All this new-found interest in seat gerrymandering makes me happy I must admit. It has always been a topic of interest for me. There are many views on how best to set up seat boundaries, and I doubt any meaningful consensus can be found. But this piece is on a related topic, that of the unit of representation.
The theoretically best option, from a democratic point of view would be where each vote counts equally, via the rather sexist catchphrase of 'one man, one vote'. This is usually viewed via a lens of direct elections, such as the US presidential election. Unbeknownst to most is that the US presidential election violates this mantra. The US was set up, like Malaysia and Australia as a federation. The system to elect the American president comes via the use of electoral colleges (something like seats) within states, where the winner takes all. So for example, say Nebraska has 25 electoral colleges. Everyone votes as usual, ticking the box as per normal. Votes are tallied per electoral college. Say Candidate X wins 13 electoral colleges and Candidate Y wins 12. Candidate X is declared as Nebraska's winner and carries ALL 25 seats. Now, don't tell me Malaysia's system is undemocratic and ask the US for help when they have a system even further removed from 'one man, one vote'. Al Gore won more votes than George W Bush in the 2000 election and lost. It does happen people...
The American system exists because the federation is made up of states, not individuals. 'One man, one vote' would also violate the Malaysia agreement where 4 countries (Malaya, Singapore, Sabah, Sarawak) got together to form Malaysia. It was agreed that Malaya will not get more than 2/3rds of the parliamentary seats, though when Singapore left that was conveniently forgotten and they took 75% of the seats. Now it is inching closer to 80%. This agreement was signed to ensure Malaya, as the most powerful country in the federation would not lord it over the rest. If we are to apply 'one man, one vote' to Malaysia in terms of seats per population, then the agreement is abrogated (it already is to be frank). Malaysia, it seems is also a case of a federation formed by states/countries, not individuals.
Parts of Australia, till not so long ago also had rural votes counting double so as to ensure that country voices would not be drowned out by city voices. The argument was that 'one man, one vote' would over-represent city concerns relative to country concerns and that it would be fairer that the minority has an 'extra' vote.
All this of course matches in with the setting of seat boundaries, where I will next write a short piece on gerrymandering, but for now, we must ask whether 'one man, one vote' is truly representational beyond its theoretical nicety? Two issues to ponder:
1. What about minority rights? In a country like Egypt where Coptic Christians are getting a raw deal their voice is small. Should they receive 'extra' votes? Personally, I think that if the country is truly democratic, minorities will get protected so I fail to agree with such assertions.
2. Who/what is the true unit of representation? In the US it is the state (electoral college), as it is in Malaysia (via watered down safeguards for East Malaysia). But another federation (Australia) has by-passed this by ensuring all seats have equal number of voters with some minor variations. In both the US and Australian cases, an equal number of senate (upper house) seats are allocated per state. Nevertheless in all cases, bigger states have a bigger say via larger electoral colleges and/or seats.
Issue 1 seems to have been marginalised (certainly in Australia) in exchange for democratic safeguards, but I believe it is the second issue that divides people. Who should represent the democratic voice? The people or the states?