Ultimate Partisan Effect: the Barrier to Good Government Reforms

How do we talk about reforms that make government more effective, and that better represent the people overall, without being swayed by likely partisan effect? For Moe Lane (of HotAir and RedState), the answer is… we don’t.

This poor stewardship is sadly common among not just the far right, but the far left, too, and it’s something we should all struggle to escape. Both sides will often find themselves the beneficiaries of peculiar legal artifacts — especially in election law — that just no longer make sense. These will often distort the effects of elections in a particular party’s favor: but when we encounter them, it’s the former quality, not the latter, that should grab our attention.

Instant runoff voting (IRV, here called “alternative voting”) is an ideal example. In IRV, voters select their candidates in order of preference: first X, but if X loses Y, but if Y loses Z, and so on. Functionally, this eliminates the “wasted vote” — it also entirely eliminates the “split the vote” strategy of winning an election. Under IRV, but not first-past-the-post systems, a clear majority can win even if the ideological bloc finds itself too fractured to solidify behind a single candidate, because voters can select first one faction, then the other, and so on.

In England, this could amount to perpetual domination by the left (assuming Labour + LibDem > 51%). That’s a tough blow to the Tories, but it’s not clear to me why they entitled to anything more. Regardless of the merit of any of Britain’s parties, we should all agree that parties shouldn’t be allowed to win (and maintain) by gamesmanship what they could not in the absence of rules that distort electoral outcomes away from the majority’s policy preference.

New York has similar issues. It’s an open secret that the state Senate — more so than most other state houses — is not a representative body, thanks to forty-plus years of pro-Republican gerrymandering. In the absence of distortion — to wit, smaller districts upstate, larger districts downstate, prisoners counted where imprisoned in the north rather than at home in the south — the state would have around two fewer “conservative” districts, and two more “liberal” districts. And soon it will, since we finally have a governor with the stones to stand up to the Senate and force judicially-brokered reapportionment.

We’ll win this round. But I would like to think we would support a more representative system, even if it meant Republican control. It’s something to remember.


  1. “We’ll win this round. But I would like to think we would support a more representative system, even if it meant Republican control.”

    Oh yeah – I’m sure it would have been at the top of your agenda : )

  2. Just to clear up some confusion, AV in Britain is not really a “Left vs. Right” issue (especially since (pace Moe Lane) the Liberal Democrats is not a left-wing but a centre party) – it’s more of a “Tories plus a substantial part of Labour vs. the Liberal Democrats and most of the other minor parties plus in theory the remainder of Labour” issue.

    FPTP really favours both of the two big parties more or less equally because they can reasonably expect that one of them will come out of an election with enough MPs to form a single-party majority government. Introducing AV, on the other hand, would probably in effect put an end to single-party majorities, something that would mostly benefit the LibDems and put them in a position for the foreseeable future as a sort of kingmaker party that could join coalitions with either side.

    While I’m a LibDem guy myself, I’m not really convinced giving them that much power would really be a good thing. I’d much rather see a true proportional voting system that would allow not just LD, but a number of other third parties to gain representation – get a bit more competition into the Commons, as it were.

  3. True PV would be lovely; and I think I’m stuck in a 2005 mindset with the LibDems. I remember them as the only ones (outside of a few rogue MPs) willing to stand up to Blair on the Iraq War.

  4. Instead of Senate Districts, in Australia we use single transferable voting. It really depends on what you want to do with a Senate. If you want it representative of the State as a whole, it is not a bad way to go.

    Traditionally of course, with the UK House of Lords and the Roman Senate, it was used to protect the aristocracy against the overwhelming majority of plebs (well the voting population at least, a small minority of the population as a whole) who ruled the lower houses.

    At the moment it sounds like you are mearly replicating the lower house again the the upper house by having them represent districts, in which case it is almost a redundent body.

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