Balkinization  

Friday, April 05, 2013

A Workaround for Congressional Gerrymandering

Gerard N. Magliocca

Reformers have complained about the gerrymandering of districts since . . . er . . . Elbridge Gerry's tenure as governor of Massachusetts.  (He'd probably be appalled to know that he is remembered only for this and not for signing the Declaration of Independence or fighting for the Bill of Rights.)  Many proposals have been made to address gerrymandering in the House of Representatives.  Some want the federal courts to declare House districts drawn in "too partisan" a fashion unconstitutional.  Others hope that states (or at least the large states) will adopt nonpartisan mechanisms to draw House district lines.  Maybe territorial representation is the flaw--prior to 1842 House members could be elected at large within any state. And so on. 

One thought that occurs to me (though I'm thinking out loud more than usual here) is that the problem should be addressed by having a more frequent census or redistricting process.  Article I, Section  2 states that a census shall be made "within every subsequent term term of ten years in such manner as [Congress] shall by law direct."  In other words, there must be a census at least once every ten years.  There can, though, be more than one census every ten years.  Why not every six years or every four?

The problem with our traditional practice is that it makes the state elections immediately preceding the census report too important.  2010 is an excellent example.  It was a wave year in favor of the Tea Party and Republicans.  2006, on the other hand, was a wave year for Democrats.  Only the former election, though, counted for purposes of redistricting.  The result is that if there is a wave election in the crucial year, the winning party gets a big structural advantage in the House over the next decade.  In 2012, as many noted, House Democratic candidates got more votes across the country than House Republicans, but the GOP easily held the House.  Granted, the advantage created by redistricting is not impregnable and does decline over time because people move, but it still raises some serious concerns.

The bottom line is that gerrymandering may be impossible to prevent, but we can minimize its impact on House elections as a whole.  How?  By having a more frequent census or by requiring redistricting on a regular schedule twice within a given census.  The law of averages will tend, under such a system, to produce a more neutral set of districts (not within them, but among them).       

Comments:

After 2010, the gerrymander problem was reduced, not increased.

Gerrymanders are long, oddly shaped districts running across common areas of interest meant to either concentrate members of the opposing party or narrow majorities of the party in power.

The Democrats problem since the Reagan realignment is that their voters are increasing concentrated in urban and VRA mandated majority minority districts while the GOP often has smaller majorities in the suburban and rural districts.

The GOP does not need to gerrymander to concentrate Democrats and give themselves narrow majorities in the majority of districts outside the big cities.

Instead, the only reason the Democrats held onto power in states across the rust belt were gerrymanders of the GOP which began back in the New Deal. Once those gerrymanders were removed in 2011, the Democrats will have problems winning races outside of the cities.

The election for the House are actually 435 individual district elections, not a parliamentary system where a national vote decides the party. Thus, the fact that the turnout in the Dem urban districts was higher and the turnout in the other districts was lower in 2012 is not evidence of gerrymandering.

Even if gerrymandering was a serious problem, holding more frequent censuses will only lead to more frequent gerrymandering. This will not even out over the period of a decade because massive changes in partisan control over state legislatures like the one in 2010 happen maybe twice a century.
 

Oh, they happen far more often than that. What about 1964? 1974? 1980? 1994?
 

Gerard:

A shift of control in state legislatures of the magnitude of 2010 last occurred during the New Deal.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/13/AR2010111302389.html
 

Bart

As I've mentioned before to you I think what you miss about gerrymandering is that it is about people, not land. Districts should be drawn to achieve 'one person, one vote' ideals, or comparable in population, rather than to try to have geographically comparable districts. Your idea seems to be that if all the voters want to declare themselves Democrats and move to the cities then they must lose out to empty rural expanses, this is a version of wanting to elect a different electorate...
 

In support of Mr. Maggliocca I see that in 1974 the GOP lost a net of 5 governors (who play no small part in redistricting) while in 2010 the Dems lost a net of 6. Pretty comparable I'd say.
 

Mr. W:

Districts ought to cover communities of common interests so the representative knows the will and the needs of her constituents. Communities of common interest tend to fit in compact and regular districts rather than gerrymanders.

I never said that districts have to be geographically the same size. They need to have comparable numbers of voters, so their size will vary.

The Democrats problem is that they are a less diverse party, being disproportionately urban and minority. They self segregate.

The smaller the unit of representation, the more this self segregation is a political problem.
 

Australia redistributes (redistricts) a state when when:

the number of representatives for the state changes

more than 1/3 of districts within the state are malaportioned for 2months

7 years expires since the last redistribution

Election reform is not nearly as difficult as much US discussion assumes.
 

"The Democrats problem is that they are a less diverse party"
You're kidding, right?

Democrats have the edge on blacks, Asians, Hispanics, LGBT, and of course whites.

Who is in the Republican Party? White people, period.
 

No, I think that's wrong in a sense: The Democrats are "diverse" in some regards. Too diverse, actually, what they aren't is representative.

They fancy themselves a party that "looks like America", but the truth is they look like an America that's been put through about ten generations in a photocopier with the contrast turned up, they look like an America with hugely exaggerated "diversity". A lot blacker, more Latino, feminine, and so forth, than America actually is.

They're not a diverse party, they're a party that's short on whites and men.

Now, ideologically, the Democratic party covers a wider span than the Republican, and again, this isn't really a good thing. Even the most secure Republican district will have it's share of Democrats in it, and there's hostile media to contend with, and this truncates the Republican ideological spectrum on the Right. David Duke doesn't hold office, and he never had much company.

But the Democratic party has plenty of the lefty version of Duke, in the black caucus. It has them because, unlike the GOP, the Democratic party has these districts which are monoculture Democratic, where often precincts don't have a single solitary Republican. And the utter extremes of Democratic craziness can get elected in those places, which is why you've got people like Charles Rangel in the Democratic party, extending it's ideological 'diversity', but not in a good way.
 

Brett's take on the Democratic Party:

"They're not a diverse party, they're a party that's short on whites and men."

revives Sen. Lindsey Graham's (Cracker, S. Car.) lament during the 2012 presidential campaign that there were not enough angry white men. But Brett neglects the significant number of white women who voted for Obama.

As an antidote to Brett, read Kathleen Parker's Op-Ed in today's WaPo on the women's "LEAN ON" movement and note the problem countries in the world where men rule the roost and try to keep their women down. The Reconstruction Amendments plus the 19th Amendment plus Brown v. Bd. of Educ. plus the 1960s Civil Rights Acts have all contributed to the Democratic Party over time as too many Republicans have stuck to the "good old boy" earlier times that Brett favors.

Also, Brett should read the GOP's "Autopsy Report." Maybe, just maybe, in time a Dr. Frankenstein may revive the GOP in less monster form. (No, Rubio and Carson are not the answer.)
 

What you don't seem to grasp is that matriarchy isn't better than patriarchy, and discrimination against whites isn't better than discrimination against blacks, and that you don't end a feud by evening the score.

I don't want to restore some kind of "good ole boys" control, I want the dragon hunters to stop their (Terrifyingly advanced.) metamorphosis into dragons.

I want to end the discrimination, not reverse it. I want peace, not an evening of the score.

I'm not for hyphenated rights, I'm for RIGHTS.

A quote from that op-ed: "“It’s no coincidence that so many of the countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women and girls are deprived of dignity and opportunity.”

Well, no, but to say that misses the point: It's no coincidence, because in those places PEOPLE aren't free, and women and girls happen to be PEOPLE, too.

But so are men and boys, and they're not all that free in those places, either. So excuse me if it's human rights I care about, and not this or that subset of humanity rights.
 

While Bret states:

"I'm not for hyphenated rights, I'm for RIGHTS."

he ignores RESPONSIBILITIES regarding such RIGHTS.

While Brett has taken the anti-Bret-dote and read Parker's Op-Ed, his misogyny shines through with his observation that:

"But so are men and boys, and they're not all that free in those places, either."

Is that the fault of the women and girls? These men and boys have the guns. If they are not free, it is their own doings, as surely they have the firepower. [Note: Brett as an absolutist on Second Amendment rights seems to be relying on firepower as well.]

And back here in the good old U.S. of A., Brett wants:

" ... to end the discrimination, not reverse it. I want peace, not an evening of the score."

but how about just evening or leveling the playing field that has been imbalanced for centuries? Brett continues his zero sum game approach to racial - and gender! - matters.
 

Terri:

The Democrats are a two note party - urban and minority.

They are geographically, culturally and ideologically concentrated and isolated from the rest of the country.

The urban core of the party barely understands and often ridicules "flyover country."

Democrats from flyover country fall into cultural and political line when they go to the Capital to join the political class.

In everything that matters politically, the Democrats are not a diverse party.

 

"They are geographically, culturally and ideologically concentrated and isolated from the rest of the country."

They also seem, from the last few national votes, to be the majority of the country (and ever growing). That you can spin that as 'geographically, culturally and ideologically concentrated and isolated from the rest of the country' is quite the feat in mental gymnastics...

"The urban core of the party barely understands and often ridicules "flyover country.""

And the rural core of the other party barely understands and often ridicules our urban centers as not "real America". One key difference is the latter represents more Americans than the former...

"Democrats from flyover country fall into cultural and political line when they go to the Capital to join the political class."

Every study of votes by party line that I've ever seen show the GOP voting along those lines more than the Dems.

"They need to have comparable numbers of voters, so their size will vary."

If that's true then if most of the population is clustering in metro areas then we should draw more, smaller (but numerically larger) districts in the urban areas and less, larger districts in rural areas.


 

"They're not a diverse party, they're a party that's short on whites and men."

Well, given we have a two party system you do realize that the flip side of that statement has to be true for the GOP, right?

"Even the most secure Republican district will have it's share of Democrats in it"

I'd be curious as to if you have any evidence for that statement. Thinking about Senate seats, for example, it seems to me the GOP has far more 'safe seats' than the Dems.

"I want to end the discrimination, not reverse it. I want peace, not an evening of the score."

I understand that, but remember the entire principle guiding, say, tort law, that sometimes compensating measures are necessary to ensure justice. If some groups really have some obstacles or start from behind today due to lingering effects of injustices done them in the past, what to do about it? I am also uneasy with 'evening the score', but I don't believe in leaving those problems unaddressed either...
 

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As to strongly Dem districts, there are places where there are a small number of Dems too. I'm sure there are a few conservatives in the heart of Harlem. Blacks are heavy church-goers and it was pointed out they strongly supported Prop 8.

In effect, Brett also is trying to have it both ways. Dems are not really reflective of Americans (as a fan of the show, maybe I should say "The Americans), but there are so many of them that at times they crowd other Republicans.

He might say, no, they are crowded into certain locations. As compared to a few number of Rs in Utah or something, I guess.

Mr. W. as usual responds well, including on the affirmative action part. The issue there is not "evening the score," but trying to address problems ("history" not only lingering in respect to guns) and advance justice. Public schools, e.g., were set up to promote certain values, including diversity, something many private groups do as well. They also are not just about "evening the score," like this is some Samuel L. Jackson movie.
 

Brett is for "RIGHTS"

His past comparisons of gun owners to blacks being beaten up by the KKK, his devaluing voting rights (which at one point he basically didn't think fundamental), implying some golden age pre-1937 when a range of rights were underenforced leads me to prefer "rights" myself.

"A lot blacker, more Latino, feminine, and so forth"

Not what America "actually is." Two things. That sounds a tad off. To be very generous.

Second, Republicans are skewered in their own fashion. Blacks and Latinos might just vote more for them if their policies were so bad. After all, blacks used to think the Republican Party was the party of civil rights. Republicans have more white conservative males than American too.

Conservative white males are a minority of this country. It is hard to me more "diverse" when that is the leading indicator in your party. "America," like it or is majority women. It will be majority non-white soon enough.

This might be time for that Concurring Opinions series on "priors."
 

" Thinking about Senate seats, for example, it seems to me the GOP has far more 'safe seats' than the Dems."

I'm not talking about merely "safe" seats, a seat can be "safe" with a substantial minority of the opposing party present. I'm talking about seats from districts where the opposing party isn't merely a powerless minority, but essentially nonexistent. Districts where you have wards that record no Republican votes AT ALL.

And there are a substantial number of those for the Democrats, as far as I can tell, far fewer for Republicans.

Just looking up the House leadership, Cantor won his last race with 58.6% of the vote, Pelosi? 84.8%.

Pick a random state. Michigan, say. The highest percentage by a Republican was 68.7%. For a Democrat? 85.1%.

Here in South Carolina where I live now? Highest Republican percentage? 66.7% Democratic? 94.4%

You can continue this exercise if you like. My point is that there's a fundamental difference between a district where the winner gets in the mid 60's, and one where they get pushing 100% of the vote. Democrats have a lot more members who represent districts which are, ideologically, unrepresentative of the nation as a whole.
 

This comment has been removed by the author.
 

BD: "They are geographically, culturally and ideologically concentrated and isolated from the rest of the country."

Mr. W: They also seem, from the last few national votes, to be the majority of the country (and ever growing).


I do not want to have this degenerate into a "hooray for our team" 250 post thread. However, I have a hard time seeing a party that holds a minority of seats at every level of government apart from the Senate (at least until 2014) and the White House as being a majority. The Dems are where the GOP was in 1981, absent the Reagan landslide.

BD: "The urban core of the party barely understands and often ridicules "flyover country.""

Mr. W: And the rural core of the other party barely understands and often ridicules our urban centers as not "real America".


It is impossible to escape urban culture as the media coming out of LA/NYC/DC is saturated with it. Rural people understand the cities all too well.

Rural America has too few people to be the core of any major party. It is just one element of a rather diverse GOP.

Because it dominates flyover country in between the blue megalopolises, the GOP represents my small mountain district, farm districts, suburbs of every flavor and sunbelt cities.

While both parties have become more ideologically cohesive since Reagan, the GOP has arguably not gone as far as the Dems. The GOP covers Ron Paul libertarians, Huckabee social conservatives, Cheney hawks, Reagan conservatives, Bush/Christie progressives and every hybrid in between like the Tea Party movement. Part of this is a function of representing every geographic location between Jersey suburbs to my mountain county.

BD: "Democrats from flyover country fall into cultural and political line when they go to the Capital to join the political class."

Mr. W: Every study of votes by party line that I've ever seen show the GOP voting along those lines more than the Dems.


This is a function of small "d" democracy.

Conservatives far outnumber progressives and socialists in the electorate.

It is easy for GOP members to vote for conservative policy because that is what their constituents want.

Democrats from red and purple states cannot easily vote for progressive or socialist policies because their constituents often oppose such policy. However, when they have the opportunity to enact a major progressive/socialist program, the Democrats will come out of the closet, give the finger to their constituents and ram through the program - even if it means they will lose power temporarily. Congresses come and go, but bureaucracies and entitlements are forever.


 

Many of those districts Brett mentions are lopsided precisely because they've been gerrymandered. That's the whole point of gerrymandering -- force all the Ds into one district, spread the Rs around so that they win smaller but consistent majorities.
 

"I have a hard time seeing a party that holds a minority of seats at every level of government apart from the Senate (at least until 2014) and the White House as being a majority."

Yes, if you don't count the elections that are the most indicative of the popular vote then the GOP is doing well!

"It is impossible to escape urban culture as the media coming out of LA/NYC/DC is saturated with it."

I submit if you are arguing that non-urbanites understand urban America because of media depictions of ubran areas you've lost at the beginning...
"is a function of representing every geographic location between Jersey suburbs to my mountain county"

This seems to stand experience on its head. The GOP is the party with the most geographical problems, being largely a party of the South and rural midwest states...The evidence to the contrary of this involves low turnout elections such as midterm and state/local.

"Bush/Christie progressives"

I wonder if you counted and decried Bush as a 'progressive' on this site when he was President?

"Democrats from red and purple states cannot easily vote for progressive or socialist policies because their constituents often oppose such policy. However, when they have the opportunity to enact a major progressive/socialist program, the Democrats will come out of the closet, give the finger to their constituents and ram through the program - even if it means they will lose power temporarily."

Shorter Bart: "The Dems are more ideologically narrow than the GOP, except they are not, except when they are." ;)

I mean really, you don't see the irony of writing about the diversity of the GOP right above admitting the Dems are far more likely to vote against party lines?








 

"Cantor won his last race with 58.6% of the vote, Pelosi? 84.8%"

I don't think it proves much to pick any two officials and do this. For example John Boehner won his last election with 99% of the vote...
 

A lot blacker, more Latino, feminine, and so forth, than America actually is.

They're not a diverse party, they're a party that's short on whites and men.


Doesn't that make the Republicans a lot whiter, less Latino, masculine, than america actually is?

Doesn't it make it short on blacks and women?
 

"Many of those districts Brett mentions are lopsided precisely because they've been gerrymandered."

Some of them are, thanks to that Section 5 the left is so desperately defending. But, given the spacial distribution of Democrats in this country, it would require a remarkable degree of gerrymandering to prevent Democrats from having a large number of highly lopsided districts.

" For example John Boehner won his last election with 99% of the vote..."

Conceivably this would by why I wrote that Democrats had "a lot more" such districts, rather than "all such districts"
 

"Doesn't that make the Republicans a lot whiter, less Latino, masculine, than america actually is?

Doesn't it make it short on blacks and women?"

Why, yes, that does logically follow, which is why we have TWO parties that "don't look like America". Not just the one Democrats pretend.
 

Looking it up, I see Boehner got that lopsided vote by running unopposed. Not by having no Democrats in his district.
 

"given the spacial distribution of Democrats in this country, it would require a remarkable degree of gerrymandering to prevent Democrats from having a large number of highly lopsided districts."

Only if you insist on preconceived notions about districts. Districts should represent people, not geography. Thus, for example, city lines should be of no importance. If it's necessary to make a pie-shaped district in order to incorporate the inner city with the suburbs (thereby balancing the district), that should be done.

Note that this isn't "gerrymandering". "Gerrymandering" is done for partisan advantage. Such districts as I propose may cross municipal or geographic lines (rivers or mountains), but they are the opposite of partisan because the goal is to make balanced districts.

"Some of them are, thanks to that Section 5 the left is so desperately defending."

Huh? Section 5 enables Congress to pass laws. Districting, including gerrymandering, is done by state legislatures (in the complete absence of Constitutional authorization, I might note).
 

Brett alluded to voting rights laws that have affecting the drawing of district lines. Pox on both parties, libertarian Brett, yet again I note is focusing on "Democrats" or "the left. Just to recall, this blog post was a reasonable suggestion (it might have flaws, but I'm game to ponder it) to address gerrymandering, which is done by both sides. This led to an attack on Democrats.
 

"This led to an attack on Democrats."

Yes indeed, aka "BRETTBART-ing", our dyslexic duo's attempts at "BREITBART-ing" but much dimmer.
 

Joe, speaking of "libertarian Brett," take at peek at Bill Maher's "New Rule" on libertarianism:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/06/bill-maher-libertarianism-paul-ryan-rand-paul-video_n_3028244.html
 

"If it's necessary to make a pie-shaped district in order to incorporate the inner city with the suburbs (thereby balancing the district), that should be done.."

No, that is, just precisely, Gerrymandering. It's just gerrymandering to an end you think worthy.

If we really want to eliminate gerrymandering, the right way to do it is to eliminate districts: Just go to at large PR. You can't gerrymander under at large PR, the concept isn't even applicable, there are no district lines to draw.

But we'll never do that, because winner take all elections are the primary firewall between the two major parties and the nightmare of a politics where people have real choices.
 

At large elections might be fair at some times and not at others. Switching to at large elections was a tactic used by segregationists to exclude black representatives, so it isn't a cure all. It's also cumbersome in larger states -- having Californians vote for 53 representatives on a state wide ballot pretty much guarantees that voters won't be very knowledgeable.

As for the rest, I don't think you understand what "gerrymandering" means.
 

I'm reading "American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic" by Joseph Ellis [I know Shag is more an article sort of guy] and am on the chapter talking about political parties so that dig at the two party system made me smile.
 

The "at large" bit (Madison, fwiw, I read once favored the district policy, which was set by Congress in the mid-19th Century) is interesting. Maybe the matter has been studied, but I'm inclined to think the results might be somewhat similar, just with a different approach. The top vote recipients or those chosen by the party to be on the slate would work out the same.
 

Mark: "Note that this isn't "gerrymandering". "Gerrymandering" is done for partisan advantage. Such districts as I propose may cross municipal or geographic lines (rivers or mountains), but they are the opposite of partisan because the goal is to make balanced districts."

Maybe you are sincere about this, but the Democrats most certainly are not.

Every single time the Democrats offer a redistricting map with "competitive districts," these districts cross multiple areas of common interest snaking out from Democrat urban strongholds into suburban and rural areas, often with funny looking shapes, to create a series of narrowly Democrat electorates.

The Democrats got a Democrat judge to approve just such a gerrymander here in Colorado in 2011.
 

Let's apply our yodeler's:

"The Democrats got a Democrat judge to approve ...."

to how the Republicans got five (5) Republican Justices in Bush v. Gore (and look at what that got us politically and fiscally and many thousands maimed and killed) and in Citizens United (even though it failed to elected Romney/Ryan).
 

E.J. Dionne, Jr.'s WaPo column today "The end of majority rule?" references, inter alia, gerrymandering and the filibuster, and the power of certain minority groups (NRA). While the column is interesting, it was its title that captured my attention, as I had read yesterday Carlos Lozada's Op-Ed "The end of everything" in the WaPo. Lozada's essay was illustrated with a number of books on a shelf with titles "The End of ________." I had read some of these books, in whole or in part, over the years. Lozada points out that such books are not definitive. Lo and behold, the very next day in the same newspaper E.J. gives us "The end of majority rule?"

I like to play on words. Years ago, I was mulling over the song "Begin the Beguine," particularly Artie Shaw's rendition. [Nobody plays jazz clarinet anymore?] Why not a parody titled "End the Ending"? I'd go back to this thought every once in while but never got further than the title. Lozada's essay got me thinking again but still nothing beyond my proposed title. Perhaps there are too many Chicken Littles out there. Maybe "The End ... " is like pornography: you'll know it when you see it. Meantime, two steps forward, one step back, and we'll never reach "The End." That's progress.
 

Joe writes, "The 'at large' bit ... is interesting. Maybe the matter has been studied, but I'm inclined to think the results might be somewhat similar ..."

That depends on the at-large voting method. Plurality at-large (vote for N) would tend to distort the results even more than single-member districts, giving the largest party an even bigger edge. But proportional representation (which requires multi-member districts) would not only eliminate that problem. It would also overcome the disparities inherent in the urban/Democrat versus rural/Republican split. As an added bonus, it would render gerrymandering mostly ineffective.

It is truly remarkable to me that people who complain about gerrymandering will go to such great lengths to avoid bringing proportional representation into the discussion.

 

"proportional representation"

Brett was concerned about districts that had an overrepresented collection of certain groups. PR might address gerrymandering. But, it very well might (depending the electorate) result in just the same sort of representatives.

Instead of some "black representative" coming from your gerrymandered district, the proportional representation could have the same effect, one representative for that class given how the numbers work.

The system in other countries at times results in minor parties having representatives. In effect, they would be the same as some wing of one of the main parties. Again, I would need to see actual numbers for the states.

Brett wouldn't mind ending districting voting, he said as much at some point.
 

I found this interesting article "A Brief History of Proportional Representation in the United States" by Douglas J. Amy at:

https://www.mtholyoke.edu/acad/polit/damy/articles/Brief%20History%20of%20PR.htm

It focuses primarily on the municipal level. (Cambridge, across the Charles River from my community, adopted PR and is one of the few remaining municipalities continuing with it. Cambridge may be considered by some an outlier politically.) With the current problems in Congress politically, would PR work or make the situation even worse? At the national level, can PR work in a non-parliamentary system?
 

And the rural core of the other party barely understands and often ridicules our urban centers as not "real America". One key difference is the latter represents more Americans than the former...

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