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Gerrymandering and Technology

I would strongly caution people against drawing conclusions about gerrymandering based on the 1984 election results. Those results reflect the 1980 census and districts drawn in the 1980-81 period -- i.e., a period before the widespread availability of powerful computer mapping technology. Gerrymandering has always been with us, but until relatively recently it was a pretty crude affair. Contempoary gerrymandering using modern technology is a rather different ball game. Moreover, the behavior of pre-1994 white Southern Democrats, though certainly an interesting subject, doesn't tell us much about contemporary circumstances, since their behavior was idiosyncratic at the time relative to northern politicians, southern Republicans, and southern African-American Democrats, they largely don't exist anymore, and insofar as they do exist, they're a rather different breed from their predecessors.

October 22, 2004 | Permalink

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Comments

This cannot be stressed enough: it would be a disaster if Electoral College reform leads to votes apportioned by Congressional districts. It's bad enough EC votes are apportioned according to arbitrary state boundaries. Even worse when the boundaries are drawn for the express purpose of giving sanctuary to once party other the other.

Posted by: Grumpy | Oct 22, 2004 12:16:21 PM

Two words: proportional representation.

Posted by: abb1 | Oct 22, 2004 12:25:23 PM

Ditch the EC completely and demote the Senate to a body that ratifies treaties and presidential appointments. If my state has 10 Representatives, give me 10 votes in the House election so that I can spread them around as I see fit. Parliaments? Absolutely.

(Why should Wyomigerinians have more power in this country than a New Yorker or Californian?)

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis | Oct 22, 2004 12:56:21 PM

Much as I'd love to get rid of the Electoral College and the gross overrepresentation in the Senate of an arbitrarily large number of small states (why is there both a North and a South Dakota, or a Montana and an Idaho?) it can't be done.
Something else might be done to mitigate the problems: (1) assign x number (negotiable) of "at-large" electoral votes to the popular vote winner and (2) create x number (negotiable) of "at-large" Senate seats, voted upon nationally by any one of several respectable methods (ranked ballots, Hare system, etc.) used for mutliseat elections.
Maybe this will actually sell.

Posted by: C.J.Colucci | Oct 22, 2004 1:07:43 PM

If you are gonna reform the electoral college (and not simply abandon it for a national district election) then it makes sense not to try to provide the smallest practical fix, but to devise a system that actually gets to the heart of objections on all sides.

And the way to do this is to abandon some pernicious preconceptions of what the electoral college needs to look like at the end of the reform. For example, there's no reason why the number of electors needs to equal the number of representatives plus the number of senators. What if we expanded the college by a factor of five? What kind of system would you get then?

With a quintupled EC, you could grant 5 electoral votes per congressional district and allocate them via proportional representation. You could also allocate the remaining 10 electors proportionally to the statewide vote. This would remove most of the incentive for gerrymandering at the presidential level, since packing a district with voters of one stripe could lead to the opposite party candidate getting punished in that district (say 4-1) without getting much benefit in other districts (which would still be likely to go only 2-3 at best). Also, by setting the threshold for proportional representation pretty high (in this case, about 15 percent at the district level and about 9 percent statewide) you still limit the impact of all but Perot-level third parties.

Such a system would tend to place the emphasis on both swing districts (where you can move a 2-3 disadvantage to a 3-2 advantage by getting a majority vote) and marginal landslide districts (where you would want to motivate enough of your voters to get the 1-4 disadvantage to a 2-3 disadvantage). Also, there would be as much incentive to campaign in a state that you could shift from 44-56 to 46-54 as there was to swing a state from 49-51 to 51-49. This would really open up the field in terms of where campaigns are contested.

Anyway, you get the advantages of proportional allocation and the advantages allocation per district without the quite obvious problems when allocating one vote per district or all votes per state.

Just a thought.

Posted by: jlw | Oct 22, 2004 1:13:24 PM


Redistricting laws really ought to be changed to require districts to have the smallest possible perimeter length that encloses the required number of people.


That ought to end the really outrageous gerrymandering.

Posted by: Jon H | Oct 22, 2004 1:49:31 PM

Jon H is right on principle. However, I think the only way to get at this is through constitutional litigation, since Congress probably doesn't have the power to legislate state district-drawing rules and state legislatures probably would never pass such a system on their own without being forced to (speaking as a Texan here). Since the Supreme Court only likes to look at civil rights claims on the basis of individual rights nowdays, the constitutional issue would have to be framed in terms of an individual constitutional right to vote in a non-gerrymandered district.

Posted by: Handle | Oct 22, 2004 2:17:26 PM

I don't think you can make any blanket statement that northern Democrats weren't involved in serious partisan gerrymandering during the 70s, 80s, and early 90s. Davis v. Bandemer (1986), for example, was about an aggressive gerrymander by Indiana Democrats.

Posted by: rd | Oct 22, 2004 3:30:01 PM

Which state has the highest percentage of competitive congressional districts and why?

Posted by: fleve | Oct 22, 2004 3:32:47 PM

Plus, there was the extreme Democrat gerrymander for California in 1980. From Toobin's gerrymandering article in The New Yorker:

"DeLay’s mid-cycle reapportionment may be without precedent, but Democrats have their own inglorious history of gerrymandering. Before the Texas coup this year, the most notorious redistricting operation in recent years was the one run by Representative Philip Burton, following the 1980 census in California, which transformed the Democrats’ advantage in House seats there from 22-21 to 27-18."

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?031208fa_fact

Posted by: rd | Oct 22, 2004 3:39:27 PM

interesting article on this topic:

"[A]mong the few legislative chambers that seem to be genuinely in play this fall (the Senate in Maine, the House in Vermont, Nevada and North Carolina, both chambers in Washington State), nearly all had their maps drawn by courts, commissions or divided governments — somebody other than legislators of a single party enjoying a free hand."

http://governing.com/articles/10elect.htm

Posted by: Handle | Oct 22, 2004 4:38:44 PM

C.J. Colucci: "why is there both a North and a South Dakota, or a Montana and an Idaho?"

For that matter, do we still need Delaware? I was shocked to learn recently that the First State has no local TV stations of its own. That's practically the same as not existing!

Count me in for Dakota consolidation. Montana should absorb Wyoming. Idaho can take eastern Washington & Oregon, with the coasts of both merging into a single state.

Alaska's a problem -- underpopulated, but no way to graft it to anything contiguous.

While we're at it, California, Texas, and New York could each be split 2 or 3 ways.

Make me dictator for a week and I'll get it done.

Posted by: Grumpy | Oct 22, 2004 5:50:01 PM

Grumpball -- how about bringing back the state of Jefferson?

http://www.jeffersonstate.com/jeffersonstory.html

Actually Oregon is a pretty competitive for the US senate and at least eastern Oregon is given its own representive in congress. You'd have to make some strange shaped districts to make eastern Oregon competitive.

The political divisions in Oregon and in the country are largely rural/urban -- but if you drew the state boundaries and congressional districts based upon this you'd get some lousy policy makers. Balance is good. Entrenched divisions are bad.

Posted by: fleve | Oct 22, 2004 7:10:28 PM

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