Monday, December 03, 2012

Killing The Gerrymander

Not a huge fan of the gerrymander.

Because it does these three things:
1) promotes one political party over the other by crafting "safe" congressional districts where registered voters are a majority/plurality over opposing parties, with such safe districts that incumbent officials can rarely be removed from office through honest vote;
2) distorts honest representation of communities by dividing them up and sharing them out to outlying, more sparsely populated areas that could now overwhelm that portion of a large community;
3) simple unfairness: a state could have one party with a larger registered voter base but - thanks to gerrymandering - the smaller party can retain control of local and congressional offices... and worse carve out supermajority control of state-level offices disproportionate to actual representation.  This could allow the more extreme positions of that minority party to pass legislation harmful (at least spiteful) to the actual majority of state residents who would oppose such laws.

Basically, gerrymanders create wasted votes.

First Problem is... the parties in power don't really want to see gerrymandering go away.  Let us be honest here: this IS one of the few times that claiming "both sides do it" is accurate (ask Florida Democrats, ask Illinois Republicans).

Second Problem is... how the hell can it be stopped?  The carving out of districts has to happen: democratic/republican government has to allow regions - cities, metropolises, counties - to provide local representation.  Each representative required to stand for a certain number of the populus, and done so at equal numbers so that one official does not represent a handful while another represents a vast number.  So districts have to get made.  But the people tasked to map them out are still people: biased and favored at best, corrupt at worst.

Some solutions are in place in various states, with hope that they can reduce if not end the threat of the gerrymander altogether.  Some states have non-partisan independent committees assigned the task of mapping out redesigned districts every Census count (10 years), and to do so without party consideration.  Other states - like here in Florida - passed state amendment laws forcing the state legislature (most state gov'ts control the process) to draw districts with strict limits - only by population density, must be reasonably shaped (rectangular as much as possible), etc. - to reduce the most blatant aspects of gerrymandering (the stretching out a district in bizarre shapes to provide the "safety" of that district).

But even these options have their limits and flaws: the Republican-held Florida legislature was still able to figure out how to carve out enough safe districts under the new rules to keep a solid GOP majority in both state houses, despite the fact there are more registered Democrats in this state.  So clearly, more needs to be done to kill the gerrymander.

Some ideas I've been mulling:

Increasing the number of representatives to Congress/state offices.  I've scoffed before at this idea of making more seats in the U.S. House to make Congress more responsive to the voters.  But now I think the guy who suggested this - professor Larry Sabato - might be right.  Not so much the need to drop the number of people represented from roughly 650,000 per district down to a more manageable 150,000... but because increasing the number of districts makes it harder to shape them into gerrymandered districts.
Look at it like this: Florida's got 27 Congressional districts right now.  Say we doubled that number to 54... and still requiring that districts have to be carved out based above all on population density as the state amendments require.  It makes it suddenly a lot easier for urban, densely populated areas to get more districts; and makes it a LOT harder to carve out those districts to share with the sparsely populated areas.  Ergo, fewer gerrymanders.

The cap on the number of representatives at 435 total isn't set in stone: it was capped back in 1929... back when the U.S. population was 123 million... we've nearly tripled that by now at 330 million for 2010.  An argument can be made that the cap set 100 years ago is no longer feasible and should go up.  Trick is, by how much?  There are only so many office spaces in D.C. to go around...

I would argue for a change in base representation, where the smallest populated states get one representative and that's it.  I'd suggest bumping that up to two representatives for the smallest states, just to give every state some diversity in representation.  Then I'd take that divided number of the fifth-least-populated state (currently South Dakota at 824 thousand or so) and use that (412,000 or so) as a basis for district drawing for all other states (dividing Wyoming as the least-populated would have given us district sizes at 284,000 which might be going too small).

Let's do the math for the most-populated state (California, 37,692,000 or so) with that 412,000: we get 92 representatives compared to the current 53.  It's not that huge a boost (close to double the current, yes, but not over).  For Texas (25,675,000) they get 62, over the 32 current.  By the way this is tracking out, it looks like a 42 percent increase of representatives per state.  Not sure how it will total up in the House, but I figure it's an extra 182 seats, minimum.  Can we afford/handle a 618-seat House?

Creating more districts does make sense as well at the state level... except in New Hampshire, they have 400 members for a state population of 1.3 million.  Florida's got 25 million residents, at least our house numbers (120) seem more sensible although a slight increase to say 150 reps is doable. 

Another option might be to create a Lottery system of randomly dividing up the registered voters per seat.  Get rid of districts for a state, change it over to just seating at Congress, and then allow for the technology to randomly assign a House seat per voter.  Your neighbor may end up voting for a candidate for Seat 12 while you get to vote on who gets Seat 24.  And your friend down the street gets Seat 5 while her neighbor gets Seat 7.  No-one gets to say who gets assigned to a Seat vote.  No favors.

This has the advantage of getting rid of "safe" districts altogether.  It also forces the two parties to run candidates for EVERY seat rather than selectively put their energies into those "safe" districts.  It also prevents parties from putting up candidates who might be extreme enough for that "safe" district - hi, Steve King of Iowa! - but who can end up being toxic for statewide voters as a whole (note the lack of super-crazy Senators: yes, most are partisan but even the most partisan of them aren't as wingnut as some of their House counterparts).  But the disadvantages are huge: this does have the effect of eliminating genuine community representation.  Local issues - trade vs. tourism, for example - will diminish as state issues dominate.  And there runs the ever higher risk of rigged lottery disbursement of voters.

Those are pretty much the two ideas I've got going.  If anyone else has sensible suggestions, please leave a comment here on this blog.  (again, if the Blogger system is NOT favorable to your login needs, let me know through other means such as my direct email, thanks) 

Also, if anyone else out there is coming to this blog via the Iran Day Six entry I wrote 3+ years ago... why are you still linking to that article?  Is it the pictures I have on that entry?  Is it the article itself?  I'm still getting steady traffic thanks to that one article, I'd like to know why...

No comments: