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Here is context for my question: I am a student studying political science. I am researching policy that could be used to dismantle the stranglehold that the Democratic and Republican parties have on American elections. In some ways it seems that our national electoral system is engineered for the success of only these two parties. In recent years, some ideas have been floated to make third party campaigns more viable, such as ranked choice voting. However, maybe I think these ideas don't go far enough to dismantle the two-party system. Let's say I have one objective: Transition the United States House of Representatives to be elected by a system of proportional representation. This applies only to the US House, not the Senate, not state assemblies, not anything else. Just the House of Representatives.

(Here is my understanding of proportional representation, I would love more insight: Proportional representation is an electoral system used by democracies all around the world, but not by the United States. We use a "first-past-the-post" system to elect representatives. In proportional representation, everyone within a state would vote for a party, not a candidate. Let's say, in the state of Colorado, the Democratic Party gets 35% of the vote, the Republican Party gets 35%, the Libertarian Party gets 15%, and the Green Party gets 15%. Each of those parties would get a number of Colorado's US House seats proportional to their share of the vote. For example, the Libertarian Party would get 15% of the seats.)

So my objective is to transition the House of Representatives to a system of proportional representation. To my understanding, our "first-past-the-post" system is federally reinforced, since "PL 2 USC 2c" mandates that representatives be elected via single-member districts. As far as I know, as long as these single-member districts exist, we cannot have proportional representation.

  • What is "PL 2 USC 2c?" What does it mean? What does it legally mandate?

  • What is the legislative process for overturning or editing an article of public code like "PL 2 USC 2c?"

  • Can it be edited to let states choose how to elect their representatives, so that proportional representation can be implemented on a state-by-state basis?

  • Are there Constitutional obstacles to proportional representation and specifically to editing "PL 2 USC 2c" in this way?

Obviously, in practice, these proposals would be met with resistance from legislators, and accomplishing this would be a bureaucratic nightmare. I am not interested in hearing about those kinds of obstacles, I am simply wondering if this can be accomplished legally. Thank you all so much.

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    I’m voting to close this question because it belongs on politics.stackexchange.com – BlueDogRanch Sep 7 '20 at 20:39
  • Congress can change the laws almost as it wants. Only other laws and the constitution restrain it. – Trish Sep 7 '20 at 20:40
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    @BlueDogRanch While the OP's long-range objectives appear to be political action, the question ultimately focuses on the legal and constitutional particulars of House membership, in particular the selection thereof. – zibadawa timmy Sep 7 '20 at 20:41
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    What you describe is one method of doing proportional representation. It's not, for example, the method we use here in Ireland (PR-STV). The PR-STV system does not encode political parties as part of the process of election the way your method does. – TRiG Sep 8 '20 at 17:46
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    One thing that's probably worth noting is that the current size of the House is set by federal legislation. From about 1920. The constitution would place an upper limit of about 10,000 members in the House at current population levels. A lot of the issue could in principle be resolved by simply increasing the size of the House. There's a lot of room between 435-ish and 10,000. Simply doubling the House size or thereabouts would probably do wonders for a lot of perceived problems, including the Electoral College. – zibadawa timmy Sep 8 '20 at 23:25
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In each State entitled in the Ninety-first Congress or in any subsequent Congress thereafter to more than one Representative under an apportionment made pursuant to the provisions of section 2a(a) of this title, there shall be established by law a number of districts equal to the number of Representatives to which such State is so entitled, and Representatives shall be elected only from districts so established, no district to elect more than one Representative (except that a State which is entitled to more than one Representative and which has in all previous elections elected its Representatives at Large may elect its Representatives at Large to the Ninety-first Congress).

2 United States Code § 2c.

What is "PL 2 USC 2c?"

First of all, it is 2 U.S.C. § 2c, not "PL 2 USC 2c" which mixes two ways of citing to statutes PL for "Public Law" is used with a public law number to identify the Act of Congress by which a provision was enacted (and sometimes additional Public laws amend a statute). 2 U.S.C. § 2c means "Section "2c" of the Second Title of the United States Code" which is a codification of all public acts passed by Congress and still in force of general applicability.

What does it mean? What does it legally mandate?

2 U.S.C. § 2c mandates that for years after the effective date, when a state with two or more members of Congress draws Congressional Districts after a U.S. Census that it must do so into single member districts.

It does not mandate a "first past the post" voting system (also called a plurality vote system) and indeed, some states (e.g. Louisiana) have a system in which a winner in a Congressional district must receive a majority to win in the first round, and if that does not happen there will be a runoff between the top two finishers in the first round, and one state (Maine) has ranked choice voting in single member district Congressional races.

There is some dispute over whether systems like ranked choice voting count as proportional representation. They do not cause political parties to receive seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them. But they do eliminate spoiler effects which strongly discourage the formation of third-parties in the U.S.

What is the legislative process for overturning or editing an article of public code like "PL 2 USC 2c?"

It can be changed by an ordinary law passed by majorities in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate in identical form and not vetoed, or vetoed and then overridden by a two-thirds majority in each house of Congress within the time allowed by the U.S. Constitution.

Can it be edited to let states choose how to elect their representatives, so that proportional representation can be implemented on a state-by-state basis?

Yes. Generally one says that one "amends" a statute, however, rather than "editing" it.

Are there Constitutional obstacles to proportional representation and specifically to editing "PL 2 USC 2c" in this way?

No. As long as proportional representative is only within the Congressional seats allocated to a particular state, there is no Constitutional obstacle. But, a national scale proportional representation system would pose constitutional issues.

2 U.S.C. 2c was enacted in order to end the previously common practice of having multi-member districts in which you could vote for as many candidates as there were seats available at large, with the highest X vote getters in the X member district winning. When people vote on party lines, that causes the party with majority support to get all of the seats in the multi-member district much as the plurality winner in a state in all but two U.S. states in Presidential elections gets 100% of the electoral college votes in a state.

But, the drafters of 2 U.S.C. 2c underestimated the potential for gerrymandering to circumvent the benefits of having single member districts.

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    Re But, the drafters of 2 U.S.C. 2c underestimated the potential for gerrymandering to circumvent the benefits of having single member districts. The drafters of 2 U.S.C. 2c forgot about a very important unwritten law, the Law of Unintended Consequences. – David Hammen Sep 8 '20 at 4:08
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    So it sounds like, in the past, the US has already had multi-member districts, and if, at that time, states had chosen to use STV or similar, the US would have gotten proportional representation with no significant constitutional issues. – James_pic Sep 8 '20 at 9:45
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    Note that several states effectively can't have multi-member districts under current law, since they only have one representative and the Constitution requires that "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State" (14th amendment.) The size of the House of Representatives would have to be substantially increased to get multi-member districts in all states—which is something that Congress could in principle do. – Michael Seifert Sep 8 '20 at 13:49
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    The ongoing attempt to switch the presidential election to a national popular majority vote (end running the intent of the electoral college by getting states with >50% of the EC votes to agree to assign their electors based on the national rather than in state results) would cover at least some of the same Constitutional issues that a national voted proportionally elected Congress would raise. A yes to the former wouldn't necessarily mean that the latter could go forward without problem; but if the former's ruled unconstitutional, I don't see any path for the latter without an Amendment. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Sep 8 '20 at 14:45
  • @James_pic Correct. No U.S. state ever did that, but they could have done that. – ohwilleke Sep 8 '20 at 17:10

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