Sunday, October 12, 2008

What is Proportional Representation?

While a lot of insiders are fiercely debating Issue 8, which is on this November's Cincinnati ballot and would bring "proportional representation" back to Cincinnati City Council elections, my sense is that the average voter is still not engaged on this issue.

The debate is definitely heating up. The Charter Committee, NAACP and Business Courier have endorsed it, while the Democratic and Republican Parties are in opposition, along with numerous elected officials.

For the proponents' view, provides all the information for the pro-Issue 8 campaign. UPDATE: for the opponent's view, go to:

A good, substantive radio debate took place on it last week between Councilman Jeff Berding and NAACP President Christopher Smiterman: It's worth listening to.

And to their credit, Channel 9's I-Team did a full story on it:

I invite proponents and opponents to weigh in on this blog, and to answer basic questions for the voter who has not quite delved into the details yet:

- what is proportional representation? how would it change the ballot the voter sees, and how that ballot is counted?

- for proponents, why would it improve our Council election process?

- for opponents, why would it detract from our Council election process?


Wayne Smith said...

Political parties don't like it?

You know it's got to be a good thing!

Champion of Democracy said...

The Channel 9 I-Team's report had a few inaccuracies in it, and in my opinion, was very slanted towards opposition. A slightly less biased review, though again hardly giving equal time to proponents to respond to the opposition's points, was Newsmakers, found here:

Proportional representation is the concept that every group of voters should get a share of the representation, or power in government, relative to their size of the population. A good example of this is the Democratic Party presidential primary process, where proportional representation is used.

When Hillary Clinton won the most votes in Ohio, she didn't get 100% of the delegates, she got 53% of the delegates--or a fair proportion based on the share of the votes she received in the election. Barack's supporters--instead of their 44% of the votes being completely discarding, and their voice being disregarded and given to Hillary Clinton--were given 44% of the delegates, the same as their vote. This is a simpler example of proportional representation, yet it truly is the main concept of difference between winner-take-all and proportional representation systems.

So how does Choice Voting, the system of proportional representation we are talking about here and now in Cincinnati? This system was used for 30 years in Cincinnati and did a great job of breaking up the Republican stranglehold on power here in the 1920's using 35 single-member districts (in 1923, Republicans won 55% of the vote citywide, and won 33/35 seats with single-member districts). But how does it work?

I would like to also use a Democratic presidential primary example to explain this, and ironically enough i would like to use the Iowa caucuses to clearly describe PR. This is very ironic, because yet again, this is the first state Obama won, and also Obama would have lost the nomination if the Democrats employed a winner-take-all system aside from Iowa using a system easily compared to this very voting process we are promoting in Cincinnati.

In Iowa, voters showed up at the caucus and when it was time to vote, they stood in their little designated area to indicate support for their (1st choice) candidate. It was determined how many voters it would take to earn one seat of support. For my example, let's just use "11" as a hypothetical number. So 11 voters were needed to win a delegate, with 9 delegates at state. So let's say Barack's group has 92 voters there, which is enough to have eight delegates with 88, yet has 4 extra that can't help him get another delegate. Those extra could then move and support another candidate to help them. This is the equivalent of what occurs in a surplus transfer in proportional representation.

Now, suppose Barack has 53 votes, just shy of the 55 needed to win 5 delegates (a majority). But Kucinich's supporters only managed to pull together 8, 3 voters shy of the 11 needed to win a single delegate. Remember, Kucinich told his supporters to support Barack as their second choice, so 7 out of the 8 move over to Barack's corner and support him, giving him 60 votes now, and enough to win 5 out of 9 delegates, with 5 surpluse votes. This is what occurs in proportional representation when the weakest candidate is eliminated, and the votes transfer to the next choice.

Proportional representation is almost identical to what happens in caucuses in Iowa where Obama won his first state. But rather than only those with time and resources to attend these caucuses being able to participate, the rankings on your ballot are like marching orders for your vote. First, the vote counts for your favorite. If that favorite can't win, or has more votes than necessary to win, your vote then moves to your second choice based on your preferences.

Proportional representation is basicly summed up in these two statements:

As many people as possible should have their vote count toward representation.

§A majority of voters deserves a majority of representation, but every sufficiently large group of like-minded voters has a right to representation in proportion to its share of the vote.

A YES vote on Issue 8 will ensure we all have a voice on city council. A YES vote will ensure the best of Cincinnati are elected. A YES vote will help minimize money in our city elections (you can't BUY a first choice vote). A YES vote will ensure neighborhood representation without gerrymandered districts. A YES vote on proportional representation is a YES vote for CHANGE RIGHT HERE AT HOME! CHANGE BEGINS AT HOME! BETTER REPRESENTATION FOR CINCINNATI!

Anonymous said...

Jenny Edwards......
Renewing my interest in PR in 2004 after reading some papers on Charter party practices, Charles Phelps Taft and others I also was privileged to encounter a meeting in late 2005 where Damon Lynch III, Josh Krekkler, Nate Livingston and others presented various takes on council election and coverage of more issues and interests of a wider group of Cincinnatians. A very wide ranging discussion that left the party types at the door, more concerned with citizens and their representation.

Later, Feb. 18, 2006, members of the Progressive Alliance held an open forum on a very wintry day where the topics were:
merits and minuses of
.Districts (and redistricting)
.Proportional Representation
.At-Large Representation

We heard Bobbie Sterne, Tim Burke, Jeff Berding, Art Slater, Marilyn Evans and words from Dave Little on the wide array of election type. Burke was great at the history and the changes of going to PR and years later away from the process; Slater and Sterne widened the understanding of the PR process (complicated but effective); Berding on the set of district possibilities, and; Evans on what people in the average household want and perceive in changes to voting.

After this series of studies, the major matter for me, who might "plunk" (vote for less than the nine) was that ALL of my VOTES BE COUNTED. In no situation was I ever told that all of my votes would not count. I spoke with a number of older Cincinnatians who liked and disliked the process from their experiences, a childhood friend that votes in that "dreaded place of Cambridge, Massachusetts", and heard from three political science professors and two members of the local BOE. To the question of "Will all my votes be counted?" one said NO.

I want Cincnnatians to have a stronger voice in their elections for council; a choice on any elected office of more than one person running, and; to be told the truth of what such a matter as PR actually holds. Hearing from elected leaders repeating that "not all of your votes will be counted" is a distortion usually found from a sleazy sales speil. THEY DO COUNT. They all count. But above all.....the interests and issues of our citizens need to count above all. For my best of understanding, PR gives us more bang for the ballots cast.

Thanks for this opportunity.

Jerry said...

The opponents of Issue 8 unfortunately have been putting out a lot of inaccurate information. One good opportunity to learn more about proportional representation as it really takes place this Wednesday, at 6 pm.
Mount Holyoke Professor Douglas Amy wil be speaking about proportional representation at the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency building.

For those who can make it, you're in for a treat -- Professor Amy is one of the most knowledgeable scholars about proportional representation in the world. He is the author of two relevant books: "Real Choices, New Voice: The Case for Proportional Representation" and "Behind the Ballot Box," which compares electoral systems.

Professor Amy's presentation will be a balanced one, not advocacy, but he is a terrific resource.

Anonymous said...

Proportional representation would improve your council elections because Cincinnati would be restoring the proper voting method. The Cincinnati PR method put right an inadequate way of voting and an inadequate way of counting the vote.
The X-vote can only choose one candidate against the rest. Nine X-votes cancel each other out. The two main parties favor this because it encourages people to vote for nine candidates of the same party, so they dont let in candidates of the party they like less.

Two adverse results follow. Without Cincinnati's form of PR, there is no preference vote to rank the candidates in order of choice. Preference voting (with a proportional count) makes sure that the most popular candidates are elected.
X-voting reduces to strategic voting for one of the two main parties. That is a minimal choice that cannot respect individual character, in whatever party, or Independents.

That adverse consequence is to the quality of individual representation. The other adverse consequence is the unbalanced representation when one party's voters sweep the board because they happen to be the largest faction. They may not have an over-all majority of votes. Yet for about half the votes or less, one party may take all, or nearly all, the seats.

This is why, for example, Tammany Hall were so opposed to proportional representation in New York.
On the other hand, when the League of Women Voters investigated PR in Cambridge, they were told of "the genius of proportional representation" for representing the ethnic diversity of that city. And that included gender balance of representation.

PR means that no one faction can dictate to the rest. Government has to be by consent. Policies have to be thought out with respect to majority opinion. That's a more mature democracy more likely to think thru better policies. Better Ballot Cincinnati quotes Fortune's judgement on Cincinnati with PR, as the best governed city in America.

Thanks for reading this.
Richard Lung.

Anonymous said...

Citizens Against Joe Deters

Yes on issue 8. Proportional Represenation.

Anne said...

Read Lani Guinier's book, The Tyranny of the Majority. You'll think "Wow, if J.S. Mill were alive today, he'd be sooo psyched!"

On the federal level, it seems as though some (several?) rules might need changing to allow proportional representation. This would be difficult, and perhaps unwise. IMHO amending a constitution or Constitution is rarely a good idea.

Locally, though, it would be an exciting experiment. Maybe too exciting for some! Put on your Margaritaville garb and try something new, why dontcha?

All in all, it's not that crazy of an idea. Corporations (not known for their radical ways) vote this way all the time.

Quim said...

PR robs the individual of choice. Instead of getting 9 votes, we get 9 chances at 1 vote.
Most of the arguments made for PR are racist and sexist.
For something so simple hardly anybody gets it and proponents don't even agree on how it works.
It is slow or expensive depending on how it is implemented.

Wayne Smith said...

PR gives you one vote that always counts instead of nine votes that usually don't count at all.

There is nothing sexist or racist about suggesting that women and minorities should have a chance to get elected too.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely NO on Issue 8 PR
Absolutely NO to citizens against Joe Deters! They are nothing more than a Christopher Smitherman spin-off group!
Christopher Smitherman is a fraud and a phony and he knows the ONLY way he could even remotely have a chance to get back on Cincinnati City Council is to get this PR thing passed.

No to Issue 8
No to Citizens against Joe Deters

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