Women Could Gain With Proportional Elections

Regarding the article "Women Marking Slow, Steady Gains in US Politics," July 18: One way we could speed the growth of women in office in the United States would be to adopt a proportional representation electoral system - one in which at least some candidates are elected at large to allow the distribution of seats to reflect accurately the distribution of votes among the competing parties or candidates. Almost without exception, nations using proportional representation have more women in office than the handful of nations using "winner-take-all" systems in single-member districts. Germany provides an opportunity to compare effects of electoral systems on women in office; half of its Bundestag is elected from single-member districts and half from an at-large party list proportional vote. In the 1983 West German election, 16 percent of winners in the party-list half of the Bundestag were women, while in the single-member district elections women won only 4 percent of the seats - close to the current percentages of women elected in such winner-take-all nations as Britain and the US. Proportional representation has a number of benefits, including allowing voters both a greater chance to have their vote count toward representation and an increased number of choices to express their will. The fact that it results in more women in office is reason alone to consider it seriously. Robert Richie, Olympia, Wash.

Freedom of religious belief and behavior The editorial "America's Crown Jewel," July 19, raises an interesting point: The Constitution not only creates the framework for democratic self-government and protects political and economic liberty, but also, through the First Amendment, protects freedom of conscience and expression of ideas. But I believe it goes further than this mental realm. Religion, one of the freedoms mentioned, is often misunderstood to be primarily concerned with ideas, but in fact religion is entwined much more deeply with all facets of behavior - not just those by which we seek to express some idea or those which reflect some particular point of conscience, but all aspects of how we live. This freedom of behavior, which goes far beyond mere freedom of political speech, is vitally important to our perception of liberty and our sense of well-being. It is protected implicitly under the "freedom of religion," as well as under the unenumerated rights of the Ninth Amendment. Rick Wicks, Washington

Government's regulation of religion Regarding the opinion-page column "Religious Conservatives Misjudged Court," July 18: I have to agree with the author's premise that religious conservatives - ironically - support government regulation (read "domination") of religious matters. But unlike the author I wouldn't draw too many hasty conclusions. As a lawyer and former Mormon missionary, I've seen the legal system turn on itself. In 1890, for example, the government hounded Mormons into abandoning polygamy, placing their prophet in the untenable position of being compelled to reassure Congress under oath in 1904 that no new polygamous marriages had been authorized, even though they had. Times change, though. The Utah Supreme Court, always a conservative body, recently held that practicing polygamy does not make a family ineligible to adopt children. The decision was applauded by none other than the American Civil Liberties Union. As my mother used to counsel me, never assume anything but a 2 percent mortgage. Michael J. Barrett, Sterling, Va.

'Any means necessary' for equality Regarding the opinion-page column "Duplicity of Race Politics," July 19: If affirmative action is a nonsolution, what is the real solution? I have owned businesses in predominantly white areas. I have been face to face with bankers who would not loan a black businessman money for expansion more because of race than financial statements. I have endured the remarks and subtle boycotts. I have walked through the doors of corporations with the best deals and have seen orders go to the other guy with a lesser program because he is white. It takes affirmative action, quotas, additional laws, and, as Malcolm X said, "any means necessary" to bring about equality. The solution to racism is a commitment to the fulfillment of democratic ideals that this country lacks the will or the guts to adhere to. Richard L. Joseph, Gilroy, Calif.

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