How Kansas can help solve the country’s two-party voting problem

The United States needs to overhaul its current electoral system by adopting proportional representation, writes Paul Samberg. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Paul Samberg is a second-year student at the University of Kansas studying journalism, Jewish studies and political science.

I really could have used a pair of ruby slippers when I arrived in Kansas for my freshman year of college.

Born and raised in Connecticut, my initial exposure to Kansas politics reversed what I understood about partisanship. According to the New York Times, 59.3% of Connecticut voters supported Joe Biden while 56.1% of Kansans supported Donald Trump. In my home state of Connecticut, our congressional delegation is made up entirely of Democrats while Kansas’ delegation has one Democrat among five Republicans.

Of the 40 Senators in the Kansas Legislature, just 11 are Democrats. And in the 125-person House of Representatives, Democrats hold just 41 seats. In Connecticut, Republicans hold 12 of the 26 Senate seats and 54 of the 151 House seats in the General Assembly.

Republicans’ stronghold in Kansas and Democrats’ grip on Connecticut contribute to a lack of representation for each state’s minority party.

Polarization is at unprecedented levels right now, and our broken electoral system is not helping. We need to overhaul our current system by adopting proportional representation in the United States.

While polarization in the United States has nearly doubled in the past four years, countries with proportional representation have seen decreases in polarization.

Proportional representation is an electoral system in which seats of the legislature are allocated to parties based on the proportion of the vote they receive. Unlike the current system in the United States, where the winner takes all in a single-member district, proportional representation creates multi-member districts.

Multi-member districts would be immensely beneficial for all Americans, including Kansans. Currently, U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids represents the third district of Kansas and is the only Democratic member of Kansas’ congressional delegation.

Last November, Davids received just more than half of the votes while her Republican challenger received about 43%. Davids is the sole representative of the entire district, including the four in 10 voters who supported her opponent. With proportional representation, Kansas’ third district would have multiple delegates, and voters from both parties in this district would have a voice in Congress.

FairVote reported that 60% of Americans want new political parties to challenge the existing Democratic and Republican parties. In all proportional representation systems, seats are allocated to candidates that meet a certain vote threshold. Assuming candidates outside the normal Democratic and Republican parties can meet this threshold, proportional representation provides more opportunity for the United States, including Kansas, to have a multiparty system.

Having a thriving multiparty electoral system also leads to increased interparty collaboration, a necessity for the future of American politics. Because there are more than two viewpoints represented across the multiple parties, proportional representation incentivizes coalition building to pass legislation.

If Kansans want additional assistance in the midst of COVID-19 for their farms, small businesses, or overall economic wellbeing, they need the kind of coalition building that comes with proportional representation.

Skeptics of this electoral system worry that America could turn into a dysfunctional government like Israel, which is entering its fourth presidential election in a year.

While I worry about what three presidential elections would do to voter turnout and morale in Kansas and elsewhere, there is a simple explanation for Israel’s dysfunction — as well as a simple solution to ensuring the United States has just one presidential election every four years.

In Israel, any party that gets 3.25% of the vote in a district will receive a spot in the Knesset, Israeli’s legislature. In America, the best way to avoid having too many parties in the government would be to raise the vote threshold to a percentage higher than 3.25.

If, for example, the threshold was 10%, and Democratic, Republican and Green party candidates each got 31% of votes in Kansas’ third district while the Libertarian candidate only received 7% of the vote, only the three parties with 31% of the vote would get delegates.

Other opponents argue that proportional representation is too difficult to enact because it overhauls our electoral system entirely. But all good ideas start at inception, and any idea can come to fruition with persistence and organizing. That can begin in Kansas.

Proportional representation does not have to be a partisan issue; everyone can support having equal representation. While implementing ranked choice voting, eliminating the electoral college, and passing legislation to ban gerrymandering are all strong ideas to reform our electoral system, they each lead to proportional representation. If you are unhappy with your representation as a voter in the minority party, find a party leader who agrees with you and ignite the conversation.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.