Self-described election junkie Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight) has a piece in the NY TImes today bemoaning the failure of the US electoral system to produce competitive elections except as a rare exception.
Sadly, his solution is pretty lame:
The good news for fans of competitive elections is that some of these factors could conceivably be changed through acts of Congress. Congressional districts could be drawn along strictly geographic lines, for instance, or campaign finance laws could be reformed to give incumbents less of an advantage.
Consider his main complaints: the advantage of incumbency, geographically self-sorting voters, and inflexible parties that don’t, for example, permit liberal Republican candidates to run in San Francisco. Certainly Silver is right that campaign finance reform must be part of any solution to the incumbency problem, though he doesn’t bother to point to good examples of such reform at work (Arizona comes to mind). But simple arithmetic demonstrates that redrawing district lines (his other solution) is not going to solve the problems.
The real solution is technically simple, but politically difficult: proportional representation. There are seven or so congressional districts in the San Francisco Bay Area. Conservatives are a relatively small minority of Bay Area voters, but there are no doubt enough of them to elect two or three representatives, with a range of politics, under just about any PR system. Ditto liberals in Texas.
PR isn’t a cure-all. It doesn’t fully address the problem of incumbency advantage, and it’s of no real help for senatorial elections or for states with only one or two House seats. But it’d be a big step forward in giving representation to more voters.