When I was younger, I was a great enthusiast for proportional representation (PR). There are a number of PR electoral mechanisms, some of which are more compatible with our political culture than others. Some countries use party lists, either exclusively or through additional member systems that combine single-member constituencies with members drawn from party lists to make overall partisan representation reflect party support in an election. Others allow voters to rank-order individual candidates in multi-member districts, as in Ireland. Some fear that proportional representation necessarily leads to party fragmentation, but much depends on the rules governing elections, e.g., Germany sets a very high threshold to determine whether or not a party is eligible to win seats in a legislature, and this has led to a relatively stable party configuration. My enthusiasm has for the most part died down, though I’ve continued to believe that municipal and state governments ought to experiment with PR.
Recently, Krist Novoselic made the case for proportional representation in congressional elections in Salon, and though he gets some things wrong (he exaggerates the importance of gerrymandering — see the work of Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden on “unintentional gerrymandering“) he reminded me of one of the chief virtues of Irish-style proportional representation in a country like the U.S.: multi-member districts in monolithically Democratic regions like New York city would yield more Republicans than single-member districts do at present, and monolithically Republican regions would yield more Democrats. And so the GOP caucus in the House would include more members who are interested in issues like mass transit.
Josh Barro points us to a new report from David Edmondson and Marc Scribner on one of my favorite subjects — the fact that FRA regulations drive up the cost of U.S. passenger trains, which in turn makes passenger rail less competitive than it might be against other modes of intercity travel. U.S. left-liberals often romanticize rail travel, and in particular high-speed rail travel, while conservatives are often just as reflexively opposed. But this is one area where a focus on cost-effectiveness, regulatory burdens, etc., could change the conversation for the better. This is one reason I was hoping that Kevin O’Toole, a Republican state senator in New Jersey, might consider running for the U.S. Senate. He has been a rare voice for cost-effective transit investment, with a nuanced understanding of the relevant issues. But as our own Robert Costa reports, O’Toole has now bowed out of the October special election, along with most other plausible GOP candidates.
Though Scott Brown was hardly perfect, he did demonstrate the potential appeal of a Republican attuned to the interests of suburban and urban voters in the northeastern U.S. Multi-member districts — pie-in-the-sky though the idea may be — would lead to more Scott Browns in Congress, from New York city, the Bay Area, and other dense coastal regions.