A democracy voters can be proud of

by U.S. Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney

One positive development to come out of the Supreme Court's narrow 5 to
4 decision striking down my majority-black district, is the broader discussion
it has sparked regarding the way we elect members of Congress in general.

Low voter turnout, distrust of elected officials, the term-limits movement, and the increasing desire for a third party are all strong indications that Americans are no longer satisfied with our representative democracy as practiced through the winnertakes-all assumption.

As majority-minority districts across America are targeted for dismantling, many are discovering that oddly shaped super-majority white districts are quite common as well, yet remain unchallenged. This apparent double standard is an indication that the entire method by which we draw congressional districts is flawed.

It is important to remember that majority-minority districts exist only because our winner-takes-all assumption makes it inherently more difficult for African Americans to have representation, due to racial block voting-particularly in the South. Four hundred years of slavery, segregation and discrimination have, without a doubt, created a set of circumstances and interests unique to African Americans. Such interests can rarely be reflected in public policy as long as simple majorities are required to control state power. If we remain wedded to a system which does not employ proportional voting, majority-minority districts will continue to be necessary in order for African-Americans to have a stake in our polity.

Out of all the democracies in the world, only four--including the United States--still rely on the winner-takes-all method of electing public officials. The rest of the world's democracies have discovered that giving 100% of the state's power to the candidate who can secure 50% of the vote plus one, is not equitable.

In its present form, our winner-takes-all assumption -- manifested through a system of single-member districts -- limits voter choice. More often than not, Americans find themselves going to the polls to vote against someone rather than for a particular candidate.

Our current method of electing political leaders lumps a wide range of issues into one platform, forcing voters to cast their only vote in favor of someone who they nominally support on a few issues. I am sponsoring legislation which repeals the 1967 federal statute requiring states to draw single-member congressional districts. This law was intended to prevent the use of at-large districts, which were routinely employed in the South to dilute black voting strength. However, multi-member districts used in conjunction with cumulative voting, preference voting or limited voting, not only preserve the voting strength of racial and political minorities, but increase choices for voters.

Under these three voting methods, voters would have several votes to cast. Moreover, they would be electing more than one officeholder to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives (unlike the current system whereby citizens have only one representative in the lower chamber). If, for example, you liked one candidate's position on taxes and another candidate's position on abortion, you could vote for both and conceivably see both elected. By the same token, you would have the choice of casting all your votes for one candidate-the choice is yours. Such a system would necessarily encourage independent candidates to run, since winning would become more feasible. There is nothing in the constitution which requires us to continue with a winner-takes-all assumption, practiced through single-member districts. In fact, some of these alternative voting methods are currently used in a number of municipalities and counties across the United States.

Cynicism in our political system is at an all-time high while voter turnouts are at record lows. Campaign finance reform and lobby reform are steps in the right direction, yet only solve part of the problem. Americans are a diverse people with diverse interests - how is it that most of us only have two choices on election day?

After the next census, states across the nation will grapple with the Voting Rights Act, and how best to maintain the integrity of black voting strength in the context of the Supreme Court's redistricting decision. However, trimming majority-minority districts will not cure the underlying problem which made these districts necessary in the first place. Such maneuvering will only serve to reinforce suspicions that the shape of some majority-minority districts is being used as a pretext to remove African-American legislators from Congress.

Cynthia McKinney represents Georgia's 11th District, which was ordered redrawn by the Supreme Court. She is sponsoring HR 2545, the Voter's Choice Act, to allow proportional voting in Congressional elections.

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