Should LWVBAE Adopt A Local Study on Proportional Representation?

Should LWVBAE study proportional representation for local elections. Currently,  Berkeley, Albany and Emeryville Councils and School Boards and the Berkeley Rent Board are elected in multi-seat elections where the top vote winners get the available seats. Only the Berkeley City Council has district elections with one person elected to represent each district.

Proportional representation is a voting method for multi-seat elections that assures the majority view wins a majority of the representation, but also assures the view or choice of a substantial minority to win some representation. The LWVBAE Board has approved in principle putting such a local study before the voters at the August 27 “Fall Meeting.”

Many Leagues around the country, both at the state and local level, have taken positions in favor of voting methods that provide for both majority rule and minority representation, known by some as fair representation methods. The Vermont League supports these methods “as a way of achieving both competitive elections and fair representation of both majorities and minorities within a district.”

These methods result in the portion of legislators representing a certain viewpoint equal to the prevalence of that viewpoint among voters, which is why these methods are known as proportional representation.  The Arizona League “supports changing the present election systems so that they more accurately represent the wishes of voters: Adopting the Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) system for single seat races; adopting proportional representation for multi-seat races, specifically Ranked Choice Voting.”

The methods we use to elect  the city councils and school boards in our three cities and the Rent Stabilization Board in Berkeley do not assure majority rule. For all but the Berkeley Council, the top vote winners in one round of vote counting get the available seats. As these winners are not required to have majority voter support, this can result in minority rule on all these bodies.

Berkeley uses ranked choice voting [RCV], also known as instant runoff voting, to elect a single Council member in each district and for Mayor city-wide.  RCV requires the winning candidate to get at least a majority of the vote. LWVBAE and LWV CA policies support this method. While this would seem to provide majority rule, when the council members vote only a majority of all Council members is required to pass a motion.  There is no requirement that a majority of the Council as a whole be elected by a majority of the voters citywide.

In addition to failing to provide majority rule, in the sense described here, none of the voting methods used to elect bodies in Berkeley, Albany, or Emeryville provides fair representation for political minorities. Cambridge, MA, which is a virtual demographic twin of Berkeley, has used proportional representation to provide both majority rule and political minority representation since the 1940s.

Neither LWVBAE, LWVCA nor LWVUS has a policy supporting proportional representation.

If you would like to know more about this issue, you might like to take a look at the Washington State League’s position  because the study materials and consensus report leading to its position are available. Use the links to read the LWVWA Consensus Report, view the graphics used in the study, and read the script used in the study.

Note that fair/proportional election methods are sometimes confused with the parliamentary system. However, rather than an election method, the parliamentary system is a form of government in which the executive branch is appointed by the legislature. In other words, fair/proportional election methods and the parliamentary system are apples and oranges. Fair/proportional methods can be used to elect members to any level of government without changing the structure of that government.

Preston Jordan, Action Director



All League News