Statement of Chairman Charles T. Canady
Hearing on H.R. 1173: The States' Choice of Voting Systems Act
Thursday, September 23, 1999
This afternoon the Subcommittee on the Constitution convenes to hear testimony concerning H.R. 1173: The States' Choice of Voting Systems Act, legislation introduced by Mr. Watt.
As we are all well aware, the United States Constitution requires a decennial enumeration of a State's population and directs that reapportionment of congressional districts occur in the States according to that total population. Under current federal law, State legislatures are required to use single-member districts when adopting their redistricting plans.
The current single-member district requirement was enacted in 1967. Prior to 1967, the use of single-member districts appears to have been the predominate method of electing Members of Congress, although the practices varied from State to State and from time to time.
In the early days of the Republic, most States with more than one representative divided their States into geographic districts with one representative in each district. Other States employed multi-member districts or even at-large elections.
In the early 1800's, numerous efforts were made to enact a constitutional amendment requiring single-member congressional districts. By 1842, however, most States had accepted the idea of local representation, the push for a constitutional amendment ended, and Congress enacted a law requiring contiguous, single-member congressional districts.
After the census of 1850, congressional redistricting legislation did not include the single-member district requirement. That requirement was not reinstated until the current statute was enacted in 1967.
H.R. 1173, would eliminate the single-member district requirement, and permit States to choose from among single-member districts, multi-member districts or a combination of single- and multi-member districts.
The proponents of H.R. 1173 argue that it will assist State legislatures with the difficult task of congressional redistricting. Drawing these districts requires States to balance a number of competing considerations, including avoiding contests between incumbents, placing candidates in the same districts as their supporters, party affiliation, the "one person, one vote" standard, and the like. States must also ensure that its districts do not dilute or lead to retrogression of minority voting strength. Moreover, this process must conform to the Supreme Court's decisions striking down redistricting plans in which race was the predominate factor in drawing districts.
As we consider the merits of H.R. 1173 it is important to understand that the legislation may open the door to the use of controversial electoral systems in multi-member districts, including cumulative voting and proportional representation. Under a cumulative voting system, voters in multi-member districts are given a number of votes equal to the number of representatives in that district and can then distribute those votes among the candidates as they see fit, casting one for each of several candidates or aggregating them behind one or more candidates. Under a pure proportional representation system, political parties are represented in the legislature in proportion to their vote totals in a given district.
Many political scientists believe that cumulative voting systems undermine majority rule and the one person, one vote principle, and that they are detrimental to the two-party system. Cumulative voting has also been criticized for increasing ethnic division and separatism.
Some political scientists have also concluded that proportional representation systems undermine majority rule by allowing political forces with the support of only a minority of voters to win elections. Proportional representation systems have also been criticized for turning the focus of politics away from individual candidates and toward conformity to party, as voters are no longer choosing between candidates but between parties.
Whether or not these potential costs are outweighed by the benefits of multi-member districts will be the subject of our inquiry at this afternoon's hearing.
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