Redistricting update

Redistricting update


In Wednesday’s post about a new redistricting algorithm, I focused on the technical specifics of the proposed method, and the pros and cons that made it different from previous proposals.

I deliberately avoided delving into all the standing arguments about how best to draw districts, largely because I’ve discussed them in tedious detail before. But judging by the comments and e-mails I’ve received, a quick overview would be useful.

The complicating factor is that there are situations where gerrymandering produces a better result than a purely nonpartisan approach. That’s because redistricting involves several legitimate but competing principles:

1. District boundaries should make geographic sense.

2. District boundaries should be nonpartisan.

3. The makeup of Congress should reflect the makeup of the citizenry. If a given group makes up 15 percent of the citizens, it should probably have about 15 percent of the Congressional seats.

4. Districts should be socially coherent, so that their representative can truly represent them. A suburban neighborhood on the edge of the city, for instance, is better grouped with a suburban district with similar demographics than an urban district with which it has nothing in common.

The problem is that #4 is highly subjective, and it’s hard to get #3 if you want both #2 and #1. For instance, assuming minorities are somewhat evenly spread through the population, a totally nonpartisan approach would create zero districts where blacks, say, are a majority — greatly reducing the political power of black voters.

(continued over at Midtopia)

  • Jeremy

    So-called “political districts” exist for one reason, political hegemony. They serve to guarantee the dominance of the two parties which monopolize the American political system. They trade off the seats of power between them, insuring that where one doesn’t control a specific aspect of the American socioeconomic landscape the other will.

    This is directly tied to the institution of the electoral college, where one-dollar equals one-vote instead of one-person one-vote.

    The quintessence of carving up a cake and dividing it before it has even been baked.

  • Rich Horton

    “A suburban neighborhood on the edge of the city, for instance, is better grouped with a suburban district with similar demographics than an urban district with which it has nothing in common.”

    I don’t get this at all. I mean, every state has Senators who have the responsibility of representing everyone in the state no matter how different neighborhoods are. Somehow they manage to do that. I actually think it would be PREFERABLE to have some wealthy suburban districts also include more working class urban areas in their districts. The desire to have homogenous districts is an anti-democratic impulse. It is the reason we do not have competitive districts in the first place.

    And Geography? Where would that matter in this day and age? 100+ years ago, ok, you might not want districts to cross major rivers. But today where does that matter?

    Make districts contiguous and compact and everything will work out. You will actually have candidates who will need to present a moderate political outlook in many places that now feed more extreme views.

  • Sean Aqui

    Rich: I think it’s legitimate to want to be represented by someone who will actually advocate your interests. It seems to me that a small wealthy neighborhood attached to a district that is overwhelming urban poor has roughly zero chance of getting its voice heard. The reverse is true, as well.

    “So what?” you say, and I generally agree. It’s no different than being a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, or vice versa. And as I note, it’s a very subjective criteria that should apply only at the margins, if at all. But I think it’s a legitimate concern, even if it’s not a compelling one in the overall scheme of things.