Pun Salad Crackpot Proposal: Congressional "Fairness" Reform

(A Pun Salad Rerun)

[Pun Salad is in "Greatest Hits" mode for a few days. I'm kind of proud of this crackpot idea from last April. Unfortunately, there's been no interest from anyone who might actually have enough pull to put it on the table for discussion.]

Awhile back, this article in Quanta caught my eye: How to Quantify (and Fight) Gerrymandering. Specifically, this bit (emphasis added):

Partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge — is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional.

My gut reaction: Unfair?! Hey, I'll tell you about unfair!

I live in New Hampshire Congressional District 1. The November election results were:

Candidate Party Votes Percent
Carol Shea-Porter Democrat 161,828 44.2%
Frank C. Guinta Republican 157,011 42.9%
Shawn O'Connor Independent 34,612 9.4%
Robert Lombardo Libertarian 6,842 1.9%
Brendan Kelly Independent 6.046 1.7%

At least for the purposes of this post, I don't want to get into the details, personalities, and parties of my oddball district. Instead, let's concentrate on fairness, and what it means to have a "representative democracy", at least for the purposes of the US House of Representatives.

To wit: Carol Shea-Porter now sits in the 115th United States Congress, with one whole vote therein. But it's clear from the table: she only "represents" a minority of voters in her district. A large minority, but still.

Specifically: she does not represent me, in any meaningful sense. (I voted Libertarian, if that matters.) I don't bother to write her about my views on the issues, because she doesn't have any interest in representing me. I'm alienated from the political process, and everyone tells me that's a bad thing!

I submit to you, reader, that this is the great unfairness of our current system, far greater than the kvetching about gerrymandering. It's winner-take-all, and everyone else can just go hang.

So here's my crackpot notion, which would require some Constitutional tinkering: Any candidate for the US House of Representatives who receives greater than 1% of the popular vote in the general election shall be entitled to a vote in the House equal to the fraction of the vote he or she receives.

So, if the 2016 election had been held under that system, and the same result obtained: instead of Carol Shea-Porter casting 1.00 vote, she would instead be entitled to cast a mere 0.442 votes on the House floor. Guinta would have 0.429 votes. O'Connor, Lombardo, and Kelly would submit 0.094, 0.019, and 0.017 votes respectively.

Let's also assume that Congresscritter salaries are also in proportion to their votes.

Yes, this would greatly expand the size of the House, probably by a factor of between 2 and 3. This is more of an infrastructure issue than anything else, and arrangements could be made for secure remote voting.

Members not happy with their fractional vote and salaries can quit. Or just not show up for work. This isn't Russia, after all. But don't bother wasting the voters' time in the next election.


  • As long as their candidate got above that 1% threshold, people would have someone in office they thought of as "their representative", decreasing political alienation.

  • Conversely, the elected representatives would have a greater incentive to pay attention to (i.e., actually represent) the people who voted for them.

  • Citizens residing in overwhelmingly "blue" or "red" districts are probably marginally discouraged from voting under the current system. Why bother, when the outcome is foreordained? Under this proposal, they'd have more incentive to get to the voting booth. Maybe even more of an incentive to get informed on issues of interest.

  • Gerrymandering becomes much less of an issue (and my guess it would be negligible), since just about everyone gets "represented".

Note: this scheme wouldn't apply to the Presidency. We can only have one President, not (say) a mixture of half-Trump and half-Hillary. (That would be scary, though.)

Nor would it apply well, I think, to the US Senate: Senators represent states, not people.

And I don't have any smart ideas how this would play out in House procedures, like committee assignments and the like. My hand-waving impulse would be to treat a district's representatives as a unit for the purpose of committees. So instead of having Shea-Porter with 1.00 vote in the House Armed Services Committee, it would be (again) Shea-Porter, Guinta, O'Connor,... with 0.442, 0.429, 0.094, ... votes respectively.

The natural question: how would that have worked out in the 2016 election? I found a handy spreadsheet that had election results for all 435 Congressional districts. Unfortunately, it only shows Democrat, Republican, and "Other" percentages, and I'm not sure how accurate it is. (It shows Shea-Porter with 45.8%, Guinta with 44.4%, "Other" with 9.8%, which doesn't exactly match the official totals.) But if we add up the fractions, it's bad news for Republicans. Under the Pun Salad proposal:

Party Vote
Democrat 212.810
Republican 209.439
"Other" 12.736

I.e., the Democrats have a slight edge over Republicans in this alternate-fact universe, but not a majority. (Totals don't quite add to 435.00 because of rounding.)

But I hasten to say: if the election had been held under this scheme, the voting incentives would have looked a lot different, so too the results.