Direct Representation

   Big Picture

How does Direct Representation fit into the big picture?

DR is one of three major voting systems that constitute the future of democracy. Because governments usually change in increments, it will probably be the last of the three to be enacted.

The Evolution of Democracy

Instant Runoff
for chief
executives only
for councils,
boards only
Instant Runoff Voting
IRV is a method that fairly, accurately and efficiently determines a majority winner from a list of two or more candidates. It does this by having voters rank candidates. Votes are counted in rounds, according to the highest valid rankings. After each round, the last-place winner is eliminated. An alternative tallying method uses voters' rankings to conduct all possible one-on-one elections, and eliminates the weakest victories until one candidate beats all others.

IRV is most appropriate for inherently single-winner elections: presidents, governors, mayors, and other executives. It is not appropriate for use in multi-winner races because it excludes political minorities from participation in government. It is still better than district plurality voting, which can exclude political majorities, but other systems work better for multi-winner races.

Proportional Representation
PR is a term for a widely used set of methods designed so that different constituencies receive a voice in government equal to their fraction of the population. Its purest form is very similar to an IRV system that selects the top few winners rather than just one. Candidates who exceed a winning threshold (1/3 of votes in a two-seat election, 1/4 of seats in a 3-seat election, etc.) have the excess fraction of their votes transferred to next choices. This ensures that all representatives represent a similar number of people, in principle.

PR is most appropriate for councils and boards with 2-8 members, and for choosing committees within a legislature. For larger bodies, Direct Representation works better. PR still leaves most power in the hands of parties and contributors, does not provide a clear accountability link between voters and legislators, and does not give everyone's vote an incremental effect. However, it is vastly better than legislative elections based on single-member districts.

Direct Representation
DR is most appropriate for deliberative bodies with a medium to large number of members. For very small bodies, the barrier to entry of new members becomes large, and the ratio of proxies held by the most and least powerful members becomes small. But for larger bodies, DR allows voters to fully take advantage of the power of choice available to them.

A proposed variation on PR called interactive representation does not transfer excess votes, but instead gives each representative voting power proportional to their number of votes. This system would be a good alternative to DR if it were necessary to have districts that elect a small number of members. However, it still suffers from the drawbacks associated with limiting voters' choice and with making collective decisions. These drawbacks are serious enough to warrant elimination of districts and use of Direct Representation.

The Second Wave

  There is one more evolutionary process not shown in the diagram above: the gravitation of power toward systems that give voters more choice. Currently, the US presidency is more competitive than nearly all congressional races. As a consequence, the president is entrusted with setting the overall legislative agenda - a task not appropriate for an executive elected by plurality or majority vote. With a DR legislature that we can be confident in, we can let power shift to that body and allow the president to become primarily a figurehead and administrator. City councils and county boards can be expanded so they can use DR. This second wave of power shifting toward voters would amplify the benefits of reform.

Comparison Chart

# Choices
  who has most choice   incumbent party,
link between
voter & rep
  correlation between  
  voter & rep ideology  
very lowmediumhigh
chance your vote
has an effect
extremely lowlowhigh
power flow