Introduction
1st Proposal:
Endorsements
Helping Voters
Uniting Budget
2nd Proposal:
MDD Proposal
MDD Timeline
Multipartyism
Reforming DD
Partisan Cues
References
 

Rather than using the "single-member plurality" elections Americans are familiar with, in which candidates compete for a single district seat and the one who wins the most votes is elected, many other democracies allocate legislative representation in proportion to the votes each political party wins. For example, if a party wins 20% of the votes, it receives 20% of the legislative seats. One common method for providing proportional representation (PR) is to use "closed" party lists. Each party nominates a list of candidates who run in large, multimember districts. Candidates are grouped on the ballot by party, and voters simply choose the party closest to their policy preferences. Legislative seats are then allocated to parties in proportion to the votes they received. If a party wins five seats, the first five candidates on its list are elected.

For over 100 years, supporters of PR have advocated its adoption in the United States. Its critics contend, however, that increasing the number of parties in a legislature invites gridlock or instability (Amy 2000; 2002; Reynolds, Reilly, and Ellis 2005).[3] Incorporating the principle of proportional representation into state-level direct democracy, on the other hand, would offer many benefits of multiparty democracy without the legislative risks of traditional PR.

All political parties officially qualified to participate in a state's primary election would have the option to participate in "multiparty direct democracy" (MDD).[4] The initial stages of this system would closely parallel the conventional ballot qualification process. First, each party's state central committee would convert a number of its platform positions into a rank-ordered list of statutory initiative proposals.[5] Approximately nine months before a primary election, parties would submit their lists to the Attorney General, whose office would have six months to assign each initiative a title and summary.[6] At this point, when initiative sponsors would usually start collecting signatures, MDD would diverge from the conventional process. No signatures would be collected for party initiatives. Their full text would be published on the Secretary of State's website. Their titles and summaries would be included in the primary ballot pamphlet, grouped by party, in the order indicated by each party's list.

Only the initiatives' titles would be listed on the primary ballot, again by party, and in the order each party designated. In addition to deciding on the candidate contests, voters would have the option to cast a single vote for any party's entire list, or "none of these lists" if no party's list appealed to them.

MDD Sample Ballot:

Choose one party's list by marking the box beside its name:

Proposal 1

Proposal 2

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Proposal 20

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Proposal 1

Proposal 2

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Proposal 1

Proposal 2

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Proposal 1

Proposal 2

Proposal 3

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Proposal 20

For primary voters to determine a position on each of these initiatives would clearly be impossible. All they would be required to do, however, is determine the party closest to their policy preferences. This is the same decision voters make when using closed-list PR. Rather than considering the merits of each candidate – an overwhelming, if not impossible, task – they simply choose their favorite party. These ballots are not challenging for voters in other countries, neither should we expect multiparty direct democracy to be: "Many of the arguments about the daunting complexity of PR systems are insulting to American voters. They assume that American voters are somehow less intelligent or less sophisticated than voters in other countries. Voters in PR countries have shown no difficulty in casting ballots or choosing among multiple parties" (Amy 2002, 190). Since MDD merely substitutes initiatives on the ballot for candidates, it would require nothing more of primary voters than other party-list systems.

After the primary election, all the votes for parties' lists would be tallied. Their proposals would then be qualified to appear on the general election ballot in proportion to the primary votes each party received. In traditional PR elections, the number of legislative seats in a district determines the minimum percentage of votes needed to win a single seat. Each state that adopted MDD, on the other hand, would set the minimum percentage of primary votes needed to qualify a single initiative for the general election ballot. The lower the percentage, the more initiatives qualified, and the easier it would be for smaller parties to reach the threshold. For example, with a threshold of 5%, a maximum of 20 initiatives could be qualified through MDD. (Since votes for "none of these lists" would be included in the total, as these increased, the maximum initiatives that could be qualified would decrease.) Using this example, for every 5% of the total primary votes a party received (rounding down), it would receive ballot access for one of the statutory initiatives on its list. If it submitted more initiatives than it received ballot access for, they would be qualified in the order indicated by its list.[7] So, with a 5% threshold, a party receiving 12% of the primary votes would have the first two proposals on its list qualified for the general election ballot.

Between the primary and general elections, parties would have the option to endorse as many of the other parties' qualified proposals as they wished.[8] (In states with an "indirect" initiative process, the inter-election period would also be used to submit parties' qualified proposals for the legislature's consideration.) On the general election ballot, the only difference between a proposal qualified through MDD and a signature-qualified initiative would be the addition of its party's name, followed by the names of all endorsing parties. All other current initiative regulations would apply to MDD. It would not alter the conventional process, in any way, for nonparty initiatives.

 

 



[3] Supporters dispute these claims, arguing that gridlock or instability in PR legislatures is rare (Amy 2000; 2002).

[4] California's requirements for participating in a primary election are the same as those for qualifying a new political party listed in note 11. Seven parties currently meet these requirements: American Independent, Americans Elect, Democratic, Green, Libertarian, Peace and Freedom, and Republican (California Secretary of State 2013a). While applied here to California, MDD could easily be adapted to any other state's current, or future, initiative process.

[5] Initiative sponsors in California have the option to request assistance from the state's legislative counsel in drafting their proposals (Cal. Gov't Code § 10243).

[6] Parties would be required to pay a filing fee for each proposal submitted. California's current filing fee of $200, which is refunded if the initiative qualifies for the ballot, does not cover the costs incurred by the state to title and summarize each measure (Center for Governmental Studies 2008). To accurately reflect these costs, and to ensure that the extra burden imposed on the Attorney General's office by MDD would not impede the processing of nonparty initiatives, I recommend a nonrefundable filing fee of $2,000 (Ibid.) for each new proposal submitted. If a party resubmitted one of its unsuccessful initiatives from a prior election, and the Attorney General determined that any minor changes made to it did not warrant a new title and summary, a new filing fee would not be assessed.

[7] The number of initiatives a party could include on its list would be limited to the maximum that could potentially be qualified for the general election ballot. Since parties' lists would be closed, any influence voters might wish to have on a list's order would need to be exercised through their party's chosen process for forming it.

[8] A deadline would be set, prior to the printing of the general election ballot pamphlet, for each party's state central committee to submit its endorsements to the Secretary of State. All the information typically provided for initiatives in the pamphlet, including supporting and opposing arguments and their full text, would be included for parties' proposals, along with any party endorsements received.