While the Americans agree that the current two-party system is broken, I have not heard any real voices on changing it in any State. States like California, New York or Texas, which send large Congressional delegations, could easily afford switching to a proportional representation system leaving the personal elections only for Senators. Why hasn't it been considered?

Edit: I do not consider redistricting a solution to the problem. The question is not about how to allow the people who want to get elected create a district where that can happen, but why the Americans don't want to consider an alternative system where they can have more than 1 seat for grabs at any given constituency, thus allowing broader range of opinions to be represented. Similarly, one would also co-relate this question to the question of why we still have the Electoral College, when there's no excuse left for its existence other than the convenience of the current political establishment. While in the 18th century one would understand the need for redistricting and indirect elections, in the 21st - there's no real need for it, yet there's no real conversation about the alternatives.

  • @littleadv I would say that this is the point of redistricting. To make districts so that this does not happen (or so that it happens to a minimal extent)
    – soandos
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 1:28
  • Whoever downvoted the question - why?
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 20:22
  • I didn't downvote, but I am voting to close as a duplicate of politics.stackexchange.com/a/689/23 Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 21:23
  • 3
    @AffableGeek while the question you linked to has the word "proportional" in it, that is not the same question. I'm asking about the Congressional delegation.
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 27, 2013 at 21:40

4 Answers 4


Current law

It's currently illegal. Under current election law, districts have to only have one representative.

There was a period where states were using at-large districts where everyone in the state could vote for every Representative. So if California used that for all its Representatives, each person could vote for fifty-three candidates. If 50% plus one voters all picked the same fifty-three candidates, their picks would get all the seats. So in current California politics they'd go from mostly Democrats with some Republicans to all Democrats.

At the time that this was a problem, Southern states were using them so that African-American voters would get no candidates of their choosing. Court cases and other hijinks ensue. Currently single candidate districts are mandated in federal election law. So that law would have to change so as to allow states to choose proportional representation in multi-candidate districts.

Institutional inertia

The current system disadvantages third parties, which helps the main two parties. This leaves the two main parties unwilling to support this kind of reform. Even if the Democrats make small gains relative to the Republicans, they could still end up losing overall. And the Republicans could lose twice: once to the Democrats and a second time to third parties.

For that matter, in some states, it would be Democrats who would lose twice. Massachusetts and Connecticut have all Democratic delegations. Illinois and Maryland have Democratic gerrymanders.

Alternate reforms

Democrats are committed to redistricting reform by commissions. They believe that nominally non-partisan commissions are easier to promote. They also don't have the same concerns about losses to third parties with commissions.

Party list v. Single Transferable Vote

Party list gives more political power to parties. Instead of voting for candidates, people vote for parties. If a party wins nine seats, nine of its candidates are picked off a list by party leadership. To the good, each party is awarded a number of seats proportionate to its share of the vote. To the bad, people lose the ability to vote for individual candidates. That choice is made by party leaders instead.

Things don't have to work that way. Single Transferable Vote (STV) allows voters to choose their lists. So voters could choose lists that includes multiple parties if they want. Or choose a straight ticket.

Note that when I say STV, I mean the class of methods where a voter lists multiple candidates but only gets one vote. There's also a specific method of working out which candidate gets a particular voter's vote that is called STV. But I don't want to limit to just that one. Any of that class would be suitable.

Party List is easy for voters (just pick a party) and easy to count. About as simple as plurality voting. STV is more complicated. Voters have to prepare a whole list and order it. Counters have to read in every entry on the list and consolidate with other voters.

In any case, people opposing proportional representation can paint it with any of the problems from either solution.

Local representation

Proportional representation groups together multiple districts. For some, the idea of local representation is important. It's still possible to cast your vote for the local candidate with STV, but with geographic districts everyone else is limited to the candidates in the local district. So the most local candidate who wins may be more local.

Majority minority

One of the election reforms created something called a majority minority district. Majority minority districts were a reaction to states spreading out their African-American voters so that there were always more white voters in their voting districts. By mandating that redistricters had to include majority minority districts where possible, the system encouraged districts that African-American candidates could win.

The normal proportional representation system does not have majority minority districts. Instead, all districts are lumped together. That said, there is no reason why a state couldn't be divided into majority and minority seats. In fact, states could have more minority seats under a proportional system, as they aren't limited to just grouping people who live near each other.

The normal argument is that in a proportional system, special handling for minorities is not necessary. If people want to band together to support candidates who have something in common with them, they can. So if women wanted to vote for only other women, they could. If a minority is too small to support a full seat, then that won't help. But the current system can't help in that case either.


It's mostly a combination of institutional inertia and negative perceptions. The negative perceptions reinforcing the institutional inertia. While there are benefits to reform, it's not evident to everyone that the benefits outweigh the challenges.

  • You are comparing party list with STV. But there is a third proportional election method that lacks the problems of these two. The open party list system used in Finland enables candidate choosing and party proportionality with a single vote.
    – Communisty
    Commented Mar 7, 2018 at 12:10

Because there is a general fear in the US that you would end up with the top congressmen picked by the party not necessarily someone who is going to represent your area. The candidates are even more beholden to the party and the problem of partisanship gets worse not better.

Ideally which ever candidate is selected is going to go to congress and represent the best interests of their constituents. If the candidates are selected by the party as a whole for the state then you lose that. For instance regulations that are going to cripple the coal industry were voted against by Democrats from coal mining areas, despite their party's significant support for the measure. If the candidates were selected by the party then even though the candidates were in theory from West Virginia they are effectively from Washington DC and represent the Democratic Party. So instead they support legislation that is going to cripple the people that they are supposed to be representing.

I suspect you would find with in 10 years that most of your congressional representatives chosen by the party would have lived in areas other than those being represented 5 years earlier.

By the way it has been considered and proposed several times at state level including, the Illinois State Constitutional Convention that was called in 1970.

  • Candidates get beholden to party and less to money and special interests.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 14:27
  • 2
    @Christian - The party would be beholden to those interests so it would actually make it much worse. Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 18:08
  • If you look at the party members who decide who get's a seat in a country like Germany which has a strong party system, they aren't driven by special interests. In Germany party congresses at state level make the lists and party of the vote in those party congresses is by indviduals who aren't career politicians.
    – Christian
    Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 19:54
  • @Christian but they already are entrenched in the US. I think it also has to do with it being a multiparty system. That would benefit the US I think Commented Dec 11, 2015 at 20:36
  • 2
    @SoylentGray: I think what Chirstian is trying say here is that the individual elected members of a party are not beholden to vote party line on any bill before them. The trend is that the majority party has a much larger diversity of beliefs while the minority party is much more unified in their belief (by dint of being in safe districts, typically). This makes it slightly easier to block laws they oppose because the Majority must first secure as many votes as possible in their own caucus before shoring up loose areas by flipping some opposition members with a few things they like.
    – hszmv
    Commented Feb 16, 2018 at 20:17

First, the premise of this question is not 100% correct. States have considered proportional representation with respect to their delegations to the Electoral College. Specifically, state level California Republicans had been pushing an effort in the legislature there to assign California's 55 electors by proportion of the popular vote to give them an opportunity to win some votes in a state with 12% of the national population that they haven't had success winning in a generation. Ultimately, California agreed to give their votes to the national popular vote winner, as soon as enough states have done the same to reach a majority of electoral college votes.

However, the reason that no state has considered a proportional approach at the congressional level is because of the nature of redistricting in the United States. However, redistricting is not the solution to getting to a system that is more proportional than the current model, it is explicitly the reason that no state would consider such a model.

In Vieth v. Jubelirer the Supreme Court held that drawing political districts with the sole intent of ensuring that a particular political party was advantaged is perfectly constitutional. In the case two Pennsylvania Democrats challenged the state's Republican controlled state legislature for denying the principle of "one person one vote" to them by ensuring their votes would be less likely to impact their representation in a heavily Republican district. In its ruling the Court ruled the districts Constitutional because political affiliation was not an immutable trait or protected class and there was no criteria for adjudicated a more fair system.

Therefore, in order to move to a proportional representation system, you would need the state officials in charge of drawing congressional districts (traditionally the state legislature) to draw districts against their own interests when it is perfectly legal to blatantly draw them in your favor (so long as you don't do so in such a way as to not explicitly dilute the power of some actual protected class, i.e. race, gender, etc.). Not only that, but given that districts are only drawn once every 10 years, there is nothing to ensure that the wishes of an altruistic legislature of one party will see those decisions respected when the next legislature takes a look at the map.

What states have been doing to combat this problem in such a way as to limit the impact of either political party's influence for the long term is to take the redistricting power away from the legislatures and give it to private non-partisan redistricting commissions. You can see my answer to this question to see a discussion of examples of such proposed commissions in Ohio and California. Some tool like this will need to be put in place broadly before you will see any states begin to move toward a more representative congressional delegation.

  • 2
    Well, you explained well why the politicians are not interested in changing the system. But why the people are not? In California, we can override the politicians by referendums, why has that never come up? Changing electoral collage delegation from state level to district level doesn't change it "winner-takes-all" system. While slightly refined, you can still theoretically have majority vote being ignored, as happened with Gore.
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 18:36
  • 1
    @littleadv California is an example of where redistricting has been taken out of the legislatures hands. See the other question I reference in my last paragraph. As for more broad-base electoral policy change, there is just a lack of will to alter a policy of familiarity. Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 18:39
  • Well, so far I couldn't find any other explanation than that in your last sentence. Basically Americans are too dumb to consider anything other than what they know. I was hoping for some deeper reasoning...
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 18:40
  • 2
    Sometimes the truth really is just that simple. Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 18:42

I would posit that while the two party system may broken (and I am not sure that everyone would agree with that), the cause is not proportional voting (or the lack thereof).

The problem that you mention is meant to be solved through redistricting. This will enable effectively proportional representation (where the number of representatives from each party approximately represents the votes that they got, but is not apportioned that way).

The only way that people will will never "not have a vote" is if either:

  • Every district only has members of a given party
  • In a proportional system, every time there is a vote, it works out to exactly the required fractions (so that no votes are wasted going over or under that amount).

Any method you pick (other than direct democracy) will have these kinds of problems. They are not the fault of the two party system (as they would exist with 3 or 4 parties as well) and the problem that you mention in the comments is effectively unavoidable.

  • I understand that its unavoidable, but to what extent? In my (Democrat) district, the Republican candidate got ~35% of the votes. Similarly in the neighboring districts. I can't think of any redistricting that would allow a single district with a Republican majority around here, so there's 1/3 of the people in the area who have no representation. I understand that we will have 2-5-10% unrepresented in any system. But current system allows significant population not to be represented at all. Also, redistricting is done by politicians. See the Virginia redistricting last week as an example.
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 1:44
  • I asked a related question where the answer shows that it is possible to create such districts so that it can work (a truely wierdly shaped district scroll to the picture of NC's 12 district). The redistricting process may be broken, but it is not a problem with the idea of redistricting, just its implementation.
    – soandos
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 1:50
  • 2
    so you're basically saying "that's what we know, so we don't want to try anything else", right? I know there has been a discussion on the topic, yet it has never been picked up on any legislative level. You didn't really answer my question, as to why it has never happened...
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 1:52
  • Not what I am saying. I am saying that both system have the problem that you mentioned (which you might want to edit into your question). Switching does not fix that problem. If there are other reasons that you thing the proportional system should be considered, please edit that into the question.
    – soandos
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 1:54
  • switching will definitely fix the problem of bi-partisan extremism. It will also definitely mitigate the problem of non-representation. It is not true that the systems are equal in the effectiveness of the representation, so your assumption is incorrect.
    – user1413
    Commented Jan 25, 2013 at 1:56

You must log in to answer this question.