steven Fish, University of California, Berkeley

Dana R. Fisher, University of Maryland

Jill Frank, Cornell University

William Franko, West Virginia University

Caroline Fredrickson, Georgetown Law

Amy Fried, University of Maine

Scott Frisch, California State University, Channel Islands

Francis Fukuyama, Stanford University

Daniel Galvin, Northwestern University

Marshall Ganz, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Martin Gilens, University of California, Los Angeles

Simon Gilhooley, Bard College

Annalise Glauz-Todrank, Wake Forest University

Benjamin Goldfrank, Seton Hall University

Sara Goodman, University of California, Irvine

Jake Grumbach, University of Washington

Hannah Gurman, New York University

Nancy Hagedorn, State University of New York at Fredonia

Hahrie Han, Johns Hopkins University

Gretchen Helmke, University of Rochester

Charlotte Hill, University of California, Berkeley

Jennifer Hochschild, Harvard University

Wesley Hogan, Duke University

Aziz Huq, University of Chicago

Jeffrey Isaac, Indiana University, Bloomington

Karl Jacoby, Columbia University

Dolores E. Janiewski, Victoria University of Wellington – Te Herenga Waka

Joel Johnson, Colorado State University – Pueblo

Nathan Kalmoe, Louisiana State University

Nancy Kassop, State University of New York at New Paltz

Richard Katz, Johns Hopkins University

Peter Katzenstein, Cornell University

Thomas Keck, Syracuse University

Nathan Kelly, University of Tennessee

Robert Keohane, 

Alex Keyssar, Harvard University

Helen Kinsella, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Rachel Kleinfeld, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

James Kloppenberg, Harvard University

Louise W. Knight, Northwestern University

Richard Kohn, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Ronald Krebs, University of Minnesota

Daniel Kreiss, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Aleksander Ksiazkiewicz, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Tim Lacy, Loyola University Chicago 

David D. Laitin, Stanford University

Derek Larson, The College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

Bruce Larson, Gettysburg College

Jeffrey  Lerner, Wake Forest University

Margaret Levi, Stanford University 

Peter Levine, Tufts University

Steven Levitsky, Harvard University

Robert Lieberman, Johns Hopkins University

Robert Lifset, University of Oklahoma

Arend Lijphart, University of California, San Diego

Kriste Lindenmeyer, Rutgers University 

Nancy MacLean, Duke University

Scott Mainwaring, University of Notre Dame

Thomas Mann, Brookings Institution

Jane Manners, Temple University

John Martin, Duke University 

Seth Masket, University of Denver

Fritz Mayer, University of Denver

Eleanor McConnell, Frostburg State University

Jennifer McCoy, Georgia State University 

Jason McDaniel, San Francisco State University

Bonnie M. Meguid, University of Rochester

Walter Mignolo, Duke University

Terry Moe, Stanford University

Ralph Morelli

Daniel Myers, University of Minnesota

Carol Nechemias, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg

David Niven, University of Cincinnati

William Nomikos , Washington University in St. Louis

Brendan Nyhan, Dartmouth College

Stan Oklobdzija, University of California, Riverside

Peter Onuf, University of Virginia

Annelise Orleck, Dartmouth College

Benjamin I. Page, Northwestern University

Richard Parker, Harvard University

Josh Pasek, University of Michigan

Thomas Pepinsky, Cornell University

Isabel Perera, Cornell University

Rick Perlstein 

Benjamin Peterson, Alma College

David Peterson, Iowa State University

Minh-Thu Pham, Princeton University

Dirk Philipsen, Duke University

Brian Pollins, The Ohio State University

Ethan Porter, George Washington University

Charles Postel, San Francisco State University

Lawrence N. Powell 

John Quist, Shippensburg University

Ben Railton, Fitchburg State University

Miles Rapoport, Harvard Kennedy School of Government

Daniel Richter, University of Pennsylvania

Kenneth Roberts, Cornell University

Bert A. Rockman, Purdue University

Joel Rogers, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Deondra Rose, Duke University

Anne Sarah Rubin, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Vicki Ruiz, University of California, Irvine

Larry Sabato, University of Virginia

Anoop Sarbahi, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities

Martha Saxton, Amherst College

Ethan Scheiner, University of California, Davis

Stephen Schlesinger

Vivien Schmidt, Boston University

Philippe Schmitter, European University Institute

Sanford Schram, Hunter College and the Graduate Center CUNY

Robert Shapiro, Columbia University

Matthew Shugart, University of California, Davis

Peter Siavelis, Wake Forest University

Dan Slater, University of Michigan 

Jason Scott Smith, University of New Mexico

Steven Smith, Washington University

Rogers Smith, University of Pennsylvania

Shannon Smith, College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University

Joe Soss, University of Minnesota

Thomas Spragens, Duke University

Leonard Steinhorn, American University

Susan Stokes, University of Chicago

Jennie Sweet-Cushman, Chatham University

Rein Taagepera, University of California, Irvine

Paul Taillon, University of Auckland

Bob Pepperman Taylor, University of Vermont

Steven Taylor, Troy University

Alexander Theodoridis, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Susan Thorne, Duke University

Chloe Thurston, Northwestern University 

James Traub, New York University

Chuck Tryon, Fayetteville State University

Mustafa Tuna, Duke University

Antonio Ugues Jr., St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Jennifer Victor, George Mason University

Penny Von Eschen, University of Virginia

Barbara F Walter, University of California, San Diego

Elizabeth Wemlinger, Salem College

Tisa Wenger, Yale University

Robb Willer, Stanford University

Garry Wills, Northwestern University

Amanda Wintersieck, Virginia Commonwealth University

Daniel Wirls, University of California, Santa Cruz

Christopher Witko, The Pennsylvania State University 

Alex Zakaras, University of Vermont

Michael Zuckerman, University of Pennsylvania 

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About Fix Our House

Fix Our House is a new education and advocacy campaign promoting proportional representation as an urgently-needed reform to pull politics out of its doom loop of polarization and dysfunction, sideline the anti-democratic forces threatening our democracy, and offer America’s diverse electorate full and fair representation in the House of Representatives. We are building a broad coalition of advocates prepared to spread the word about proportional representation and build the support it needs to become a reality. Fix Our House is an independent project housed under Article IV, an organization promoting ideas to make government closer to the people they serve. 

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