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Jon McKellar
Robin Kramer
CAS 138T
April 6th, 2016
Multi-Member Districts Will Save American Politics
Many college students have never experienced the mythic and idealistic democracy that
school has taught them about all of their life. The American political system is depicted as a
bastion of equal representation, liberty, and freedom for all of its citizens; however, even a
simple glance at a Twitter newsfeed or a list of CNN headlines demonstrates the American
populaces disenchantment with the political climate in the United States. While it is difficult to
narrow the issues facing the U.S. government to a single cause, much of the negativity stems
from polarization and partisanship, or a refusal to negotiate across the aisle. Politics, in any
country, is a complicated machine with lots of parts, but there is often some sort of invisible
hand getting in the way and jamming up the process. In the United States, this invisible hand
manifests as gerrymandering the redistricting of congressional districts. The only way to truly
eradicate the problem of gerrymandering and resolve the problems it poses is to implement
multi-member districts as proposed by the Ranked Choice Voting Act.
Historically, redistricting with the intent to influence political outcomes has existed for
over 200 years in the United States. The term gerrymander was officially coined in the Boston
Gazette in 1812, a portmanteau of Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerrys name and the word
salamander, the snaking shape that some of the districts that he signed in to law seemed to
represent (Barasch). Since the 19th century, gerrymandering has become a commonplace aspect

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of political strategy in the United States, occurring whenever a new census changes
representative allocation or the state legislature changes hands between parties.
To many, gerrymandering is an esoteric and politicized term that seems too complicated
to figure out. However, the concept itself is fairly easy to understand. According to an article in
The Washington Post, gerrymandering involves a political party drawing districts such that the
opponents supporters are concentrated, or packed, in certain designated throwaway districts; the
gerrymandering partys supporters are then spread out in the rest of the districts to create more
competitive battles that they will (hopefully, for the strategists) win narrowly, known as cracking
(Ingraham). In executing this political sleight of hand, the party in control can wildly swing the
minority proportion of voters that actually vote for them into a disproportionate majority of
Independent of an understanding of the details, even the word gerrymander itself has
become a tainted word as voters have come to associate it with the corrupt and polarized
politicians that they have come to despise. However, outside of the perception of gerrymandering
as a negative and partisan tool, there are concrete consequences of the practice. These drawbacks
are critical to an understanding of the severity of this issue in the United States and to a firm
grasp on how it can be remedied.
Most notable is the inequitable delegation of representatives. The party in power can
easily turn a minority of the popular vote into an overwhelming majority of congressmen with
proper gerrymandering. John Fasman, writing for The Economist, points out that, in 2012,
Democratic House candidates won 50.6% of the [popular] votes and took just 46.2% of the
seats (Fasman). While these numbers seem inconsequential at first glance, the misrepresentation
becomes a nearly 40 representative swing for the Republican Party, plenty to have crucial policy

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implications, all thanks to a bit of clever redistricting. Evidently, gerrymandering produces
political outcomes that fail to accurately reflect the composition of the electorate.
Other than the clearly undemocratic nature of gerrymandering, it can also be blamed for
the increasing political polarization in the U.S. According to John Sides, writing for Politico in
June 2015, Gerrymandering results in districts that are dominated by one party, which makes
elected legislators beholden only to their partys base, which then gives them the incentive to be
hardcore ideologues, which in turn makes politics so polarized (Sides). The party that
gerrymanders packs their opponents districts and sets up so-called safe seats in these
districts, the representative need not worry about competition and therefore can slip further and
further away from the political center as they become solely accountable to the party and not the
constituents of the district.
Further complicating the issue of gerrymandering is the counterintuitive result that the
most partisan and polarized representatives are elected in landslide elections whereas the
moderates face much more competitive elections. This disparity is a direct function of the
increasing polarization and proliferation of safe seats that partisan redistricting creates. Matthew
Frankel, political analyst at the Brookings Institute, cites a National Journal study, claiming that
in the last three election cycles, the 50 most liberal members of Congress received an average of
over 79 percent of the vote, while the 100 most moderate members received an average of only
62 percent (Frankel). Demonstrably and quantitatively, gerrymandering is diminishing the truly
democratic nature of the American political system.
Thankfully, politicians and policy makers in the US are not ignorant of the issues that
gerrymandering poses. To this end, there have been two main solutions to partisan redistricting
proposed over the last decade or so. Most commonly proposed is the implementation of a

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nonpartisan commission to draw the congressional districts, as is done in a few states already, as
well as in Canada. A second method, the new and sexy alternative, involves using computer
programming algorithms to maximize compactness of districts. Currently, California uses a
nonpartisan commission, and other states are experimenting with the idea as well. With regards
to computer algorithms for drawing the lines, Iowa currently uses a software approach to solve
gerrymandering (Fasman). Many people nationwide support one of these two approaches to
prevent partisan redistricting.
While both of these approaches have received attention from policy makers across the
country, both have some fatal flaws. For the independent commission approach, Christopher
Ingraham of The Washington Post points out that there will never be such thing as an
independent panel in the United States pork and logrolling will permeate such an effort
(Ingraham). Any sort of nonpartisan commission will not truly be nonpartisan in this country. Eli
Rosenbaum, also writing for The Washington Post, asserts that the commissions currently in
effect are bipartisan, not nonpartisan, and each partys delegates on the panel are closely
connected to their state parties and politicians (Rosenbaum). He goes on to explain that the
commissions in New Jersey, Washington, and Arizona actually increased the average margin of
victory by almost 20 percentage points, the opposite intent of the commissions. This change is
due to a key development in the art of gerrymandering bipartisan gerrymandering or parties
gerrymandering collaboratively to maintain the status quo and ensure that incumbents (on both
sides of the aisle) win reelection. While this is not the same problem that standard partisan
gerrymandering causes, it is merely a different and equally detrimental devolution of American

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Despite the aforementioned evidence that the nonpartisan commission approach may not
be viable, it is continually being supported. Even though President Obama called for end[ing]
the practice of drawing our congressional districts so politicians can pick their voters and not the
other way around with a nonpartisan commission in his State of the Union Address this year,
there is no feasible and effective means of implementing this approach in the U.S. (Obama).
According to Sebastian Marotta of the Wilson Center, a congressionally chartered research
forum, there are several problems with adopting theCanadian [nonpartisan commission]
model in the U.S., stemming from the realities of federalism and polarization (Marotta). The
current American political climate simply is not conducive to this approach. As Marotta
explained, the unique federalist system in the US, coupled with increasing polarization over the
last few decades, make a nonpartisan commission an infeasible approach.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, computer generated districts remove the human
element entirely from the process. Ingraham, again for The Washington Post, described the
algorithms that can be used to maximize compactness and develop visually appealing districts.
He also points out the inescapable flaw of the algorithmic approach: Districts should also
represent communities of interest that is, there should be some common denominator among a
districts residentsin practice [these communities of interest] are so fuzzy that they make
computer generated redistricting impractical (Ingraham). For example, a computer-generated
map might split a heavily Latino neighborhood into a few different districts, thereby
automatically diluting the representation away from proportionally supporting the Latino vote.
Despite the apparent simplicity and appeal of this approach, it will not be able to navigate the
delicate nature of redistricting in order to preserve democratic ideals.

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Admittedly, these approaches each carry their own strengths, but there is one policy that
is far superior to these two. Outlined in the Ranked Choice Voting Act as proposed by FairVote,
the best solution to the issues posed by gerrymandering is implementing multi-member districts
with the members awarded proportionally by a form of winner-take-all fair representation voting
(Monopoly). This policy remedies the issue posed by gerrymandering simply and powerfully. By
combining multi-member districts with proportional elections, the effects of gerrymandering
While this solution seems wordy and complicated, it is logical and demonstrably
effective. Simply put, the first part of this plan would be to conglomerate single-member districts
into larger multi-member ones. According to Reihan Salam of Slate, As long as we have singlemember districts, it is inevitable that some group of people will be disadvantaged by the lines we
draw, whether or not the line-drawers have sinister motives (Salam). For example,
Pennsylvanias 18 single-member districts could be converted into three significantly larger
districts, each sending six representatives to Congress. Then, the elections take place, and the
representatives for each district are awarded proportionally to the votes cast instead of through a
winner-take-all system.
Using multi-member districts it the most effective way to create districts that are truly
representative of the electorate, as Salam goes on to clarify (Salam). Imagine a fictitious state
with a population of 20 Republicans and 30 Democrats voting for ten representatives. If
congressmen were delegated strictly proportionally, the Republicans would receive four and
Democrats would receive six. However, assuming the Democrats can gerrymander, they can
allocate two Republicans and three Democrats to each of the ten districts. Under the single
member scheme, this redistricting would result in a 10-0 sweep for the Democrats, a far cry from

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the proportional 6-4 split. However, this situation is where the power of multi-member districts
comes in to play. If the ten districts are divided into two five-member districts, the picture
changes dramatically. Now, the population in both districts would be split 15 Democrats to 10
Republicans. Under the current winner-take-all system, the Democrats would still win all 10
representatives. However, utilizing a proportional election system, the representatives would be
delegated three Democrats and two Republicans for both districts, a return to the original
proportional 6-4 split. For clarification, see the appendix for a graphic
Without getting bogged down in the numbers, the power of multi-member districts is
easily discernible basically, they entirely paralyze any efforts made to gerrymander. In packing
and cracking districts, the partys efforts would be futile as the degree to which certain districts
are won impacts the representation and returns it to an equitable and proportional breakdown.
One of the most far-reaching implications of multi-member districts is that it does not, in any
way, matter how the districts are drawn. Be they ugly, sprawling monstrosities or compact,
satisfying squares, the multi-member district system ensures nearly representative results. To this
end, politicians can still be responsible for drawing the lines, computer algorithms can be used,
or the nonpartisan commissions can be established. No matter the manner of drawing the lines,
the result will be the same. This aspect of multi-member districts allows for either of the other
two aforementioned approaches (computer generation or nonpartisan commissions) to be
pursued as well, but solely superficially, as the final congressional composition would in no way
depend on the lines.
The use of multi-member districts is a fresh idea for the United States, but Israels
Knesset is comprised of one 120-member district that encompasses the entire nation. There, the
fair representation voting system is implemented and results in a proportional delegation of

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representatives it also diminished polarization and allows minor parties to win seats and have a
say (Salam). Ireland also uses this system, and neither country has faced issues from the multimember district policy. In the United States, the primary complication would be implementation
and changing the electoral process, but once in place, it is fair to assume that there would not be
any unforeseen problems.
In FairVotes proposal of the Ranked Choice Voting Act, they utilize an independent and
supposedly nonpartisan commission of ordinary citizens to draw the districts; however, as
demonstrated, there is no significance as to how the lines are drawn when multi-member districts
are used. Why not, then, use the visually appealing and geographically sensible results of
computer simulation? These districts, maximizing compactness, would be a perfectly reasonable
modification of FairVotes act. In fact, it would actually simplify the process even further
without any adverse effects on the efficacy of the approach.
If measures are not enacted to remedy the issues posed by gerrymandering, the U.S.
could devolve from a simple government shutdown over funding to a system in which the very
tenets of democracy (representation, fairness, and justice) are in danger. A modification of
FairVotes Ranked Choice Voting Act, one in which multi-members are used in conjunction with
computer generated districts, will be effective, equitable, and superior to other approaches. As
demonstrated, it will ensure proportional representation in the legislature and dilute any efforts
made to gerrymander disproportionate congressional representation. This approach is simple,
fair, and unequivocally effective. Multi-member districts have the potential to save American

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A graphic to explain multi-member districts in a fictitious state with a population of 50, broken
down by 20 Republicans and 30 Democrats. For the Democratic gerrymandering, each row is a
district. Under the multi-member district system, each district is five rows.

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Works Cited
Barasch, Emily. "The Twisted History of Gerrymandering in American Politics." The Atlantic.
The Atlantic Monthly Group, 9 Sept. 2012. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Fasman, Jon. "Why Do Politicians Gerrymander?" The Economist. Economist Newspaper, 27
Oct. 2013. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <>.
Frankel, Matthew. "U.S. Congress: Gerrymandering Is the Problem." Up-Front. Brookings
Institution, 15 June 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <>.
Ingraham, Christopher. "This Computer Programmer Solved Gerrymandering in His Free Time."
The Washington Post. Washington Post, 3 June 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Marotta, Sebastian. Can the U.S. Solve Gerrymandering? Wilson Center. Wilson Center, Sept.
2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
"Monopoly Politics." FairVote. FairVote, 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016.

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Obama, Barack. "State of the Union Address." White House. White House, 13 Jan. 2016. Web.
28 Mar. 2016. <>.
Rosenbaum, Eli. "Redistricting Reform's Dead End." The Washington Post. The Washington
Post, 29 Oct. 2005. Web. 30 Mar. 2016. <>.
Salam, Reihan. "The Biggest Problem in American Politics." Slate. Slate Group, 11 Sept. 2014.
Web. 28 Mar. 2016.
Sides, John, and Eric McGhee. "Gerrymandering Isn't Evil." Politico Magazine. Politico, 30 June
2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <>.