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I Have No Political Representation

We imagine that in a democracy the people are represented because they are allowed to vote. But is that necessarily true? Specifically, do I have political representation at either a state or national level? You might think I am politically represented in some way, since I do live in a country in which we vote for many who hold power. But I can tell you plainly that I do not feel represented at all.

If no congressman I vote for has ever been elected, how am I represented in the congress? This isn’t a hypothetical question by the way. In the 30 years I have been able to vote none of my choices have ever been elected. There are two reasons for this. One is that I sometimes do not bother to vote, because none of the options on the ballot would represent my interests anyhow. If all candidates have very different political goals or ideals than my own, how do I achieve representation by choosing one of them? You might argue that one has to be better than the others, that a Stalin would be better than a Hitler to some extent, but that does not mean that if I choose the lesser of the two or three or ten bad choices I have that I get true representation of my politics.

The second reason I am never represented is that even if there is a candidate I might like, he or she has no chance to ever be in office. I often vote for those who represent political viewpoints that I share, rather than representing regions of the country. These are the outsiders who can never be elected.

You might think that national elections are meant to elect those who make laws for the whole nation, but the representatives in Washington are elected to serve regional interests, or worse, the interests of those who fund their campaigns. The geographical basis of representation is a big reason we have wasteful spending and related problems. Politicians are elected to "bring home the bacon," and so it makes sense for them to pass laws that waste money on projects which benefit employment in their district while being of little value to all the taxpayers who foot the bill across the country. Meanwhile, the expense of elections requires politicians to satisfy the desires of their biggest donors, even if there is no explicit agreement to do so.

I am not entirely pessimistic about the future of the system. Although I do not expect any meaningful changes in my lifetime, it could be different eventually. With the right changes, we could have local officials to handle local issues, state lawmakers look out for the interests of the state, and national legislators serve the whole nation. And who knows; we might even have representation for those of us who do not fit in the two-party system.

Under the current system there can be millions of people who share common political beliefs, and yet never have a representative in Washington. This especially happens if they are neither Republicans nor Democrats, and they are spread across the nation. After all, a libertarian or socialist or green party candidate could have more supporters than any congressman in Washington, but unless those supporters all live in one state or district, that candidate will never be elected.

Now, there are some who have considered relocating in order to bring together enough who share their views, as a way to gain representation. The Free State Project, for example, seeks to have libertarians and other liberty-oriented people move to New Hampshire so that, once critical mass is achieved, they might at least have a say in local and state government, and perhaps a representative in Washington at some point. If the latter goal is ever achieved it will have taken a lot of work just to get one representative they actually want to join the hundreds who make our laws.

I have another suggestion, which is that we move away from geographical representation. It is an outdated way to choose leaders in a world where we move often and have interests beyond the parochial. Here is one example of what we might replace that with...

Elected by Numbers

My solution: Have anyone who can collect 400,000 signatures of registered voters go to Washington and represent those voters. That is a simple enough system to implement in the age of computers. As voters we would get to sign for one person to represent us each six years. With about 210 million people of voting age in the country we could potentially have 525 representatives in this way, but we would more likely have around 400 or so. Also, it could be designed so that any candidate who could not get the required votes could release his or her voters, so we could vote again. In this way we could vote until we got our second or third or fourth choice elected. And I can tell you that my tenth or twentieth choice is still far ahead of any option I see on any ballot now, so I might feel that I am at least somewhat represented under such a system.

Consider this; there might be 4 million people who share some of my basic concerns, and we can get no true representation now, even if we were organized. Four million like-minded people spread across a the United States could not ever get one person elected to the House of Representatives or the Senate. On the other hand, under this new system we could have as many as ten representatives in Washington. Doesn't that seem a bit more just?

That's the barest outline of my idea, but here are a few questions to consider about political representation and how we might actually achieve it:

1. Should we have districts based on geography at all, since they encourage representation of petty local interests over political ideals? Perhaps we could implement the system I suggest for the House and leave the Senate as a geographically-based system.

2. Apart from the system I recommend above, what other ways could we design a democracy to have more representation of people's beliefs and core values rather than representation of matters that are purely local or selfish?

3. If nobody I ever vote for gets into the national government, how am I represented any more than those who broke from England and founded this country because of "taxation without representation?" At what point does this lack of any political representation justify my own separation from the current system? (And if I do not find any system that I feel is just, am I obligated to choose the lesser of evils and obey, or do I have the right to be free as I define the concept?)

4. If I do not have any interest in having special laws to benefit primarily the district in which I live (I do not care about the pork they bring here), do I have no right to representation on any other basis? Isn't that the situation now?

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Political Representation