Parliamentary System - Your Thoughts?

I know this guy is a bit of a kook, to put it mildly, but I was still wondering what people who read this site think of the idea of moving the U.S. to a parliamentary system of government?

The nation’s current system all but guarantees appointed bureaucrats will run most of government, lobbyists will have inordinate amounts of power and the president and Congress will spar with each other more often than they will actually govern the country.

Kelleher has been advocating for a parliament since 1972, when he served as a delegate in Montana’s Constitutional Convention. In evangelizing that belief, Kelleher has run for office 14 times, losing all but his Con-Con bid.

He remains unfazed.

Under a parliamentary system, citizens vote for parties, not individuals. The party picks the candidates, and the party with the most votes in a general election selects the prime minister. The prime minister who is also a member of parliament then selects other parliament members from his party to run the major agencies of government.

Under that system, Kelleher argues, lobbyists have less power. There’s no point in lobbying an individual parliament member, as he or she can easily be replaced by the party.

“We won’t get national health care until we get a parliament,” he said. America’s lawmakers take too much money from insurance companies.

“They’re owned,” he said. “When you’re taking (insurance company) lobby money for 28 or 30 years, there’s a commitment there. There’s more commitment there than there is in the average American marriage.”

Leaving aside the issue of universal health care, could we get more things done in this country with a Canadian-style parliamentary system?

Would it be better for third parties?

30 Responses to “Parliamentary System - Your Thoughts?”

  1. Tim West Says:

    Yes, generally speaking, I think so. But Canada has scandal all the time. Look at the advertising bit that dumped the Grits in hot water and got the Conservatives in power.

    They also have 4 major parties. The minor ones outside of those dont do much.

  2. NewFederalist Says:

    Better for alternative parties? Perhaps but not if “first past the post” is used instead of some proportional representation plan. Even then other parties have a tough time. I would point to the UK for the first example and Germany for the second.
    As for would it be better for the country… I don’t think so. I prefer a system with checks and balances as well as the possibility of divided government (split control of executive and legislative branches).

  3. ms Says:

    More third parties would get elected, but I think the country would be more populist, which would make the country worse off. Maybe the house should be elected through popular vote and the senate by states.

  4. rj Says:

    People could still select party members, it’d just be through a primary to set up the party list.

    From a purely federal perspective, it would be good. Thinking of the joke that are California electoral districts, instead of having 2 competitive races out of 52, we could just pick a party and everyone has a reason to vote in the election instead of just 3% of the state. Plus, in a state like California, you could have a situation where the Libertarian Party for example could get just 3% statewide, but that would still be good enough for 1-2 seats.

  5. undercover_anarchist Says:

    The Senate, as constructed, is undemocratically elected. Why, for example, should people from Vermont have 55 times the voting power as people from Texas? 2 senators represent the tiny state of Vermont, while only 2 represent the vast state of Texas. Alexander Hamilton was wrong about almost everything, but he was right when he said that the rights of individuals who comprise a state are much more important than the “rights” of the artificial political entity they compose. States have no rights; people do, and the people of Vermont should not be held superior to the people of Texas.

    With that said, are you aware that equal representation in the senate is the ONE THING in the Constitution that CANNOT be amended? In the article that lays out the procedure for amendments, two things are said to be unamendable—1) that nothing could be done about slavery until X date, which has of course, elapsed; and 2) no state shall be deprived equal representation in the senate. This is a constitutional conundrum.

    A possible way around this would be to maintain 2 senators per state, but allow the country as a whole to elect them through proportional representation. I’m not sure if this would meet the criteria for “equal representation,” but I think it certainly is debatable.

    For example: Each national political party would nominate a ranked list of 50 candidates, one from each state. Each party getting at least 2% of the vote would automatically get one seat. The party with the most votes would get its top candidate elected, followed by the party with the second most votes, etc., however, no more than one candidate per state could receive a seat.

  6. rob barta Says:

    One error in the analysis of what makes a parliamentary govt. is that “the party with the most votes forms the next government”, actually its the party with the most seats, which sometimes is not the same thing, and sometimes a coalition of parties will outvote the biggest party. Thus, in Germany in the 1970’s, the Christian Democrats were the biggest party with the most seats(at least in some of those years), but combined the Social Democrats and Free Democrats had more seats and formed the government.

  7. Matt Sargus Says:

    First, this will NEVER EVER happen here. The parties in power now would not vote for it.

    Second, if it did happen here, the parties in power now would still be in power later. Even proportional representation wouldn’t make much difference.

    Third, this really wouldn’t work unless the congressional districst are redrawn in a neutral manner. By that I mean litereally using a computer to draw them so that an equal number of people are in each district - but without segregating the races (and parties) into different disitricts.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I would like to see a state try it out (new House of Burgesses anyone?) but not at the national level.

  9. Otto Kerner Says:

    Now, let’s not confuse “parliamentary system” with “proportional representation”. The UK and Canada, for instance, have parliamentary systems but not proportional representation; Costa Rica has a proportional representation but not a parliamentary system. Proportional representation would be a find idea … it wouldn’t really make a big difference in the end, but politics would be a lot more interesting.

    As for the parliamentary system, what this guy is basically proposing is that we need fewer checks and balances so the government can do more. Count me out.

    -ཨཐ་ཨོ་་ ཁྲན་ཪ་

  10. Stephen Says:

    As partisan as things are right now, and because we seem to have come to live in an age of “industrial politics”, we seem to have a de facto parlimentary system, anyway. The reigning party in Congress is often the one that can actually raise the money necessary to install (and keep) an Executive of their party in, and the Exec in turn reinforces those members during campaign time to keep them in power, so that they can keep him in.

    Our legislative and executive branches actually ARE very closely intertwined…too much so, in reality. We’ve seen well enough the problems associated with this recently.

  11. AmaniS Says:

    As one who lives in Germany, I hate the parlimentary system. Remember this, those elected in the US are answerable to the people in there district. In the PS, they are answerable to the party. Everyone tows the line of the party not what is good for the people in there area. You would not have less corruption, just different. Plus, I think less people would vote because you have the party platform and people personality to vote for. Voters would be only more confused then they are now.
    More might get done, but it might not be what you want to get done.
    Oh, and who says I want anything done.

  12. Carl Says:

    Parliamentary system? BLEAH! Watch some videos of “Yes Minister.”

    District elections are better. What we really need are smaller districts—and better rules for Congress so that it could function with more Congresscritters. Some anti-Gerrymandering reforms could also help, such as laws that favor redistricting plans that have fewer multi-county districts.

    What is really needed is to get rid of “first past the post.” I like approval voting with run-offs. This could be done either with multiple rounds of voting or with preference ballots. The difference between approval voting with run-off vs. instant run-off is that we look for “less bad” overall vs. “most favorite” to the dominant factions.

    Such a system would still penalize existing radical third parties, but would allow more moderate third parties to participate.

  13. Sean Scallon Says:

    I would prefer a parlimentary form of government but proportional representation above all regardless. Without that, no system, representative or parlimentary would work. Unlike Canada, UK or Australia, U.S. simply does not have tradition of voting for non-major parties.

  14. Stuart Richards Says:

    We ought to have proportional representation in the House… it could be accomplished (without officially recognizing parties, even!) by having people vote for electors. The electors then get to nominate Representatives depending on their share of the vote, and make it easier to impeach Representatives so that they’re still accountable to the people.

    In fact, maybe have a set election date where the people can register their approval or disapproval with all the sitting Representatives? And if any particular Representative gets less than, say, 40% approval, he’s gone.

    Hmm… House seats come up every six years, staggered so that a third of them are up every year, right? Assuming this to be so, then House elections would be nationwide (as opposed to statewide), with the seats to be filled made up of a third of the seats, plus whoever got booted in the impeachment referendum. And just to make sure that someone who got booted couldn’t come back anyway through elector cronyism, Representatives would only be allowed to serve one term.

  15. Tim West Says:

    for 2010, assuming many of us stay with the LP, what we really need is a way to increase the voting power of members in the LP that dont go the the Convention.

    I’d love to hear answers to this.

  16. joe average Says:

    it would reduce the power of the individual states (which is why the senate is, the way it is).

    I would oppose anything that takes power from the states and gives it to the federal government

  17. Stuart Richards Says:

    for 2010, assuming many of us stay with the LP, what we really need is a way to increase the voting power of members in the LP that dont go the the Convention.

    I’d love to hear answers to this.

    Someone ought to talk to Jason Sorens, and find out how exactly the Free State Project orchestrated their online vote so that it was fair and reliable… and then pressure the LP to set up a similar system.

  18. Thomas L. Knapp Says:

    Some simple reforms could be pursued that wouldn’t require messy undertakings like amending the US Constitution.

    For example, the election of US Representatives could be substantially changed at the state level. There is no requirement in the Constitution that US Representatives be elected on the basis of geographic districts, or that they be elected in “first past the post” races discrete to each seat. Finally, the US Constitution says that the state legislatures shall set the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections,” so even state constitutional amendments shouldn’t be necessary.

    Here’s what I’d like to see a state try:

    1) All US Representatives from thestate elected “at large”—if a state is entitled to five seats in the US House, then all the state’s voters get to participate in choosing all five of those congresscritters.

    This would instantly eliminate gerrymandering, of both the cooperative (“we’ll take this district and y’all get that one”) or competitive (“if we draw the line down the center of this block, cross the river, then go east but cut around that neighborhood, we’ll have two districts with a slim Republican majority instead of one with a big Republican majority and one with a big Democratic majority”) varieties.

    2) Either the removal of party labels from the ballot entirely, coupled with approval voting (each voter votes for ALL of the candidates he or she is WILLING to see sent to Washington as a US Representative, and the top X vote-getters, X being the number of seats, are elected), OR

    3) Vote by party rather than candidate, with all parties (under very loose “ballot access” requirements) receiving more than 1/Xth of the vote (X once again being the number of seats) receiving seats proportionate to the votes that party received.

    The latter method would result in some third party victories in big states, probably fewer or none in small states. For example, Missouri has 9 US House seats, so a party would have to get about 11% of the vote—more than most third party candidates get now—to get a single seat. California, on the other hand, has (if the Google I just performed is recent) 53 seats, which means that a party could get a seat with less than 2% of the vote … eminently doable.

    In my opinion, geographic districts are obsolete and have been for a long time. They were a solution for an age when people identified with each other on the basis of geographic co-location, and when travel, communication and information dissemination were difficult, expensive and time-consuming. These days, I know people I agree (or stridently disagree) with politically better than I know my physical neighbors, and I can disseminate (or gather) information with the click of a mouse.

  19. Gary Odom Says:

    Proportional representation deserves strong consideration, especially at the state level. In California,we in the American Independent Party have, in the past, worked with the Peace and Freedom Party toward this end though, admittedly, not much progress has yet been made. Without proportional representation hundreds of thousands of AIP’s, Libertarians, P&F’s and Greens are totally disenfranchised in our state. I’m sure the same is true across the country.

    I, too, would like to distinguish this concept from the messy and socialist parlimentary systems in Europe and the rest of the world.

    Proportional representation is the perfect issue for a coaliton campaign by all of the “3rd Parties” in this country along, of course, with continued liberalization of ballot access laws.

  20. rj Says:

    In California,we in the American Independent Party have, in the past, worked with the Peace and Freedom Party toward this end…”

    I know it’s just a marriage by convenience, but those meetings together must be a lot of fun!

  21. Gary Odom Says:

    Actually, it was, especially when we brought the League of Women Voters and the networks to their knees in 1980 after they resisted giving our parties equal treatment with the Dems and GOP in the US Senate debate. We won and they lost and our candidates got fair and equal treatment in that debate. A small thing, perhaps, in the big scheme of things, but a sweet victory at the time, nonetheless.

  22. Otto Kerner Says:

    Implementing proportional representation on a state-by-state basis certainly wouldn’t require a federal constitutional amendment. However, it would require a change in federal law, because Congress mandated back in the 1960s that all Congressional elections should be in single-member-districts.

    Incidentally, it is possible to do proportional representation while keeping primarily single-member districts, using what’s called the “mixed member” system. This is what they use in Germany and in the proposal that was considered in the UK.

    Check out and for info on this sort of stuff.

  23. Peter Jackson Says:

    I find Parliamentary systems very undesirable. They are either utterly gridlocked, incapable of any action whatsoever or, if one party does very well, then their power is virtually unchecked and they start passing all sorts of crazy-assed laws. After a decade of deadlock, take a look at all of the hate speech laws and public security cameras that Labor has socked the UK with. Yech..

  24. Jack Says:

    Under a parliamentary system, citizens vote for parties, not individuals.

    Not entirely true. In Canada’s parliamentary system, MPs are elected in single-member districts under winner-take-all (by plurality). This commentator is talking about a closed list-based voting system, which is independent of the relationship between the legislative and executive branches.

    Thomas Knapp’s comments are more to the point. Multi-member districts do not require a constitutional amendment, indeed. Theoretically, the states set the manner of election. In reality, Congress banned multi-member districts in 1967. Before then, several states elected their delegations at-large under winner-take-all. That meant 50% + 1 voter could sweep every single seat up for grabs. The 1967 law, in tandem with the Voting Rights Act, meant legislatures in protected states had to draw some districts in which racial minorities were guaranteed election.

    So going back to multi-member districts only requires a small statutory change - but one Congress is unlikely to enact. It runs counter to the political self-interest of many U.S. Reps who benefit from a system of single-member districts - many of which are gerrymandered.

    Approval voting in statewide, at-large elections is one way, in theory, to ensure fair representation for racial and political minorities while providing a majority of seats to the majority of voters. But there are problems with approval voting, not least a built-in tendency to degenerate into normal plurality elections as voters become familiar with the method.

    FairVote advocates for a system of smaller “superdistricts” of up to 5 members each, elected at-large using a proportional voting method - cumulative, limited or choice voting. Alternatively, the present system of single-member districts could be retained, but additional members could be elected at-large to accountability seats. That would correct for any disproportionality between votes cast and seats won - disproportionality introduced by the system of single-member districts, gerrymanders and, in most cases, what’s just a natural partisan geography.

    As far as third parties go, the former proposal probably would be more beneficial. But the latter isn’t terrible either.

  25. terry Says:

    Since we’re talking Constitutional amendments here, how about;

    1) Return selection of Senators to the States.

    2) At-large national election of Representatives with each voter getting 5 votes.

    First 400 or so past the post win.
    Each Rep has one vote on procedural matters.
    Each Rep has a vote proportional to their popular vote when voting on proposed laws.

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