How Can I Help to Promote PR?

Douglas J. Amy

Once you have become convinced that PR is an important political reform – then what? There are a variety of ways that you can work to promote PR. Probably the best place to begin is with yourself — by educating yourself more about proportional representation. Besides the other material about PR on this site, you will also want to look at the books that deal with this subject in more depth (see the "PR Books" page on this site). You need a thorough understanding of PR if you are to persuade others of its merits.

If you participate in any local political groups, you can educate your fellow members about this issue and urge your organization to formally endorse this reform. Some organizations have formed study groups to read about and discuss PR. Study groups also can be a great way to bring major players in the community together to study the feasibility of PR. And PR is an idea that thrives on scrutiny: the more you look at it, the more you like it.

If you are a member of a church, school, or professional organization, you can promote the use of PR in your group’s own elections. Several student organizations have led campaigns at colleges and universities to elect their student governments by PR. Promoting PR in these non-governmental groups serves to educate the public on the workings and advantages of PR, and helps to lay the groundwork for the larger process of electoral reform.

In promoting proportional representation for governmental elections, the easiest place to begin is at the local level. Usually all it takes is a change in a city or county charter in order to adopt proportional representation. City governments regularly form committee to review their charters, and these are excellent opportunities for citizens to raise the option of using PR.

City officials are sometimes reluctant to lead the way in this kind of change, and they may even try to impede it. So in many areas citizens may often have to organize themselves and offer referendums in order to reform their city charter. In recent years, citizens have put PR referendums on the ballot in Cincinnati and San Francisco. Both efforts narrowly went down to defeat, garnering 45% and 43% of the vote respectively.

The state level is also ripe for change. In many states, PR could be adopted without any change in the state constitution. A reasonable approach would be to work for PR in one house, leaving the other house elected by districts. But given the difficulties in organizing a state-wide campaign, promoters of PR should not jump too quickly into a referendum process without first taking the time to lay the political groundwork for such an effort. PR proponents must form an effective state-wide organization and build coalitions with other political groups. A premature effort that leads to defeat may permanently turn some people off to PR. In order to build support, citizens might want to first work for the establishment of a state commission to examine the voting system. This could provide a valuable forum for promoting the idea of PR and familiarizing the public with this issue.

Litigation is another way to promote the use of PR. City and state suits over voting rights issues provide an opportunity to introduce PR as a possible legal remedy in these cases. Working with the litigants or filing "friend of the court" briefs could at the very least lead to its inclusion in discussions of remedies. In one case in Maryland, a judge opted for a PR remedy after an activist sent him a good article on PR.

Obviously, the adoption of PR for U.S. congressional elections is an important goal for the pro-PR movement. But change at this level will be difficult. Although there are no constitutional obstacles to using PR for U.S. House elections, there is congressional legislation that mandates single-member districts. You could join the effort to repeal this legislation and allow states to use PR. Rep. Cynthia McKinney has introduced a bill, "The Voters’ Choice Act," that would do just that.

Finally, you can also promote proportional representation by joining and supporting the organizations that are leading the fight for this reform. There are a number of state and local level organizations that are promoting PR, such as Northern California Citizens for Proportional Representation. On the national level, the premier organization is the Center for Voting and Democracy in Washington, D.C. The Center is a non-partisan educational foundation that distributes information about election reform and alternative election systems, primarily proportional representation. Links to these organizations can be found on the PR Library page under "PR Web Sites."

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