A fair and functional democracy holds elections in which the popular will is recorded and then used to define the government that extends from those elections.
But that does not mean that the popular will is always reflected in the governing that extends from elections.
For instance, because the Electoral College can upset the results of the popular vote for president of the United States, it is possible for a Donald Trump to lose by almost 3 million votes and still end up in the Oval Office. That’s unfair and dysfunctional. And that is not the only example of unfairness and dysfunction in American electoral politics.
Consider the US House elections of 2012. Democrats won 59,645,531 votes for congressional seats across the country, while Republicans won 58,228,253 votes. In a system where votes were distributed proportionally, Democrats would have won 49 percent of the seats to 47.5 percent for the Republicans, with the remainder going to third-party contenders. But in the gerrymandered system that now exists, Republicans gained almost 54 percent of the seats in the 113th Congress, with a 234-201 advantage and complete control of the chamber.
In 2016, the Republicans narrowly won the national vote for seats in Congress, gaining 49.1 percent to 48 percent for the Democrats, with the remainder of the vote going to independent and third-party contenders. Yet, because of gerrymandering, Republicans won more than 55 percent of the seats in the House, for a 241-194 advantage and control of the chamber by Speaker Paul Ryan.
This is not what representative democracy looks like.
Under a proportional system designed to reflect the will of the people, the House split in the 115th Congress would be 213 for the Republicans to 209 for the Democrats, with 13 seats going to third-party and independent contenders. That could radically alter debates about health care, climate change, infrastructure programs, presidential accountability, and virtually every other issue.
Gerrymandering has produced similarly unfair and dysfunctional results in states across the country. For instance, in 2012, when Democratic President Barack Obama swept to an easy victory in Wisconsin, and when Democratic US Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin was elected with a substantial majority, Democrats won 53 percent of the statewide vote for State Assembly seats. Yet the Republicans maintained a 60-39 majority in the legislative chamber.