Single-member district

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This page hopes to show examples from both sides of the argument over how effective single member districts actually are. Through this page we hope to unbiasedly represent what a single member district is, the historical relevance, conflicting view points, and actual single member district results.

History[edit]

It is a common misconception that single-member congressional districts in America were established at the creation of the country. The move towards mandatory single-member districts occurred midway through the 19th century as a result of the Apportionment Act of 1842. This pivotal shift in the American political system was influenced by the factors of self-interest and historical tradition, both key characteristics of American bureaucracy. The influence of self-interest is a great significance since the reform ultimately came about through a divided Whig Party (United States) party hoping to maintain its control in United States Congress.

Before 1842 the Electoral College (United States) system allowed for states to choose whether they would elect their representatives through multimember districts, commonly used by smaller and mid-sized states like Connecticut or Georgia, or single-member districts mostly used larger states like New York or Ohio. Larger states did often utilize multimember electoral systems when representing urban centers such as New York City and Philadelphia.[1] Among the states using multimember districts it was not uncommon for elections to result in complete partisan sweeps. During this time period up to 25% of seats held in Congress were won through multimember elections. This same time period saw the formation of two political parties, the Whigs and the Democratic Party (United States). Both parties were fully solidified major parties by 1840 and had candidates running in almost all districts across the country. Leading up to this point third party candidates had been capturing seats in multimember districts but winning was almost impossible in single-member districts. Also with bother major parties clearly established during the two years leading up to 1842 only 4 third party candidates ran for house seats, none of which received more than 2% of the vote. With essentially no challenge from third parties it effectively rules out the Apportionment Act of 1842 as a tool to silence independent and third party candidates.

Historical tradition is necessary to understanding America's shift to single-member districts because the Unites State's legislature is greatly influenced by British thinkers and seemingly has spawn from the governmental structures establish in the colonies. These traditions seem to stretch back much further as we understand that single-member districts for Parliament have their roots in the feudal method of community representation when dealing with critical issues.[2]

The major influence in Americas move to single-member districts comes from the Whig parties own self-interest. From the formation of the two major parties the Democrats always were the more powerful until the 1840 election where the Whigs locked up the White House and finally took control of congress. What seemed to be a secure hold to power would become a desperate scramble to keep it. President William Henry Harrison died that same year leaving Vice President John Tyler to succeed. Tyler, a former Democrat and now President under the Whig party, vetoed two bills passed by the Whig's Congress that would have created a national bank. If this were not enough to divide the party Tyler's entire cabinet quit and his parties congressional delegation adopted a manifesto claiming him of abandoning and betraying the Whig Party. While struggling to keep its constituency together in Washington the Whig party faired even worse at the state level. Following the failure of the national bank bills support for the party at the state level saw a rapid decline during the 1840-41 election cycle. The losses were even more critical since the state legislatures were to begin drawing up the new districts following the 1840 United States Census and with the Whigs soon to be out of power the Democrats looked prime to take control of Congress and majority of the state legislatures.

With a loose grip on power in Congress and possibility of being taken out of power completely in some states the Whig's acted as any political party in this situation would and tried to hold onto their power. Interestingly though this attempt to maintain control required altering the American electoral process. When it came to two-party races in states that had one multimember district it was the Democrats who usually came out on top.[3] This was due to the fact that most Americans still lived in rural environments and fell more politically aligned with the Democratic party, while the lesser urban population tended to lean more towards the Whig party. By passing the Apportionment Act of 1842 and enacting the single-member district mandate the Whig party gained back some stability by weakening the rural vote and greatly strengthening the urban one. And additionally altered the United State's political system by setting forth an electoral system that has been held in place ever since. [4]

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Federal[edit]

The United States Congress first imposed single-member congressional districts on the states in 1842. Supporters argued that single-member districts would ensure fair representation of every viewpoint, majority or minority. The goal was to make Congress a "mirror of the people." Despite some negative issues and the United States Constitution's silence on methods of election, federal law continues to treat the single-member district system as the preferred method for electing candidates at all levels of government, with legislators and judges still charmed by the failed vision of Senator Jacob W. Miller's innovation in 1842.[7]

State[edit]

At the state level electoral systems are a much more contentious issue, one that often deals with racial issues denying minorities equal opportunities for representation and governmental malpractice by the use of gerrymandering. Unlike federal elections, States maintain the right to elect their state officials be which ever electoral system they choose. State level legislature and elections also provides a much clearer and closer look at the actual difference in outcomes that multimember and single-member districts provide.

Minorities Issues[edit]

Misrepresentation of minorities has been an issue of American electoral systems as long as Americans have been voting. Over the years the United States has made many attempts to curb these practices with the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and even later the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, making it illegal for states to deny men the right to vote because of race, was one of the first major attempts help the increase minority representation. The first responses to this attempt at fair representation were openly violent attacks by groups like the Klu Klux Klan. The governments response was the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1871 to ensure that victims of these crimes based on race would be heard in federal courts rather than local ones. In the continuation of states attempting to hinder minority representation Southern states ultimately adopted so-called Jim Crow Laws, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses that put severe limits on African American suffrage for decades.[8]

It was not until the passage of the Voting Rights Act that Jim Crow Laws were made completely illegal. Immediately following the passage of the VRA, for example, many local jurisdictions in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Mississippi switched to winner-take-all, at-large elections essentially making it possible for minorities to vote in elections but having not legitimate effect on who is elected.[9] In the wake of multiple city riots and a large about of community out roar, the federal government stepped in imposed requirements that states use single-seat districts in a move to create a better, more actual representation of minority communities.

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Local[edit]

Austin 10-1 District Map (green colors)

At the local level, single-member districts are thought of as the best way to have adequate representation based on demographic diversity. One of the most persistent findings by scholars of urban politics is that single-member district elections increase descriptive representation of underrepresented urban populations.[13] Much like congressional house districts, each district is drawn in order to best represent the people in the area of which the boundaries are drawn. Austin, Texas recently voted to switch their city council representation model to the single-member district model. In this case, the candidates do not run based on party affiliation which allows candidates to run on issue-based initiatives regardless of political party politics that can sometimes convolute elections.

Contentious Viewpoints[edit]


With the exception of local level, single-member districts generally operate their representation on a party system. One of the most common disputes about single-member districts based on political party representation is the propensity for ideological extremism in a nation that operates on a two-party system. Some scholars believe that representatives in in a multi-member district are more likely than representatives of a single-member district to reside on the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum.[14] Other scholars contend that in single-member districts, parties that do well tend to moderate, while parties that do poorly tend to move to the extreme. These same scholars similarly agree that this extremism within the single-member district model when a candidate from a party that is doing poorly then runs for re-election, these incumbents pull their party further to the extreme.[15] Conversely, there are those who believe that a small constituency with a single member, as opposed to a large, multiple-member one, encourages a strong connection between representative and constituent and increases accountability.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Tamas, B. I. (2006). A Divided Political Elite: Why Congress Banned Multimember Districts in 1842*. New Political Science, 28(1), 23-44. doi:10.1080/07393140500518166 A divided political elite: why Congress banned multimember districts in 1842
  2. ^ Tamas, B. I. (2006). A Divided Political Elite: Why Congress Banned Multimember Districts in 1842*. New Political Science, 28(1), 23-44. doi:10.1080/07393140500518166 A divided political elite: why Congress banned multimember districts in 1842
  3. ^ Tamas, B. I. (2006). A Divided Political Elite: Why Congress Banned Multimember Districts in 1842*. New Political Science, 28(1), 23-44. doi:10.1080/07393140500518166 A divided political elite: why Congress banned multimember districts in 1842
  4. ^ Richie, Rob and Spencer, Andrew. (March 2013). 47 U. Rich. L. Rev. 959, * University of Richmond Law Review. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  5. ^ Adams, G. D. (1996). Legislative effects of single-member vs. multi-member districts. American Journal Of Political Science, 40(1), 129.Legislative Effects of Single-Member Vs. Multi-Member Districts
  6. ^ Tamas, B. I. (2006). A Divided Political Elite: Why Congress Banned Multimember Districts in 1842*. New Political Science, 28(1), 23-44. doi:10.1080/07393140500518166 A divided political elite: why Congress banned multimember districts in 1842
  7. ^ Richie, Rob and Spencer, Andrew. (March 2013). 47 U. Rich. L. Rev. 959, * University of Richmond Law Review. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  8. ^ Richie, Rob and Spencer, Andrew. (March 2013). 47 U. Rich. L. Rev. 959, * University of Richmond Law Review. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  9. ^ Richie, Rob and Spencer, Andrew. (March 2013). 47 U. Rich. L. Rev. 959, * University of Richmond Law Review. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  10. ^ Morgan, R. P. (2004). Some Consequences of Court-Mandated Single-Member Districts. Conference Papers -- American Political Science Association, 1-29. doi:apsa_proceeding_29273.PDF
  11. ^ Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr., Brian E. Russell and Christopher A. Cooper. Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jun., 2004), pp. 337-344 Legislative Representation in a Single-Member versus Multiple-Member District System: The Arizona State Legislature
  12. ^ Trounstine, J., & Valdini, M. E. (2008). The Context Matters: The Effects of Single-Member versus At-Large Districts on City Council Diversity. American Journal Of Political Science, 52(3), 554-569. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2008.00329.x The Context Matters: The Effects of Single-Member versus At-Large Districts on City Council Diversity
  13. ^ Trounstine, J., & Valdini, M. E. (2008). The Context Matters: The Effects of Single-Member versus At-Large Districts on City Council Diversity. American Journal Of Political Science, 52(3), 554-569. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5907.2008.00329.x The Context Matters: The Effects of Single-Member versus At-Large Districts on City Council Diversity
  14. ^ Lilliard E. Richardson, Jr., Brian E. Russell and Christopher A. Cooper. Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jun., 2004), pp. 337-344 Legislative Representation in a Single-Member versus Multiple-Member District System: The Arizona State Legislature
  15. ^ Ansolabehere, S., Leblanc, W., & Snyder, J. (2012). When parties are not teams: party positions in single-member district and proportional representation systems. Economic Theory, 49(3), 521-547. doi:10.1007/s00199-011-0610-1 When parties are not teams: party positions in single-member district and proportional representation systems