It's so easy when you make the rules
Posted by aogWednesday, 20 October 2004 at 22:45 TrackBack Ping URL

Random Jottings is pondering gerrymandering. There is some discussion of having a non-partisan commission but as a commentor asks, how do you prevent that from being captured by partisan hacks? Well, the only way to do that is to make it ineffectual which kind of defeats the purpose.

I think they are missing the bigger issue, which is the true genius of the Founding Fathers. You don’t try to eliminate partisanship, because that’s a fools errand (or the essence of Socialism, take your pick). Instead your system needs to harness it as a driving engine. Make the partisans do the work but structure it so that the damage done is minimized.

As I’ve mentioned that before, it seems that the gerrymandering problem could be solved by a very simple system. After the census, any citizen can submit a redistricting plan. A plan must generate the correct number of Congressman and must have a ratio of the largest district to the smallest district of 1.2 or less (or pick some other close to 1 number) in terms of voting population size in order to be valid. The valid plan with the shortest total borders wins.

Now, this won’t completely stop gerrymandering. One can still get away with a little bit by making almost all well designed districts with just a few protuberances. But it also makes for an interesting contest between the parties - how much can you go out of a minimal solution before the other side beats you on overall length? And of course the good government types can submit their own maps, although I suspect that formatting requirements will keep the rabble out. That’s OK, the real driver is competition between the parties.

All the commission does, then, is scan the lists, verify validity and total the borders (this makes it ineffectual, thereby inhibiting capture). All the maps become public domain, of course, so that the commission can be checked up on.

Of course, this will never be adopted because it doesn’t satifsy either the hacks or the good government types. The former’s disatisfaction is obvious. The latter will not appreciate it because it’s a general solution that’s mostly right, rather than a perfectly planned equisitely balanced solution. Of course, that kind of solution never works in practice but that hasn’t deterred them in the past.

Comments — Formatting by Textile
Dave Sheridan Thursday, 21 October 2004 at 00:19

One thing Random Jottings didn’t mention (and oddly neither did Dan Weintraub in the SacBee article) is that a voter initiative drive is ready to go, with a draft law and petitions. It’s being organized by the same guy who was behind the recall initiative. Oddly, he’s more fixated on making the legislature part-time, but at least there’s something ready to be pushed. This is actually another case of Arnold giving the legislature a chance to propose their own idea. If they don’t, he’ll support the initiative folks. Here’s the initiative draft. Lots of the verbiage regulates how the pool of candidates is selected. Six names are drawn (3 special masters, 3 alternates) to form the commission. They have to agree unanimously on a final plan.

Anyone can propose a plan. The criteria aren’t as objective as yours, but at least pay lip service to county and city boundaries. Here’s the relevant wording: “In this regard, a redistricting plan shall comply with these criteria in the following order of importance: (1) create the most whole counties possible, (2) create the fewest county fragments possible, (3) create the most whole cities possible, and (4) create the fewest city fragments possible, except as necessary to comply with the requirements of the preceding subdivisions of this section.” The constraint on the relative district sizes is +/- 1%, which is pretty tight. I thought it was a nice touch to add that the districts will have to be contiguous. Even with a commission, most of the political pressure will be couched in terms of minority disenfranchisement, and the standards will allow wiggle room for deal-cutting. At least it’s a step in the right direction.

The real problem is the one you mentioned in your February post—we just aren’t informed voters. Incumbency is largely assured here precisely because past voting patterns predict future behavior so well. If a new process can create a larger number of competitive districts, we may get some more contested races. Term limits cause turnover, but demography has largely been destiny, and the parties typically anoint successors. Unless an incumbent dies or commits mass murder, the challenger is usually some quixotic dabbler who gets limited financial support.

Annoying Old Guy Wednesday, 27 October 2004 at 22:13

After some further comments over at the Judds, I’ve decided that it shouldn’t be any citizen, but any legislator. Allowing anyone to submit a plan will bog the whole process down too much. The set of legislators is wide enough that maverick plans can get in the system to prevent too much collusion by the major parties.

Tracked from Random Jottings: Redistricting... on 27 October 2004 at 20:28

I mentioned Gerrymandering a few posts back, and AOG has some interesting thoughts. And Dave Sheridan mentions in a comment that Ted Costa (he of the recall that made Arnold our Gov.--thanks Ted!) hasn't given up his hopes of getting...

Tracked from No Illusions: California: How should legislative districts be drawn? on 18 January 2005 at 05:22

In an item last week, I wrote about the battle in California for control of the legislative redistricting process. At issue was whether an independent commission was preferable to legislative control. I left out an important element—What criteria...

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