Former Governor Schwarzenegger and other participants in his campaign for redistricting reform across the country have identified the right problems.

They are correct in pointing out how unrepresentative state legislatures have become; the percentages of votes that each party gets rarely represents the percentage the party holds in American state houses. Schwarzenegger and allies also have noted the lack of competition for seats, the fact that incumbents don’t often stick around, and the lack of diversity in representation, particularly a shortage of women among lawmakers.

If only they had a solution that would fix these problems.

The Schwarzenegger’s effort chosen solution is the independent redistricting commission like the one we have in California. They want each state to take the power to draw district boundaries (for the legislature and for Congress) away from legislators and give the power to commissions whose memberships are supposed to be insulated from politics.

Such commissions do end the conflict of interest inherent in having lawmakers set the boundaries of their own districts. But redistricting commissions don’t solve the problems of representation that Schwarzenegger is aiming at.

You can see the failure of the redistricting commission idea when it comes to California. Democrats get two-thirds of the representatives in our state, but don’t get two-thirds of the votes. The figure is significantly lower. Republicans are disadvantage as well—with far fewer seats than their share of the vote. And while our legislature is more diverse than most in the U.S., it doesn’t come anywhere close to being representative of the state’s diversity. And women are hugely underrepresented.

The good news is that there is a reform that would accomplish such representation. The bad news is that it’s not redistricting reform. In fact, redistricting reform re-emphasizes the single-member district system that distorts representation.

The real reform in this era is proportional representation. The idea is to have elections in which the number of seats are allocated by the proportion of votes a party gets. There are different ways to do this, and it’s not a foreign system (American states and cities have had proportional representation). But ideally, a party would put up lists of candidates, and get a number roughly equal to its percentage of the votes.

Another advantage of the system. A party could put together a slate of candidates diverse in any number of ways, from ethnicity to expertise. It’s also the way to solve the problem of underrepresentation of women. Parties choosing lists of candidates would come under pressure to have gender parity. In some places around the world, party lists must be half women.

Proportional representation also creates more of the political competition Schwarzenegger wants. Under the single-member district system redistricting reform would preserve, there are bound to be plenty of safe seats with no competition. But in a proportional system, there is competition everywhere, no matter whether a district is more Democrat or Republican. Because seats are allocated by the percentage of the vote, parties have incentive to compete for a higher percentage of the vote everywhere, even in places where they are weak.

I’m glad to see Gov. Schwarzenegger out there fight for a more representative democracy in America. I’d be even happier if he embraced a reform that would actually accomplish his stated goal.