Lesson from South Korea on constitutionality of winner-take-all

by Jack Santucci // Published May 24, 2006
Interesting news from Korea today. Seoul is holding local government elections on the heels of several reforms: a lower voting age, franchise for foreigners and proportional voting.

In the United States, courts toss out voting systems that systematically disenfranchise minorities. But voter choice is off the radar. Last week, a federal court in Georgia held that partisan gerrymandering was A-OK under several different legal tests. Some analysts expect SCOTUS to rule in the Texas case that partisan gerrymandering is non-justiciable. Moreover, according to the Georgia decision:

...our representative form of government does not require that all political parties or groups be accorded representation in government proportionate to their numbers in the electorate...

South Korea is way ahead of us. Five years ago, its high court tossed out a winner-take-all voting system because it caused voters to strategically misrepresent their preferences - i.e. pick "the lesser of two evils."

The Korea Herald:

But in choosing council members for both the city and the ward, the voter will cast ballots in two different sections.

One is for candidates, and the other for a political party. This means the Seoul resident has to cast four ballots to determine local council seats.

Their choice of a party will determine the proportional allocation of local council seats among parties that win more than 5 percent of the total votes cast in each district.

The proportional system was introduced in 2001 when the Constitutional Court ruled the electoral system unconstitutional because voters might not necessarily support the political party that has fielded their favorite candidate.

At the same time, the Georgia case invited a constitutional challenge of winner-take-all systems in this country:

Indeed, the notion that the First Amendment guarantees the right to have one's views represented by a person of his or her choosing conflicts with the traditional practice of 'winner-take-all, district-based elections... As far as we know, no one has ever challenged the constitutionality of this practice.