An Analysis of Attitudes and Views of the Membership of the NBCSL on Alternative Election Structures
Bob Holmes Director
The Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy
This study grows out of the concerns expressed by many African Americans that recent Supreme Court decisions will make it extremely difficult to create more majority black districts to elect more African American legislators. There is a growing realization that alternatives to the single member district need to be explored. In response to this issue, Representative Bob Holmes introduced a resolution at the December 1997 annual meeting to create a Task Force to examine the issue and to make recommendations during the next three years. With the assistance of Rob Ritchie, Executive Director of the Center for Voting and Democracy, a grant was secured from the Open Society Institute to conduct a national survey of the NBCSL membership. The following is a summary of the preliminary findings based on the 106 responses to the 575 surveys that were mailed.
Sixty-one percent were males; 32% females, and 6% did not answer.
Forty percent were 40-49 years; 30% were 50-59; 17% were 60 and above; and 3% were 30-39.
Thirty-eight percent served 6-10 years; 22% were in office 1-5 years; and 14% each had tenure of 11-15 and16-20 years.
Seventy-two percent represented an urban constituency; 14% were from rural areas; and 8% from suburban areas.
Seventy-nine percent had majority black constituencies; 10% majority white; and 8% other.
Attitudes Toward Multi-Member District Elections
- Only 12 % have been involved in multi-seat district elections; and 81% had not been involved.
- Forty-three percent were familiar with the concept of proportional representation, but 42% were unfamiliar.
- Ninety-two percent desired more information on PR and how it functions and only 4% did not want more information.
- Eighty percent said such information would assist them in negotiations during the next reapportionment; and 18% did not know if the data would be helpful.
Perspectives on Likely Impacts of PR on Elections
- Seventy percent were unaware that in 50 cases the federal courts had permitted PR as a local remedy, and only 19% were aware of such cases.
- Sixty-four percent did not know whether there were constitutional or legal impediments to the use of PR in their state; whereas 13% said there were none; and 16% said did not know
- Thirty-one percent said adopting PR would make it easier to elect people of color and women; 11 percent said it would make it more difficult; 9% said it would have no impact; and a plurality of 40 percent said they didn't know the impact.
- Eighty-two percent said there had been no serious debate/discussion of PR in their state; only 8 % said such debate had occurred; while 8% said they did not know.
- Only 28% said they favored an electoral system which may result in a multiple party system with candidates elected by a plurality; 36% said no; and 33% said they did not know.
- Respondents said the best way to promote PR in their state were state legislative enactments (36%); Initiative Referendum (17%); Federal court directive (16%); Local government (9%); and 22% (Don't know)
- Regarding the degree of difficulty involved in educating their constituency about how to use PR; 32% said somewhat difficult; 26% said average difficulty; 24% said very difficult; while only 4% said somewhat easy; and 2% very easy.
- The best ways to introduce/educate constituents about PR were said to be: Churches (30%), radio (26%), community organizations (16%), while newspapers were next at 8% followed by cable TV with 6%.
- The most useful educational tools cited to explain the PR concept to legislators were: small focus groups (31%); 25% audio-visual presentations (25%); followed by Role Play/Simulation Exercises and Brochures (10% each); and Lecture Presentations (9%)
Experience with PR
- Only 38 % of the respondents' districts were involved in legal challenges during the 1990s', while 57% were not.
- Almost 72% of the sample were involved in redistricting/reapportionment activities in their state; and only 26% were not involved in such activities
- Approximately 55% said the next redistricting session would be more difficult; 25% said about the same; and only 5% said less difficult.
- Only 20% supported the concept of a citizen's commission to draw the next district lines, while 56% opposed the use of such a commission.
- Only 29% said demographic changes would make it more difficult to draw single member districts which are likely to elect Black State legislators; 49% said not more difficult; and 14% did not know the effects.
Attitudes of NCBSL Members
on Proportional Representation
The Southern Center for Studies in Public Policy
Clark Atlanta University
Prepared for Presentation at the Annual
Meeting of the National Black Caucus of
State Legislatures, Sheraton Cleveland City Center Hotel,
Cleveland, Ohio, December 3, 1998