A lot of proportional representation advocates look to multi-member districts as a way to make the legislative body more fairly represent a divided electorate, and maybe even get some seats for some smaller parties.
Via Larry Sabato, Thomas Schaller looks at the history of US congressional elections and notes it was relatively recently - the 1960s - when states were still electing at-large members:
A few states continued to use statewide, at-large multiple-member districts while others featured one at-large, single-member House district to select one House member statewide while carving out the remaining seats into single-member districts within the state. At the highwater mark in the 88th Congress (1962-63), a number of states — including Alabama, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas — elected a total of 22 of the 435 House members from multiple-member or at-large single-member districts.The civil rights era put the end to most of these, because of the unfortunate fact that white voters were reluctant to elect non-white candidates. Those seats gave way to the modern system of districts carefully drawn to predict outcome.
Indeed, had states continued to use at-large statewide or multiple-member districts, there almost certainly would be far fewer non-white U.S. House members today; to recognize the difference, one need only compare the much lower share of African-American, Asian or Hispanic U.S. senators.Of course, the last elected African-American Senator got a promotion.
I've often thought that multi-member districts could also address the issue of gender imbalance. The way the Democratic Party gets a 50-50 gender balanced national convention is: separate contests. Male National Delegate and Female National Delegate are separate contests at the district and state conventions. Men run against men, women run against women.
You could do that with Congress as well. Have every district elect two members, one male one female. Heck, you could even designate Senate seats as male and female.
I'm really getting off into the fantasy land of constitutional amendments here, and I have yet to answer the transgender issue. So lets move on to the next take on multi=member districts: a way to save special election costs.
Joe Mathews argues that despite protests to the contrary, people actually do vote The Party Not The Person:
Ask yourself (or a person you meet) to give you the first and last name, and any other distinguishing personal details, of the person you voted for last year for Assembly. (Few people will be able to answer this question). Then ask if you know the party of the person you vote for last year for Assembly. (Most people will remember that much).Mathews proposes a party list system.
In this insight lies the solution to the problem of low-turnout special elections: letting people vote for the party.
That would mean letting the parties list its candidates in order of preference on the first round ballot. You’d vote for the party, and not the person, which is what you do already.Then if, say, one of the top 12 Know Nothings died, Know Nothing #13 would move up from alternate to member.
Party lists would work much better if the state moved, as it should, to multi-member districts and proportional voting. With, say, a 20 member district, a party could list its 20 choices in order. If that party won, say, 12 of the seats, the first 12 people on its list would take office. Those remaining on the list would serve as alternates.
I'm a party hack so I like anything than enhances the role of the parties. But even if you don't both articles are worth a read and some thought.