There Is No Perfect Electoral System

April 8, 2009

In “Israel’s Election System Is No Good” (op-ed, April 1), Prof. Bernard Lewis argues that the February Israeli election again demonstrated the failures of Israel’s electoral system. He urges that the Knesset no longer be elected nationwide but instead be composed of members representing individual districts, as are the legislatures of the U.S. and U.K. But the adoption of the “constituencies” model used in Anglo-American countries brings its own set of problems. The effectiveness of a district-based system depends on how those district lines are drawn.

With inexpensive computer models now widely available to all, it is possible to determine the boundaries of a district down to the level of an individual block. Districts can be gerrymandered to contain a specific number of voters of the desired party, race or nationality. Districts will almost always elect someone from the party they were intended to favor. This allows party bosses to eliminate competition in general elections and remove the voters from the equation.

Prof. Lewis does not mention that in the U.S. the parties exercise the same degree of sub rosa influence over the makeup of the legislature as they do in Israel. The decennial redistricting process provides an opportunity for the party leadership to reward friends and eliminate enemies. A favored member may be given a seat that guarantees landslide victories for the next decade eliminating interparty and intraparty competition.

District-based elections give the appearance of accountability to the voters, but the reality is often different. A district-based system with no check on the ability to draw district lines would be no improvement at all.

Bill Mundell
2005 Chairman Californians for Fair Redistricting
Los Angeles

[Wall Street Journal]

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