Our Cities Need Proportional Representation
Just one party is now in full control at the local level in most of the United States
The entire world knows that the United States has a two party system; the Constitution more or less ensures it that way. But few people realize that just one party is occupying all the seats in most of our cities and counties. That is something the US Constitution does not require; it even allows proportional voting at the local level, but this was never tried anywhere in the United States. How come we have a one-party system in place at the local level?
We vote in districts, so just one person ends up representing an entire collective area. Electing our representatives in districts restricts us therefore in two ways. First, the majority of voters pick the person who gets the single seat collectively, and up to 49.9% of the individual voters can therefore end up empty-handed, un-represented. Second, there is not much choice to choose from; the local political Machine grooms the batch of candidates, ensuring its control over all the seats in a city.
At the local level we do not have a world famous democracy: we have one-party control. Some places do have more than one party occupying the seats, but they are few and far in between. Consider yourself lucky already if you live there, because everywhere else group-think influences the local outcome in infrastructure, transit, education, care facilities, and more.
Because we vote collectively in districts at the local level, we end up with one overall political entity who gets all the seats. It is like going to the store, where you may have some choice what product to buy. But you cannot go to another store, because there is no other store. We show you how to remove collective, district voting in your city on this site.
Basically, there are two democratic voting systems: our system of picking one candidate collectively per district, and the other system of individuals picking all candidates in one overall election and cutting up the single pie of seats based on that outcome of individual choices. These two systems are different already when there are just two seats in total. The visual shows two separate races in two districts to the left, while to the right a single overall race is shown in which two seats are decided through Proportional Voting.
In district elections, a candidate can win a seat already when the voters collectively deliver this person just one more vote than the runner-up. Whether there are two districts or two hundred doesn't matter: Each district guarantees — with this minimum being 50.01 percent— that a single majority receives its representation.
In proportional elections, shown to the right in the image also repeated below, no preventing forces are at work. Unlike winner-takes-all, the two seats are not voted for in separate districts, but are voted for at the same time within a single overall election. Be aware: in proportional voting, voters get to vote their individual choice just once and only for a single candidate.
In proportional voting, candidate number one can secure a seat with as little as 33.3 percent of the votes. Number two can also get a seat with as little as 33.3 percent of the votes. With 66.67 percent of the voters, two out of three voters are then guaranteed with proportional voting that their candidates represent them at the table of decision makers. Please note that the exact same overall number of voters cast their votes in this example of comparison, showcasing how the outcome of two forms of democracy is distinctly different already when using just two seats.
With voting collectively in districts, the political Machine can end up controlling all seats of your council, because all it needs is a simple majority of voters per district. This doesn't happen out of the blue. Once in control of most seats, the local Machine can prevent to a large degree any competitor getting a seat anywhere in your city or county. Contrast this with Proportional Voting, where no party can ever (as in never) get this kind of control. Two examples are bringing that message home below.
We've taken San Francisco as the US example.
Voters are guaranteed that their political wishes are expressed in the results in San Francisco at 50.01% per district. The eleven seats are shown to the left, elected in eleven separate but collective districts. To the right, Proportional Voting is shown with the same eleven seats on the Board of Supervisors, but here the individual voter counts. See how the minimum number of voters guaranteed to get their pick with eleven seats is 91.67% for proportional voting. More than 9 out of 10 voters can point their finger after the election to the person they voted for on their city council or board; the individual vote counts in proportional voting.
Look at the image below, showing the proportional election result of a municipality in the Netherlands, chosen because it also has eleven seats. Notice how there is nothing unnatural about the outcome. This is how a natural local democracy with eleven seats looks like.
Let's explain the specifics of the shown results. The 2010 election results are shown next to the 2006 results, and the party first shown is a local party that exists in this municipality only; it got four seats in 2010, one more than in 2006; the number shown at the bottom line. The line directly above shows the percentages of voters, while the colored bars also show the percentages of voters per party. The other three parties receiving seats in this proportional example from the Netherlands are parties known at the national level.
Where in 2017 San Francisco has 11 registered Democrats in its eleven seats, the Dutch example shows the more natural outcome. Having all seats be occupied by people from one and the same party is unnatural. It may surprise folks, but in 2004 one in six San Franciscans voted for President Bush. Nowhere is that Republican minority visible on the board. The San Francisco Machine controls the local outcome. In most American cities, either the Democratic or the Republican Machine controls the outcome, superficially delivering us what we want, while firmly controlling all seats.
There is a strange electoral system in use in some places in the United States. It is known as city-wide or at-large elections. While we legally must have one person-one vote elections, in this version voters pick as many candidates as there are seats. Naturally, the outcome is warped because voters are asked to vote in an illogical manner; it's a surprise this system is found in place at all. The alternative system does, however, show that the United States Constitution does not prescribe in detail how we must vote at the local level.
The United States Constitution does describe in the 14th Amendment that we are guaranteed equality before the law. Yet our local voting system is not based on equality. Voters are first separated in districts, and only then declared equal. Separate-but-equal has been ruled unconstitutional for other legal cases in the past, and it looks like we can get this ruling applied to our elections at the local level as well. What follows is the legal aspect of our struggle to receive Equal Representation.
The elections for the Federal level are impossible to change through a simple court decision, since they are prescribed in the Constitution in such a manner that they do not need to provide equality. The Senate is a good example with each state receiving two seats no matter their number of voters. As such, there cannot be a demand for equal representation per voter for the US Senate based on the Constitution, because that's how it is set up: one state, two senators.
At the State level, there appears wiggle room to receive proportional representation, but this will probably be a complicated legal struggle.
For the local levels of City and County, no legal restrictions of our rights are given, and the 14th Amendment is therefore the only prescribed rule in the Constitution that sets the minimum requirement for local elections. From this, it logically follows that we should have local elections based on voter equality with each person casting one vote for a single representative for the entire board or council. Right now, we do not have a system in place that guarantees equality, and as few as 50 percent of the voters (plus one) get all the seats.
Equal representation in the United States is guaranteed by the Constitution, except in those specific locations where it is not. The visual on the left side shows what the Constitution says about voter equality. Though it is not fully clear what the Constitution says about State requirements, it is shown here as a given in the Constitution. To the right, accompanied by the larger pyramid of inequality when including winner-take-all elections at the local level, our current result is shown, with a entrenchment that is seemingly unsupported by the Constitution.
Read more about this visual.
Read more about economic outcomes that differ among the various political systems in the world.
"Two very different ideas are usually confounded under the name democracy. The pure idea of democracy, according to its definition, is the government of the whole people by the whole people, equally represented. Democracy as commonly conceived and hitherto practiced is the government of the whole people by a mere majority of the people, exclusively represented. The former is synonymous with the equality of all citizens; the latter, strangely confounded with it, is a government of privilege, in favor of the numerical majority, who alone possess practically any voice in the State. This is the inevitable consequence of the manner in which the votes are now taken, to the complete disfranchisement of minorities."
—John Stuart Mill, Representative Government, 1861
In nations with Proportional Voting there simply are no losers. All voters have the political freedom to choose and be represented by the specific person and party of their own choice. When there are, for instance, 100 seats, the number of voters guaranteed selecting the representative they want is greater than 99 percent. But as we have seen, the benefit exists already when there are just two seats.
Freedom of choice is what makes politicians listen much better to the voters. Competition makes politicians less able to get away with lies. Proportional Voting diminishes the importance of special interests, because the voters' interests is what counts. Many voters from around the world can vote based on their individual wishes and beliefs; we vote in a district as a collective. While we may not like the outcomes of the Federal level, the worst reality is found at the local level where we find a single party in full control in most places. As soon as our local elections are established on voter equality, the Federal level will see more competition -automatically- as well.
A system of proportional representation,
established by lawyer/mathematician Victor D'Hondt in 1882, realized proposals already delivered by Thomas Jefferson in 1792. The calculations are based on a simple algorithm that dispenses
seats according to the voters' wishes. Voters
in other nations enjoy these fruits of labor. To bring the message home: A basic color copier
has more colors than our political system. At the local level, our political outcomes are overwhelmingly monochromatic.
The image to the left shows an example of the system we use to
select our representatives. Notice how yellow never wins in any of the outcomes. While it may be strong in some respects, it delivers
tell-tale shortfalls in areas that do get addressed in other nations using the system of full representation to the right; we therefore invite
you to join us in making our politicians work for all of us again in the worst spot: the local level.
Proportional Voting makes equality go hand in hand with our own democratic ideals, something currently not available to us. By implementing Proportional Voting in our cities, we will liberate ourselves and start enjoying having three or four parties. We don't need 20 parties, but establishing voter equality at the local level guarantees that we are no longer stuck with just red or blue.
Are you interested in starting your own Local Party? Read about it and contact us.
Have a look at Local
Party's Political Tour to find out more about the peculiar outcomes
of political systems, and read about the three basic differences in democracies: 2 party systems, 3 to 5 party systems, and fully proportional
To make matters worse, third parties are
actually very active in our system: they are the many groups of
special interests of well-off entrepreneurs and strong local ad
hoc grassroots movements that seem to not have a problem
getting our politicians' attention. Special interest groups have
taken over the role we the people were supposed to
play in our democracy. Our organization, LocalParty.Org,
delivers various ways out and helps us voters get back in the political
Are you politically
dissatisfied? Well — join the club!
The headquarters of
this political movement — LocalParty.Org — has three
goals. The first goal is to create successful independent local parties that immediately compete with the party that is in
control right now by cleverly mimicking their agenda, making the
politicians pay more attention because an alternative party now
The second goal is to improve representation at the local
level for all by changing the local system as soon as we can: when
we achieve the majority of seats on city council or board of supervisors or by legally challenging the local system in place.
The third goal is to educate all about the severe
restrictions and limitations of the current winner-takes-all system,
and especially its monopolizing effects at the local level, because did you ever read in a paper or heard on tv why the other
systems are better? Have you ever received fair information comparing
our system to the various other ones? Somehow, the Machines of both parties benefit from not educating us about all forms of democracy.
Finally, joining the club does not cost you a dime: LocalParty.Org
does not charge you any fee because this is only the overall organization.
Not we, but the Local parties — and there may be one in your city or county already — are happy to get your help.
Take the Tour to discover what LocalParty.Org
has to offer, or find out by clicking the Engine button how our district system of winner-take-all diminishes the
voters' importance in the outcome. We are a democracy, but our color
prints are either just red or just blue at the local level. Here's an example of the San Diego Board of Supervisors over the years. Mostly red, a tiny bit of blue, and no green, yellow, or orange.
us for equal representation at the local level!
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