Who’s Afraid of STV?

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The other day, I suggested that the single-transferrable vote method they use to elect the Cambridge City Council in Massachusetts might help other cities out with the problematic lack of competition in local elections. Reihan Salam told me that STV “used to be in the model code for cities, and was used (in similar form) in New York city, Cincinnati, and other big cities. It was abandoned due to fear of Communism and the threat (gasp!) of minority mayors.” Well, now that we don’t have to worry about Communism anymore, it seems like more cities should go back to this.

Note that adopting STV needn’t mean that other cities would need to emulate Cambridge (and many other smaller cities) in abandoning strong mayors in favor of a council/manager system where mayor is a mostly symbolic post. The two issues are different and, in general, I think most American cities should have stronger mayors because there’s generally more accountability at that level.

I also actually think that STV could ameliorate some of our gerrymandering issues. Most states could get by with 1-3 multiple-member constituencies which would simply reduce the significance of the precise contours of the district boundaries. People often don’t seem to realize this, but the constitution doesn’t actually mandate that we elect members of congress in the way that we do. Single member constituencies elected with first past the post voting happens to be the method every state uses, but like the proliferation of bicameral state legislatures this is just blind adherence to misguided tradition and not an actual rule.

Photo by Flickr user Allan Patrick used under a Creative Commons license