For 150 years, supporters of proportional representation (PR) have advocated its adoption in the United States. While there has been little success convincing members of Congress to consider electoral reform, the initiative process offers a path to overcome legislative opposition at the state level. Convincing voters to support PR, however, presents its own challenges. Voters would be asked to weigh the case for PR against claims it fosters extremist parties, fragmentation of the party system, and legislative gridlock. Since the burden of proof rests with those seeking change, and initiative voters have historically been risk averse, electoral reform may benefit from an incremental approach.

I recommend "multiparty direct democracy" (MDD), an initiative reform proposal that would also serve as a step toward PR. By incorporating the principle of proportional representation into direct democracy, MDD would create an alternative method of ballot qualification for political parties' initiatives. Rather than collecting signatures, each party would receive ballot access for a number of statutory initiatives proportional to its support among voters. Although this would increase the number of initiatives on the ballot, voters could rely on partisan cues to make competent decisions.

MDD would provide many benefits of multiparty democracy, reward parties for finding common ground, and give new parties incentives to form. Voters would be free to express support for minor parties without the disincentives of plurality elections. This would create a multiparty system outside the legislature, providing a preview of the legislative party system voters could expect from adopting PR. By helping voters and parties get accustomed to multiparty democracy, MDD would lay the groundwork for any future PR proposal.

Timothy.pngAbout the author, Timothy Vande Krol: After serving in the U.S. Navy, I received a degree in philosophy and history from Cal Poly Pomona. I live in Anaheim, California. If you have any questions or comments about this proposal, please contact me.

cknowledgments: This proposal was presented at the 34th Annual CSU, SSRIC Student Research Conference and the symposium on California Direct Democracy: The Next 100 Years. I am very grateful to Joe Mathews for inviting me to participate in the symposium, and for his excellent summary of MDD.