Friday, July 09, 2010


My Blind Spot

I have discovered that I have a blind spot. I don't mean the defective vision in my left eye. I mean that I have been unaware of the influence that a disdain, if not actual dislike, of political parties has on the political thinking of average Americans who, unlike me, are not dedicated to one of the political parties.

For most of my voting life I have voted for Democrats. Exceptions include Norman Thomas, Charlie Montgomery, and Huston Flournoy. In 1948 I was convinced that Truman was a sure loser and I voted for Norman Thomas, as did many of my friends. When Truman won, we were ecstatic. Charlie Montgomery was a family friend in Michigan who was running for Tyrone Township Drain Commissioner in 1944, the only time I voted in Michigan. He was a Republican but I voted for him. I don't know who was running against him. Perhaps he was the only candidate. Tyrone Township Drain Commissioner is not a very important position. Once in California I voted for Huston Fluornoy, a Republican. I think he was running for State Controller. Alan Cranston was also running for the position as the incumbent but he was plagued by a scandal involving the appointment of political friends as estate inheritance appraisers.

I was discussing the new scheme in California for drawing the boundaries of legislative districts this morning with some friends. We also discussed a proposition to be on the ballot in November to repeal the scheme and give the job back to the legislators. Now I agree that the process of letting legislators draw their own district lines reeks of conflicts of interest if not outright corruption. I expressed my satisfaction at a recent poll that indicates that the voters will probably reject the proposal to abolish the system before it is even tried. I then said that I would prefer a much more advanced change, one that takes advantage of many years experience in such countries as France, Germany, Israel, and Russia. I would like to see some sort of proportional representation adopted under which each political party, large or small, gains members in a legislature in proportional to the fraction of voters for that party in the election. I believe, for example, that Israel, being a very small country, does not elect the 120 members of the Knesset from individual districts as we do. Apparently every party nominates as many candidates as it pleases, but no more than 120. Voters vote by party. Each party then is represented in the Knesset according to its percentage of the vote in the election.

To apply this scheme to California, we should enlarge the Assembly to at least 200 members. Let there be 40 election districts, each one electing five members. These five would be apportioned according to the party vote in the district - or something that would produce a similar result. I advocate using instant run-off voting to choose the five most popular candidates to represent the district.

Years ago there was a commission set up to study the California constitution and to recommend changes. Afterward I asked one of the members of the commission, Erwin Chemerinsky, why the commission had not proposed proportional representation. He replied that it was too radical an idea for the people of California. Now, this was Erwin Chemerinsky, not some Republican or Democratic party hack. He has been reviled and defended as being a very "liberal" person in his political thinking. Even he thought that the American public was not ready to think about such things as proportional representation.

So, here's my blind spot. I can understand the attachment that Americans have to our system of single-member districts. That's what we've always had. What I can't understand is their reluctance even to think about a system that would provide better representation to minor parties, such as the Greens, the Peace and Freedom Party, the Libertarian Party, the American Independent Party, the Socialist Party, and so on. It occurred to me this morning that my blind spot is that I can not imagine not preferring one of these political parties. However, the same polls that give me happy news about reforming the legislature, not rejecting the commission method of setting legislative boundaries, and rejecting the proposal to delay the implementation of the Global Warming Solutions Act also shows that a majority of Americans do not care for any political party. Since Americans disdain parties, it is understandable that they would have no interest in proportional representation.

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