A nightmare scenario: Barack Obama wins the presidency in November, but the Republicans take control of both houses of Congress. Why is this so scary? Because the majority of voters will be voting in one vision for the country, and the disproportionate few will have the power to say otherwise. If this sounds too similar to a certain recent Monday Night Football scandal, it is. The American people will make a touchdown in one party's endzone, but due to the officiating, the losing party will still win.
The officiating in this example is our electoral system. To govern, the United States requires cooperation from the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President. Gridlock results when that cooperation doesn't happen. But gridlock only occurs when ideologies clash or when there is no incentive for the branches of government to cooperate, so how we vote in our representatives is directly related to how smoothly our country runs.
Gerrymandering and the first-past-the-post voting method encourage this gridlock. Every ten years at the census, politicians in state legislatures draw up congressional districts. That means there's a strong likelihood those districts are manipulated to easily vote in those politicians and their parties. This divides cities and communities, going against the fundamental idea of a competitive election —that everyone, regardless of ideology, comes together and votes in someone to represent everyone, not just different sides of the railroad tracks.
First-past-the-post (FPTP) means that when votes are tallied, the candidate with the most votes wins. t might sound fair at first, but consider an election between three candidates —candidate A gets 34%, and candidates B and C each get 33%. With 34%, A wins —but, realistically, only has to appeal to 34% of his electorate to win in further elections.
Like a Blue Moon and hot wings, gerrymandering and FPTP go well together — for radical representatives, that is. Without competitively drawn districts, and by only having to appeal to 34% of the electorate, politicians like Todd Akin disproportionately win, and therefore affect the decisions Congress makes.
Nowhere is this unfair "electoral officiating" more apparent than in the approval ratings of Congress, which are at record lows — despite having an incumbency rate at record highs.
The way we elect our president isn't better either — it's FPTP too, gerrymandered district by gerrymandered district, with some states, based on those districts, mattering more than others. But because the president is one person, when the country hates you, you feel it. As a representative, the country can hate Congress, but all you have to worry about is that 34% back in your district. The Presidency is therefore far more accountable and responsive to the American people than Congress.
Which shows just how scarily similar November 6 may be to the Seahawks-Packers game. Obama may catch the touchdown pass, but the call will go the other way. You think gridlock was bad the last four years? A Republican Congress, dominated by extremists, won't care that the country denied them the presidency. With the disproportionate power they hold, they still don't have any incentive to cooperate with Obama, especially if the 34% of their electorate back home think Obama's a socialist illegal immigrant from Kenya.
This country desperately needs jobs reform, tax reform, immigration and education and environmental reform — the list goes on. Representatives who are only accountable to extremist constituents won't solve those problems in ways that the majority wants. Without electoral reform, every other reform is out of reach, and our nation will keep suffering.
Take a look at California, with our citizen-drawn districts. Take a look at cities like San Francisco and London, which use instant runoff voting. These are reforms that make elections more competitive, and marginalizes extremists by making representatives truly accountable to their constituents.
The moment of truth will be when the fiscal cliff comes in December. The American people will want decisive cooperation and compromise from their President and Congress. If that doesn't happen, the touchdown will go the wrong way, and Packers fans won't be the only ones in a depression.