Really, the US chose its electoral rules in 1967

By Jack

Entertain me for a moment while I present a conspiracy theory. Congress banned multi-member House districts in 1967 in order to curb the threat of proportional representation.

John Patty over at Mischiefs of Faction reminds us that, if your subjective sense of gerrymandering offends you, you should support statewide, multi-member elections to the House of Representatives. He alludes to “other problems” that occur when multi-member elections are done by plurality rules. The main problem is that a single slate of politicians can win every seat.

Now, Congress first mandated single-seat districts in 1842, but plenty of states flouted that law, as you see below. The graph overstates the flouting somewhat, since it classifies states according to their formal rules (i.e., if you have “at-large” elections but only one seat in the House, you’re technically using a single-seat district). It also overstates the flouting because some states dragged their heels in redrawing maps when apportionment granted them new seats. But the overstatement isn’t a total one; some states definitely flouted the multi-member district (MMD) ban well into the twentieth century.


So there are two puzzles. First, why did Congress reopen the issue again in 1967? Second, why did states actually comply with the MMD ban this time around? The answer to both may be: fear that proportional representation (PR) could become reality. Allow me to explain.

First off, PR was on the agenda well into the 1950s and, in some places, early 1960s. Its advocates had real, working examples to point to in some large American cities.

Now, consider that Congress passes its latest MMD ban in 1967. Historically-minded readers will note that 1967 follows a string of civil and voting rights legislation and litigation. We need not review all of it here. Just focus on a few key items.

Three cases from 1962-1964 make redistricting a justiciable question, and they establish the “one-person-one-vote” (i.e., no malapportionment) rule. Just as jurisdiction-wide MMD preclude gerrymandering, so do they preclude malapportionment. In other words, these cases opened the door to court-sanctioned, at-large districting.

Turning to legislation, we then have the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). Section 2 banned election arrangements that discriminate on the bases of race, color, and/or language. Section 5 said certain jurisdictions have to ask for permission when they tinker with election arrangements, and section 4(b) established which jurisdictions those are. They were not just in the South. And some of them (e.g., New York City area) had used PR before.

So the Warren court malapportionment decisions open the door to MMD, but the VRA raises questions about minority representation if those MMD come with plurality rules. The obvious solution to anyone who’s ever taken a comparative politics class: replace plurality with proportional representation. That solution might also have been obvious in Hawaii and New Mexico, the only two states still using at-large elections, both of which were then covered jurisdictions. And it might have been obvious in the host of states with racially gerrymandered and/or malapportioned, single-member districts. It was definitely obvious in the Queen City of the West when, in 1957, the forces of repeal stoked fear that PR might yield a “Negro mayor.”

Lo and behold, in 1967, Congress passes the Uniform Congressional District Act, the latest ban on multi-member districting. No state adopts PR. No state retains MMD plurality. No state flouts the law by adopting MMD plurality. Everybody complies.

Twenty-six years later (or thirteen terms in the House if you prefer to measure it that way), Clinton’s nominee for Assistant Attorney General says nice things about PR, which kills, in part, her nomination.

If you think that first-past-the-post is baked into the Constitution, you’re probably not reading this blog. If you think that the United States chose their electoral rules in 1842, you’re right; they did whatever they wanted. But the United States really chose their electoral rules in 1967.

This post originally appeared on August 14 at

45 thoughts on “Really, the US chose its electoral rules in 1967

  1. I wonder. So much US constitutional history is actually racial history. I’d always under stood the general ticket system let a state amplify the representation of its plurality faction at the expense of others and that the 1842 legislation was an attempt to restrict the southern states doing this. I wonder if the 1967 legislation could have been an echo of that. Of course the readers of this blog will all be yelling ‘PR’ but that was not an option in 1842.

    Lest it be thought I’m being overly critical of the US, I come from a country which tried to persuade New Zealand to federate by excluding Maori from the general disfranchisement of first peoples.


    • So much of US history, period, Alan, is racial history. I’ve been reading a lot about the New Deal lately. I’ve also been looking at a lot of election returns from the 1940s and 1950s. The political development of this country is thoroughly contorted, depending on your reference point, by the role of race in our coalitional politics. But none of that is news to anyone. Tocqueville told us ages ago that we’d permanently screwed ourselves by keeping slavery.


  2. I know nothing of why the USA first mandated single-seat districts in 1842, but any assumption that proportional elections were unknown in that century is wrong. The 1832 Great Reform Act in the UK allowed 7 counties to return 3 members each, and the City of London 4 members, and created 88 two-member constituencies. The limited vote was used between 1867 and 1885, so that voters had only two votes in three-member districts (now including four cities), and three votes in London.


    • Wilf, PR is of course not synonymous with the limited vote, nor with multi-seat districts. The latter are indeed nothing new in the anglosphere – indeed they were the norm in Britain before the 1832 GRA. But PR, as Jack notes, dates from the mid-19th century at the earliest, at least in practice.


      • Multimember districts were the norm in the English parliament. Single-member districts were introduced with the Union parliament, largely as a way of reducing the potential influence of Scotland (and later Ireland) in the new parliament. Sadly the Brits have forgotten their long history of multimember districts and now insist that the single-member district goes back at least to Simon de Montfort if not to Alfred the Great.


  3. The best article I’ve seen on the 1842 Apportionment Act reports that a Whig dummy variable correctly predicts about 90 percent of Representatives’ votes on the SMD portion of the law.

    So it was a Whig thing, and Calabrese argues that it happens in 1842, not before or later, because 1842 is when Representatives learn to expect the electorate to punish the President’s party in midterm elections. In other words, the law is a product of the emergence of “nationalized” presidential contests. That’s the political science way to spin it.

    The historical way to spin it is that the Congressional Whigs, who really didn’t stand for anything but “not Jackson,” were doing damage control. The Whigs had an unpopular Tyler in the White House. Those Whigs expected voters to punish them for Tyler. On the institutional side, I’m willing to bet that there were a lot of pro-Democrat rules-changes going on. Note that we’ve got a decennial reapportionment in 1840; Dem states probably gained. Note that the other half of the 1842 law was a contraction (the only in US history) in the size of the House. I read that as an effort to minimize the number of open seats in the 1842 elections, many of which probably would have leaned Democrat. We also have the Jackson-associated, white-male-suffrage expansions going on at this time, and those are state-level decisions. All of those are testable claims, of course, but I stopped working on them because my dissertation on STV (a real data pickle) needed attention.

    So Alan is basically right, at least from what I know, to the extent that the Democrats’ power base was the South. One of the provisions – I can’t remember whether it was the SMD mandate or the House size contraction – originated with a New Hampshire or Vermont member. With the caveat that there also was/were one or two states in New England using MNTV rules in 1840.

    On this House size thing, stay tuned. I am dying to write a paper about why the House has 435 members. Or, to restate the question, why did Congress decide to stop expanding the House in 1913? That year, I suspect, is not an accident. Fresh on everyone’s mind was a four-way presidential election in which the Progressives wrecked the Republican Party and the Socialists had their greatest ever electoral showing. And note the probable population growth in cities right around that time. Gotta keep the goo-goos and pinkos from winning those dang open seats…

    I’m hesitant to accept Wilf’s point about PR. States were definitely tinkering with district magnitude in the early Republic, as my graph shows, but the PR discourse really comes later. Andrae and Mill don’t introduce STV until the mid-1850s. The US-Canadian PR League doesn’t start operating until 1893. Et cetera. However, I have heard that scribblers were inventing various PR schemes during the French Revolution, so those ideas may have been floating around…


    • Whoops. The 1913 law actually happens in 1911. So I could still be right about why the House only has 435 members, but the story is more complicated because the 1912 election would not have been on folks’ minds.


  4. Most people don’t realize how little a democracy the US was in the formal sense before the 1960s (meaning not that the rules provided for democratic institutions, which were manipulated or ignored, but that the rules did not provide for democratic institutions in the first place). For example, in the 1920s Congress refused to carry out reapportionment. This is mandated by the Constitution, but Congress simply ignored the Constitution and did not reapportion districts among the states.

    In the 1960s, the US for the first time in its history started to act like a democracy, and efforts to undermine this started almost immediately.


    • Logically it cannot be the case both that the rules ‘did not provide for democratic institutions in the first place’ and that ‘Congress simply ignored the Constitution and did not reapportion districts among the states’. Rather the 1920 case seems to be an example of rules for provided for democratic institutions and were then ignored.


      • That is a good point,but it turns out that both are true. The original Constitution provided for a very limited democracy, at the most, AND its provisions have often been ignored or misinterpreted.

        Actually this case is a good example. The Constitution requires Congress to conduct a Census every decade, and then to reapportion representatives among the states afterwards so each delegation is proportionately sized to the national population. The electorate for House elections in each state is to be the same as the electorate for the more democratically elected house of the state legislature. And that’s it. The ability to gerrymander, for example, stems directly from the absence on any other limitations on how states are to run elections for the federal house. I have been unable to discover any reason why states can’t limit the franchise to their state legislature to, say, 500 people and then similarly limit the franchise for federal elections.

        And then in 1920, Congress couldn’t even manage to follow even these very limited provisions.


      • “The original Constitution provided for a very limited democracy, at the most” I don’t know about that. The original constitution did not ‘provide’ for things like universal suffrage, but certainly didn’t rule it out. Effectively, the amount of democracy was largely up to the states, as much of it still is: suffrage is extended to those voting for the ‘more numerous branch’ of the state legislature, electors for president are chosen by whatever method is stipulated by the state, and so on. Apart from the relatively few things that are to be decided by Congress, the (original) constitution essentially leaves the main decisions on this issue up to the states, and indeed the states used that power in various ways, establishing different levels of suffrage and, for much of the pre-civil war era, different ways of choosing presidential electors (if I’m not mistaken, South Carolina persisted in having the state legislature choose them until the 1830’s or so).


  5. Yes, Ed. That 1920 episode is super interesting. I think that the argument I made about the 1913 law, about which I was wrong since it happened in 1911, applies to absence of reapportionment in 1920.


  6. And how did Congress get away with not conducting a reapportionment in 1920? And how did states get away with not using M=1?

    I suppose the answer is simple: no one brought cases before the federal courts, or if they did, the judges were too “insider” to rule correctly.

    I think Ed’s (amended) point about democratic institutions is correct.


    • I think it more correct to say that the US has a very strange interpretive tradition for its constitution. That tradition itself is, at least in part, driven by arguments about whether ‘republic’ and ‘democracy’ mean the same or different things, and by a side argument about whether the meaning of 1777 or the meaning of 2014 is to prevail. It’s also driven in part by the ‘firstness’ of the US constitution and the lack of precedents for dealing with a supreme law.

      Almost identical language was adopted for the electoral provisions of the Australian constitution, but subsequent High Court decisions have written out the ability of both the federation and the states to limit the franchise. It is equally easy to find decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada with the same effect, although not necessarily the same reasoning. Legislation restricting prisoner voting has been thrown out by the courts, for example, in both countries.

      The interesting question, therefore, is why US courts have fashioned such an undemocratic interpretive tradition.


      • The Canadian Supreme Court’s decision to allow prisoners to vote was, of course, based on the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional document Australia has no equivalent for, while the American counterpart dates to the 18th century and does not include the right to vote.


      • Sauvé v Chief Electoral Officer is not based exclusively on the Charter right and in drawing the line between right and legislative capacity the court refers to an older structure of government jurisprudence that is very familiar from the Australian cases. After all, US courts have interpreted equally explicit state franchise cases to the detriment of the right.

        In Nationwide News v Wills the High Court found (1) that the constitution establishes a represenative democracy and that (2) there are consequences for the way the courts must interpret the constitution. In doing so they cited, among other things, a long line of Canadian decisions that antedate the Charter.

        That drives us straight back to asking why US courts have taken such a different approach.

        It goes without saying that I think it is high time constitutional reformers in the US put these arcane disputes to sleep by advocating an explicit federal franchise and an explicit assertion of democracy.


  7. Will the U.S ever someday embrace PR? It seems funny that both the progressive and the civil rights movements did not think of using PR. As there is no need for primaries with STV, and it ensures minority representation without gerrymandering.

    Single Member Districts became the norm in the Anglosphere, except Ireland which embrace STV at the same time as independence. Australia jumped on the bandwagon in 1949, and New Zealand in 1996. Check this article out at

    While it is not about PR, seems odd that the U.S has so many elections, yet most local elections are poorly attended, few talk about consolidating elections during Presidential years when the turnout is higher.


    • Ireland didn’t exactly adopt STV on its own accord, it was essentially a condition insisted on by the British government in order to assure some minority representation, even though, of course, most Protestants remained out of the new Free State anyway.


      • That’s funny that the English forced the Irish to use a electoral system that they themselves would never use, but Ireland has stuck with STV to the present despite two referendums to abolish it in favor of FPTP, but what was the reason that Northern Ireland abolished it for FPTP (now I know it uses STV)? Northern Ireland seems to be on the rare cases of a PR jurisdiction abandoning PR for a Plurality system. Any other examples besides this?


        • There are certainly other (maybe many other) examples of British or US governments demanding PR in ex-colonies or occupied countries. Just a couple of examples: the Lancaster House accords on Rhodesia=Zimbabwe (Mugabe later moved to FPTP for the obvious reasons), the US in Iraq. I am not sure what the US role was in the choice of SNTV (not PR, but also not a majoritarian system) in Afghanistan. And I do not recall just how much the US and UK pushed for PR in post-war Germany, or whether they simply did not try to steer them away.

          As for cases of PR moving to plurality, if we include mixed-member systems that are more plurality than PR, then Italy certainly qualifies. And then there is France, which is not a plurality system, but has a very majoritarian system that has replaced PR–at least twice. Another, albeit with an intervening civil war, is Liberia. Its earlier democratic attempt was PR, and the current one is plurality (not mixed, not two-round).


      • This is more of a reply to the other replies to the comment, but an obvious example in the subcategory of “government switching from single member plurality to proportional representation because they anticipate their supporters being a minority under the new suffrage” is South Africa. There are probably others.

        I think the US has more tolerated PR in situations where the country they were occupying was drawing up a new constitution, as opposed to requiring it, if only due to the widespread ignorance of the concept even among well educated Americans in the elite. Certainly this applies in the case of Germany, which conducted its elections under PR before 1933 and resumed doing so in 1949, without any prompting by outsiders.

        Iraq and Afghanistan are multiethnic (and somewhat artifical) states where ironically, PR may not be necessary since each of the larger ethnic minorities dominates a geographic region and would be able to secure representation using single member plurality. Iraq has some small religious minorities that don’t dominate any region, but the fall of the secular Baath dictatorship has been very bad for these people and changing the electoral rules didn’t make up for this.


    • Rob, Northern Ireland went back to STV for much the same reason: minority representation. Their earlier switch to FPTP was very much a move to monopolise power in the hands of the Protestant majority, and PR was an absolute prerequisite for establishing a peaceful settlement and a crucial part of establishing power-sharing consociational government.


      • I don’t South Africa happened quite as Ed describes it. PR was not something the white minority government imposed on the country to protect its interests, it was both an ANC position and a recommendation of the UN’s advisors who were building on their experience in the Namibian transition. It’s noteworthy that all the UN-sponsored constitutions (Bosnia and Hercegovina, East Timor, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, South Sudan, etc etc) provide for some form of PR.

        Iraq is a special case among occupation constitutions because of the brief tenure of the CPA and the general level of incompetence displayed by that regime. PR dates from the Transitional Administrative Law, a provisional constitution issued by the Coalition Provisional Authority (originally in English) and approved by the appointed Iraqi Governing Council.


      • Interesting point about UN-sponsored constitutions. Fair enough about Bosnia, SA, East Timor and Namibia. Kenya, however, does not to my knowledge use PR but FPTP with a few additional co-opted members (some of them reserved for women) allocated according to party strength among elected members, as in Pakistan. South Sudan, meanwhile, used parallel (MMM) at its first election just before independence, with 60% constituency members (but perhaps you meant ‘some form of PR’ broadly enough to include that).


      • The UN missions in both Kenya and South Sudan recommended PR but their recommendations were drastically watered down.

        As far as I know South Sudan has not yet adopted a permanent constitution or electoral law and has not yet held a legislative election. The current parliament is made up of previous members of the South Sudan legislative assembly and members of the Sudan national assembly who represented districts in South Sudan before independence. The transitional constitution mandates a legislative election in 2015 but its not clear if this will be held.

        In South Africa listPR was thought appropriate for the first election (there are good arguments for listPR for a transitional assembly) but it was widely assumed the country would then move to a system that incorporated constituency MPs but the second step was never taken and the transitional electoral system is now probably set in stone.


    • Just to Matt about Zimbabwe, from what I can find, Zimbabwe used List PR mostly because there was not enough time to draw constituencies, and the British did not really care for proportional representation. Interestingly, this may have been because of the fact that List PR didn’t do much that first-past-the-post wouldn’t have done for the 1980 election, as there were no even remotely competitive districts. I don’t know much of the actual details of the voting system, but from what Wikipedia (hopefully accurate and surprisingly detailed) says, most districts were near sweeps by one party (either ZANU-PF or the now forgotten Zimbabwe African People’s Union, led by Joshua Nkomo). FPTP didn’t change much in the next election, though, and the advantage ratio (seats%/votes%) was only 1.03.


  8. Lots of institutional factors contribute to low turnout, and Seth Masket is talking about Sarah Anzia’s new book on off-cycle elections. Primaries are definitely off-cycle, in a sense, and definitely lower turnout than general elections, especially those with presidential contests.

    Off-cycle elections are nothing new in American history, but the Progressives ironically popularized the idea, along with turnout-reducing nonpartisan ballots.

    But we should avoid characterizing “the Progressives” as a homogeneous group, whether with respect to policy preferences or preferences over institutional arrangements. Some favored the “short ballot” as a way to increase voter turnout by reducing the cognitive burden on voters. Yet others favored the “short ballot” as a way to insulate certain administrative offices from electoral pressures. And while all favored at-large elections some favored plurality – these may have been the numerous Republicans and Democrats calling themselves “progressive” after the debacle of 1912 – while others favored PR. And even within the PR camp, there was disagreement over the form. The first 21 years of the PR Review feature a back-and-forth over three or four different ranked ballot schemes, including list PR, and here we’re not even including limited or cumulative voting. It wasn’t until Ashtabula became a working example in 1914 that the movement converged on STV. Even after that, disagreement remained over whether STV ballots should include party labels. In New York City, they did. In Cincinnati, they began to at some point, I think. Alas, the best articulated, within-movement statement of support for partisan PR ballots came from an official of Debs’ Socialist Party in 1915. I can send it to you if you want.

    All in all, left-wing Progressives definitely supported PR (see Barber 1995 on that). I don’t know as much about the civil rights movement, but you know as well as I do that some associated with it look(ed) favorably on PR. Lani Guinier is but one example.

    Can the whole local-level PR episode ever repeat itself? I hope to have a better answer for you at the end of my project. That said, it took (a) painful socioeconomic change to (b) raise new issues that (c) sent the pre-1896 party system into crisis and (d) stimulated the early-century debate over major electoral rules-change.


    • Reading through 67 years of the Proportional Representation Review can be really edifying, even if it doesn’t immediately lead to a successful regression analysis.

      The PR League, in its early years, flirted in a limited way with SNTV. After Ashtabula (1914) and Boulder (1917?) adopted STV, everyone basically agreed to coordinate on STV. But SNTV reappears as a reform option in the 1950s. The mid-1950s are also when the remaining STV-using towns repeal that system. This is probably not a coincidence.

      Philadelphia is the first big city to adopt SNTV, and it does so at this time. Now, reformers in Philly had been pushing for PR since the very beginning of the PR League in 1893. That city reappears over and over in my “where was PR on the agenda” data. One big reason that it never adopted STV was the repeated refusal of the state legislature to grant home rule. If memory serves, even those cities that adopted the commission form of government had no choice in the matter. Rather, the state legislature classified cities using some scheme and imposed corresponding forms of local government. Finally, in the mid-50s, the state gave Philly permission to adopt “limited voting” (i.e., SNTV), but this appears to have been a way to get nominal two-party representation on city council.

      I suspect it’s a similar story to the one in which Congress imposes a limited nomination rule on the District of Columbia. Many Connecticut towns also have limited nomination rules, probably for the same reason.

      But, post-Philadelphia, local adoptions of SNTV mostly result from the VRA descriptive representation mandate.

      I know of no city in the US that uses a list system. That said, when list systems were in their infancy at the turn of the 20th century, the PR League debated several candidate-centric list systems. The only real push for party-based, closed-list systems came from the political left. And as far as I know, the first ever public use of closed-list PR was for local elections in Russia immediately after the February revolution.


      • Philadelphia switched from Republican to Democratic control in 1950. Since the Republicans still dominated the state government, that may have had something to do with the legislature allowing the adoption of a more proportional system!


  9. Arizona uses proportional representation in it State House of Representative races. Each legislative district elects two members of the House of Representatives. And there quite a few districts with both major parties representing them because of it, which I think is a very good thing. Congressionally, it could make three congressional districts with three members of the US House of Representatives elected from each district, but that would scare the Republicans way too much.


    • The Arizona rules should not be called “proportional representation”, even if it happens that “quite a few districts” induce a 50-50 split. PR is a family of methods, not an outcome. In any case, unless the only districts where the same party wins both seats are those in which the largest party has more than about two thirds of the votes, “proportional” does not even describe the outcome.


    • Wouldn’t that system be a two member multimember district be a binomial system? It is not like the Chilean system. It appears that Arizona uses the SNTV system.


      • I’d like to banish the term, “binomial” as a label for electoral systems. “Binominal” (which is also used sometimes with respect to Chile) would be better, though still not very useful. But, yes, “binominal” would describe the Arizona system because there are two candidates elected in a district, and they are elected solely on votes cast for them by name (i.e. nominally), rather than by party. The Chilean system is a list system. Sure, each list contains two names (which is presumably where the “binomial” label comes from), but how many seats a party wins in a Chilean district depends on the performance of the LIST, relative to other lists in the district. Thus it is a PR system, but in the second smallest possible district magnitude (M=2).

        I just think the terms, “binomial” and “binominal” confuse more than enlighten, even if the latter is better than the former and if the latter applies more accurately to Arizona than to Chile.

        Thanks for asking. As you can see, I have a lot to say about this seemingly small topic!


      • And to answer your other (implied) question, Arizona (like all other States with multiple-seat districts) does not use SNTV but MNTV, that is, voters have as many votes as there are seats in the districts. The only US jurisdiction I know of where SNTV is used is Puerto Rico.


        • SNTV is used in some local elections in the US. It is used (or at least used to be) for some school boards and maybe other elected bodies in Alabama. And there have been recent adoptions of cumulative vote, which is part of this same family: not SNTV (because voters can vote for more than once candidate) but not MNTV (because presumably few give each of their votes to a different candidate).

          Is there any US jurisdiction that uses any type of list system? Not that I know of, outside of US presidential primaries and the electoral college.


  10. reply on msshugart 27/08/2014 at 6:20 pm : “other examples of British or US governments demanding PR in ex-colonies” : I add Guyana (see Horowitz’ Ethnic Groups in Conflict)

    reply on Alan 29/08/2014 at 5:21 pm : “It’s noteworthy that all the UN-sponsored constitutions … provide for some form of PR.” : what about Liberia, Sierra Leone(?) and Haiti as counter-examples ?


    • I’m not aware, despite heavy UN involvement in all 3 countries, of UN-sponsored constitutions enacted in those countries. Sierra Leone is in the process of remaking its constitution with UN input but, according to the website of the constitution review body, has not completed a new constitution. For the record I have not made a detailed study of the three countries.

      Cambodia is a further example of a UN-sponsored constitution with PR.


  11. The threading system on this platform is not the best. So let me call attention to Jack’s very interesting reply to my comment about use of SNTV in US local elections, and my query about use of (or interest in) list systems.

    I am particularly fascinated by the idea that the first use of closed-list PR anywhere might actually have been in Russia. Is that possible? Were all prior European list systems open or flexible?


    • According to the Wikipedia article, Finland got there first, in 1907 (although it was, of course, part of Russia at the time).


  12. Returning for a moment to the original post, I am fairly certain that Alan’s first comment above is correct: the motivation for the 1967 law mandating single member districts was to prevent states from using MNTV to exclude blacks. In other words, this was a companion bill to the Voting Rights Act. I’m not sure that in 1967 there was any threat of proportional representation to curb.


    • Thank you, Bob, for drawing attention to my core point. I decided to write down this hypothesis because I found it surprising. Conventional
      wisdom holds that countries made these choices decisively in the years around World War I.

      Please take a second look at the argument, if you care to, and let me know what part(s) you find least persuasive and why.

      Also, hello there. It’s been a while.


      • Thank you for prompting me to read the original post more carefully. It’s a lot more persuasive than I realized. It appears that there’s no real contradiction between the two motives: preventing dilution of the black vote by using MNTV, and (at the same time) preventing court-ordered PR as a solution to voting rights problems.

        Do you think the repeal of cumulative voting in Illinois in about 1980 fits your hypothesis?


  13. I don’t know enough (yet) about the history of Illinois party politics to answer that question with a lot of confidence. I have been struggling, literally, for over six months to get these data into a well-behaved and consistent format. I can tell you what we do know, though:

    1) 1980 is also the year in which John Anderson wins over six percent of votes in a three-way presidential contest.

    2) At that time, John Anderson represented an Illinois district (#16) in the House of Representatives.

    3) Chicago appears as often as Philadelphia in my “where was PR on the agenda” data set. Like Pennsylvania, Illinois kept tight control of municipal representative institutions.

    4) Illinois was not, however, a VRA covered jurisdiction, at least to my knowledge.

    5) Illinois was, on the other hand, a hotbed of state legislative malapportionment for most of the 20th century.

    So, maybe, in a sense.

    Returning to your original skepticism, it would bolster my hypothesis to give some evidence that important people were talking seriously about PR in the 1960s. Maybe look at justices’ opinions in those voting rights cases?


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