Thursday, November 04, 2010

Kill the Gerrymander

One unsung issue in this campaign season is the coming redistricting of state legislative and US Congressional seats. Many states complete redistricting after each 10-year census, as states gain or lose Congressional seats based on population trends. You know who gets to design the districts? Your state legislators!

Now, we've always had a problem with Gerrymandering down South, as establishment politicians traditionally attempted to dilute minority voting blocs. The idea was basically divide and conquer. One reason this nation enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to stop this sort of thing from happening.

While noble in purpose, the end result was simply Gerrymandering with more complex equations. Instead of dividing minority voting strength, these districts compacted minority voting strength, while taking party affiliation into consideration. This leads to populous districts concentrated along urban and minority voting patterns surrounded by suburban and exurban/rural districts.

(If I may be so bold as to exhibit the local examples of Louisiana Congressional District 2 and Louisiana Congressional District 1. Zoom in on the Mississippi River for the howler.)

This also leads to fewer legislative or congressional seats that are actually competitive. In many such districts, your primary election basically determines your office holder, and basically disenfranchises political opposition. This leads to our current situation where extreme views and incumbency are incentivized at the expense of pragmatic candidates. Our issues also become more polarizing, and our investment in the political process wanes - the political class and the media caste make their livings off this situation while the rest of us pay for it.

But two things happened Tuesday night that give me a big silver lining to hold onto. In Florida, voters overwhelmingly supported Amendments 5 & 6, which will take the redistricting process for state legislative seats AND US Congressional seats out of the hands of the legislature.

The new amendments require that both legislative and congressional districts be compact, equal in population and make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries. The amendments prohibit drawing districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.

Also, California voters continued their two year redistricting reform by voting for Prop 20 and rejecting Prop 27.

Proposition 20 would double-down on the still-forming citizens' panel, allowing it to draw maps for Congress too. Proposition 27 would scrap it entirely.

Of course, there are plenty of opponents and interests gathered against both Florida and California's proposals, and a lot of them are establishment Democrats who directly benefit from the current way of doing things. But make no mistake, sensible design of districts has a better chance of benefiting all Americans in the long run.


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