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Define a "shared" congressional district system to be one where in any district the top two candidates are elected and each get a fractional vote in Congress according to their share of the vote. E.g., three candidates A, B, and C receive 42%, 38%, and 20% respectively. Then A gets 0.525 and B gets 0.475 of a vote in Congress, while C remains unelected.

To extend this to the entire country, current districts are made twice as large, so the total number of representatives does not change. And vote tallying in Congress would require counting fractional votes.

Some possible advantages are:

  • Gerrymandering becomes much less worthwhile, less need to redistrict
  • Fewer people with no local representation, e.g., more Republicans in CA and more Democrats in TX get a voice.
  • Less geographical divide between the parties

Would it take a Constitutional amendment to make it happen?
Could it be done by an act of Congress?

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What you think of is effectively a proportional representation system, except for the twist that different representatives get fractional votes.

  • In some legislatures, at least some votes are secret ballots. With fractional votes, that would be easy to analyze.
  • You are still ignoring the vote of the people who voted for C. This can be desirable, as it prevents undue fragmentation of the legislature, but why divide the votes between the two best candidates, and not three, or four?

I don't know anything about your background, and I might be doing you an injustice, but your idea sounds like a very common failing of Americans thinking about their system on the net -- they see the flaws, but they don't recognize that they have to go back to first principles to solve them (and gain new, different flaws in exchange). Instead they add patches which complicate the relative simplicity of the original system.

Going to first principles might be to "divide" the country into one congressional district. In this district, groups of candidates run for office. As an edge case, such a group can have only one member. (Shall we call them party lists?) The votes are tallied and the seats are divided between the groups according to some formula. (There are several which work.) Up to some rounding errors, the strength of the groups in the legislature represents their share of the popular vote.

Of course there are still problems with that. Voters might like some of the candidates in a group but not all. Partisan divides might be increased as the candidates depend on their group to be let onto the group list -- unless there are still primaries to handle that, which would get quite complicated to handle. There might not be anything remotely like a "local" representative any more.

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  • The US is a big country in population and area. It is considered important to have a local representative who can be held personally responsible for there actions. That responsibility is diluted to nothing in if the US is a single district; representatives become responsible only to their parties instead of voters // Congress rarely votes in secret, much less than once a year, and the result could be reported as a binary or rounded // The US does not have proportional representation, the onus is on the parties and voters to engage in compromise before the election, not after. Sep 13 '18 at 0:47
  • @CraigHicks, that is what I meant by "relative simplicity." The US opted for a first-past-the-fencepost system for good reasons. If they should find better reasons to do something else, they should do it right and not put a patch on first-past-the-fencepost. Re local representation, as a citizen in a PR system I would go with my grievances to the nearest elected representative of the party I did vote for, and not to the representative of my district whom I didn't vote for. This can even be formalized, with with the party caucus making sure that there are town hall meetings in every district.
    – o.m.
    Sep 13 '18 at 4:48
  • You fail to provide an argument as to why pure "single district" PR is better than a "two per district" limited PR. You've simply adopted a slogan "first principles" combined with an attitude of being correct. Oct 5 '18 at 6:34
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    @CraigHicks, if one wants proportional representation, one shouldn't limit that to a system which allows just two parties to have representatives in any one district. The beauty of pure PR is that a 3% or 5% party can get representation in proportion to their strength, so their voice is heard in budget debates and the like.
    – o.m.
    Oct 5 '18 at 14:27
  • Instant runoff systems allow people to write their own party lists.
    – user253751
    Oct 15 '21 at 10:22
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In terms of the Constitutionality of your proposal, it would only require Congress to change the law to enable it.

The section of the Constitution that covers the House (Article I, Section 2) states:

Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, ... The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand, but each State shall have at Least one Representative; ...

There is no minimum number of Representatives specified, just a maximum. The Apportionment Act of 1911 fixed the number at 435, and the Apportionment Act of 1929 defined the method of allocating that number across all the states, but left the intra-state allocation up to each State (which is why each state can draw its own districts).

Since Congress passed the laws which fixed the House size and method of apportionment, it can pass new laws to change them.

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    But can Representatives have votes of different weight? It's never explicitly stated, but the Supreme Court could find that it was understood that each Representative would have one vote of equal value to any other Representative's vote. If there is any controlling precedent, it is more likely to rely on common law than constitutional wording.
    – Brythan
    Sep 12 '18 at 23:01
  • @Brythan - Oh, good question. I didn't consider that angle. Hmm...
    – Bobson
    Sep 12 '18 at 23:09
  • @Bobson - So are you saying the "intra-state allocation up to each State" means any state could implement such a system on its own, but the federal government could not mandate such a system by an act of congress? Sep 13 '18 at 2:22
  • @Brythan Possibly. On the other hand, assuming I'm understanding the proposal correctly, the state itself is choosing to apportion its representatives with some having more votes than others - if the House changes its rules to allow this, it still appears to keep the spirit of the Constitution since the state receives the same total number of votes in the House. I could definitely see the argument that the change goes against any historical precedent. The Supreme Court also tends to avoid ruling on internal Congressional procedures, but they might make an exception since this is fundamental Sep 13 '18 at 2:34
  • @CraigHicks - No, I meant the problem of how each state divides up the electors it's allocated (i.e. the districting process). It's theoretically Constitutional for a state to elect all its representatives "at large", or two-per-district, or any other division. But other laws (such as the Voting Rights Act) may make certain forms of allocation illegal, and no matter what, they'd all be equal in the House without a change in law. I'm still pondering the Representatives-of-different-weight question Brythan posed...
    – Bobson
    Sep 13 '18 at 6:16
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A statute could legalize multi-member districts and proportional representation.

But, I think it would be fair to say that seat sharing would be constitutionally questionable and would probably be unconstitutional. While it isn't banned in so many words, the U.S. Constitution clearly contemplated that each seat in the House and Senate respectively be occupied by one person at a time, until there is a vacancy at which point the vacancy can be filled by a single person.

On the other hand, there is an argument that the constitutionality would be up to the House and the Senate, respectively, to decide, and not the courts, because they are the sole judge of the qualifications and proper election of their members.

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Bobson cleanly laid out what the constitutional requirements on the general election side of things are: namely that it is essentially in Congress' hands assuming that Representatives are still apportioned by states in a manner as allowed by the constitution.

The other question is the constitutionality of Representatives having fractional votes. While it is clearly stated in Article 1, Section 3, Clause 1 of the Constitution that

[...] each Senator shall have one Vote.

I was not able to find a corresponding clause or implication applying to Representatives. At best, there are the provisions of Article 1, Section 5 which hint at it:

Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.

Each House shall keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same, excepting such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy; and the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal.

Neither House, during the Session of Congress, shall, without the Consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days, nor to any other Place than that in which the two Houses shall be sitting.

Clause 1 states that 'a Majority [...] shall constitute a Quorum to do Business' and that 'a smaller Number' has additional powers. Clause 2 speaks of the 'Concurrence of two thirds'. Clause 3 suggests that 'the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question shall, at the Desire of one fifth of those Present, be entered on the Journal' – the second half seems rather clear at counting number of Representatives but the former does not necessarily require their votes to be counted equally.

As I am not a lawyer – even less a constitutional lawyer – I cannot provide a discussion in sufficient depth to conclude whether these provisions allow or disallow Representatives having fractional votes in the House. I can see compelling legal arguments on either side of the issue.

Congress (i.e. mostly the House), obviously, would have the power to pass appropriate legislation or orders of business. However, I believe their constitutionality would be challenged and it would likely be up to the Supreme Court to decide whether it would ultimately be constitutional.

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