Imagine that in 1994 voters had approved similar constitutional amendments to those they did. The House would be reduced to 75 districts, and the Senate would be reduced to 38. However, both chambers would actually end up expanded; as the House would receive 75 additional seats and the Senate 38 additional seats.
These seats wouldn’t be attached to districts, but rather they’d be apportioned based on the total vote a party collected across all races for each chamber. Thus if the Democrats won 60% of all votes cast in Senate races and 70% of all votes cast in House races, they could expect a roughly proportional number of seats in the Senate and House.
The results of the district races would be unchanged, and the legislature would grow above the 150 seats in the House and 76 in the Senate based on those results. Thus if an independent candidate won a race, they’d still take their seat, but the legislature would grow by one seat to accommodate them while keeping the party balance roughly even to the vote for parties.
The non-districted seats would be filled from a list of candidates selected by the parties. How the parties selected these candidates would be entirely up to them.
What I’ve just described is roughly how the West German Bundestag set up as its electoral system following World War II. Most of its state legislatures did the same.
Initially, the Bundestag used the system described above, where the votes cast in the district races were used to calculate how the list seats should be apportioned. However, this has since been changed to having a separate vote for party preference. This allows voters to think strategically in their votes in the district races, while still being able to vote for their favorite party. Unfortunately, we can’t do more than guess how voters would select the favorite party, so I’ve chosen to use the original Bundestag system.
There’s a bit more though. It’s not as simple as “you get 40% of the vote, you get 40% of the seats.” There are multiple ways of calculating how many seats a party should get. I chose the D’Hondt method, which is a highest averages method. The D’Hondt method favors large parties and disadvantages smaller parties, which I thought would be appropriate to how our electoral system is already setup.
Many electoral systems also feature a “threshold,” requiring a party gain a certain proportion of votes before it can gain seats. Typically, this is set at 5%. In this case, I’ve left out a threshold. I feel if this really were implemented, there would be a threshold, but I felt it would be more interesting to see whether any third party could break into the General Assembly without that extra hurdle. Currently, Rhode Island political parties require 5% of the statewide vote in either the US Presidential race or the Governor’s race to be recognized as a state party.
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