Sacramento's Fun-House Mirror:
Showing How California's Legislature Doesn't Closely Represent its Body Politic

By Rob Latham, Board Member and Secretary, Californians for Electoral Reform

"So what?" That could be one of the reactions you may get when explaining to someone that implementing proportional representation means that like-minded groupings of voters will win legislative seats in better proportion to their share of the popular vote than in winner-take-all elections.

Comparing the percentage of votes received to the percentage of seats won, by both Democrats and Republicans, from the last six state legislative general elections in California is one way of showing why electoral systems matter.

  One caveat: different electoral systems call for different electoral strategies. So, one shouldn't conclude from these charts that had California used proportional representation in 2000, for example, that Democrats would have won only 53 percent of the seats in the Assembly (instead of the 62 percent they did win) and Republicans would have won 43 percent of the seats (instead of the 38 percent they did win).

Still, these charts can help electoral reformers explain what we mean by a better proportion.

With the exception of 1994 (the year of the so-called "Republican Revolution"), the voteshares for both Democrats and Republicans in the state assembly races don't vary by more than four and three percentage points, respectively.

Q: So why the larger disparity in the state senate races in the 1994, 1998 and 2002 elections?

A: That is how the mapmakers created the even-numbered state senate districts. The election outcomes in the odd-numbered state senate districts -- which were held in 1992, 1996 and 2000 -- resulted in a much better fit, proportionally speaking, between votes and seats.

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