Rhode Island is entering the 2014 election cycle with major decisions to make. First, there will be the election of all of the state’s general officers. Second, there will be the usual elections of the entirety of the the General Assembly; commonplace as it may be, it has a major impact on Rhode Island. Thirdly, there is a requirement to ask whether Rhode Islanders want to hold a constitutional convention.
The last that is the most important. A lot of things will be at play here. There is impetus for reform across the political spectrum. Which means many competing interests as to what should be changed and why and how.
There’s also the issue that there’s an established political set that may not want to see large-scale reform, and that will also matter.
Then that each delegate will be elected from across the 75 Rhode Island House districts drawn after the 2010 US Census, meaning that many of the dynamics that go into House races will apply to the race for the delegates.
Finally, we should take into consideration that a constitutional convention cannot fundamentally transform power dynamics. What it can do is transform how those dynamics play out. Thus, the abolition of slavery and acknowledgement that all Americans were equal didn’t suddenly equalize all Americans. What it did do is prevent the enslavement of black Americans. It took a hundred years of resistance to bring about legislation that would guarantee equal access to rights, and even then the structures built up during the whole of American history continue to discriminate.
What I specifically want to look at in this series are constitutional changes that transform elections; which can best be described as transforming how (and which) citizens can access the power of the state. Specifically, I want to create a picture of how the General Assembly would look under a different electoral system; one that prized balancing the General Assembly to the votes for each party.
This system is known as mixed-member proportional representation (MMP). It’s not the be-all and end-all of electoral systems, but it’s better than the current system, which is known as plurality voting or “first-past-the-post” (FPTP). I’ll explain the difference in a bit. But first, I want to talk about the last six elections in Rhode Island.
This is Part 1 of the MMP RI series, which posits what Rhode Island’s political landscape would look like if we had switched to a mixed-member proportional representation (MMP) system in 2002. Part 2 is a retrospective of the last six elections.