Balkinization  

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Defeating partisan gerrymanderng through a constitutional convention

Sandy Levinson

My latest piece for Al Jazeera argues that one factor (among many others, to be sure) contributing to the breakdown of the American national government is the heightened virulence of partisan gerrymandering following the 2010 elections and the sweeep of many states by conservative Republicans.  The November general elections are basically irrelevant in most of the House districts, as the "real" election takes place in primaries.  What I suggest is adopting mandatory multi-member districts, with proportional representation, in states with more than six representatives.  Congress could pass such legislation tomorrow, with no constitutional problem.  But they won't, because members, both Republican and Democratic, who benefit from the systemic status quo, are not about to change things drastically.  As I have done several times before, I quote John P. Roche's important variation of Lord Acton's dictum:  "Power corrupts, and the prospect of losing power corrupts absolutely."  Thus the need for a national mass movement, composed of Reputlicans and Democrats alike, committed to producing a more democratic (and republican, as in "republican form of government") way of electing Representatives.


I am well aware of the arguments that demographic "clustering" is at least as important as malevolently partisan gerrymandering, and I'm sure there is some truth to those arguments.  A lot of "packing" takes place "naturally."  But the principal point is that our present system of exclusively single-member districts means that the "value" of one's individual vote, save as an item of symbolic expression, is increasingly a function of where one happens to live (and what district one has been assigned to).



Comments:

Meanwhile, in the real world, it is going to be up to progressives, probably those outside the formal Democratic Party organizations that are dominated by Village-think and play within the parameters of the current game, to generate enough turnouts to keep eliminating Republicans from Congress.

That is going to require a complete game changing approach, a total focus on aiming for record turnouts. The only way to do that is to challenge the eligible but disaffected non-voters to change their behavior -- by making them understand that by not voting, because politicians need two things, namely money and votes, they are guaranteeing control of the process by billionaires with enough money to control the Republican Party completely and exercise too much influence over the Democrats, too.

Part of that understanding has to be a realistic acceptance that change takes time, but that changing the composition of Congress can result in real starts on the road to genuine progress. A progressive-driven re-capture of Congress will also change the Democratic Party in Congress, making it more difficult for any of them to continue to be "DINOs."

Votes can trump money, but 38% turnouts will never do it. The nearly 50% mid-term turnouts might.
 

See, there's your reply: Your fellows on the left still would rather win the current game, than change the game to one they might not achieve total victory in.

So, Sandy, there are a lot of different PR schemes, each with it's own advantages and disadvantages. What are you proposing? Party list?

I believe one of the sources of dysfunction in our current system is that the two current 'major' parties have so thoroughly insulated themselves against any third party challenge, that they're free to leave large segments of the public without any genuine representation. Depending on the details of how PR is implemented, it could either cure that, or make it far worse.

My personal preference is for a PR system where all candidates get 'seated', they merely exercise a vote in the legislature weighted according to how many votes they got in the election. Quite easy to implement given electronic voting in the legislature. For practical reasons you could limit actual attendance in the chambers to the top so many members, while the rest could attend in virtual fashion, online, and still vote.
 

Brett:
Political parties don't in any discrete way insulate themselves against 3rd parties.

Political parties are the natural outgrowth of our society, and the process of what you call "insulation", to the extent it is observable at all, takes place naturally.

Third parties are welcome in the political process, but what makes them 3rd parties is not the label, but their substantive, policy positions. And given how broad the political platforms of Dems and GOP are (although GOP has considerably narrowed its platform in the last decade or so), third parties get swallowed up by the two parties we already have.
 

It would be interesting to me to see a breakdown that compares the results of Prof. Levinson's proposal let's say the last 20 years with the current system in place.
 

Sandy:

"What I suggest is adopting mandatory multi-member districts, with proportional representation, in states with more than six representatives."

Can you expand on this?

Thanks.
 

Rational leftist, clearly you have no actual experience with the activities of third parties, or the way campaign "reforms" over the last 30 years have systematically suppressed them. To give but one example, in most states, while Democrats and Republicans get ballot status by simply filing a routine paper, (And get the requirement waived if they forget.) any other party must engage in an arduous and expensive petitioning process to get on the ballot. Rather like having to run a marathon to qualify for entry into a marathon, arriving at the starting line dead tired as the starter pistol is fired.

The Whigs would still be around if the Republican party had been burdened with current laws in their efforts.
 

I can't picture Brett as a Whig, which he seems to want to bring back as a political party. I think Brett would fit better in the No-Nothings party, especially since Brett has seemed to have been adopted by Dilbert as a new character.
 

Whigs were for a national system (shades of Henry Clay). Brett doesn't quite seem for that.

Republicans gained power as the old time Whig Party fell apart. This would have led to a new party even if they had more complex ballot laws, I'm thinking. Third parties today do not have that level of support.

The Republicans quickly actually became the second party. The two party system quickly became strong in this country in the 1790s but third party movements were possible.

They are quite possible today but when the support is in the single percentages (e.g., like libertarians in most states), it is pretty hard to get winning candidates.


 

Brett, no I don't have actual experience with the activities of 3rd parties. But, it seems neither do you.

I wasn't commenting on the experience, however, but on the logic of it. A distinction that seemed to have eluded you.
 

Yup, no experience, except for that 2-3 decades I spent as a Libertarian party activist, starting with helping to found a college chapter of the LP in the 70's, running as a candidate at least once, and so forth.

So, yeah, I've no experience, if you discount my extensive experience.
 

Some learn from experience, but Brett merely gets cloned in Dilbert.

Yes, Brett recites his experience. What elective office did he run for at least once? Was his activity as a libertarian more along the lines of anarcho-libertarianism in northern Michigan militia country? What did he learn from his failures? "And so forth" leaves much room for the imagination. Are there government dossiers on his activities? We could do an Internet search or take the time and expense of of an FOIA request. The archives of this Blog may be more entertaining in putting Humpty-Dumpty Brett together again after his failed experiences with a third party. As noted in an earlier comment, perhaps he should revive the No-Nothings third party that could use his experience - and qualifications.
 

State rep, Shag.

And, yeah, I'm sure there's a dossier on me somewhere. Like I care.
 

It seems, Brett, that you are repeatedly missing the point: namely that experience is irrelevant to the logic I was alluding to.
It seems you are more interested in bragging about your fringe experience, than stepping back and looking at the big picture from afar. There is a reason why 3rd parties don't exist in our political system, and it's not some conspiracy. It is because the two parties have such broad platforms, reflecting in part the electorate, that there is little incentive for the majority to support 3rd party candidates.

3rd parties are effective at taking on single and relatively narrow issues. And most voters are not single issue voters.
 

One might consider how serious a candidate Brett was running as a State Rep. (MI?) as a third party libertarian candidate. How much time, expense and effort did he (and the libertarian party) put in? What were the results? It could be that this was a political token gesture and Brett signed up with no heavy lifting and adding to his resume. But his anecdotal experiences can be entertaining as well as explain how he ended up as an anarcho-libertarian.
 

Why, indeed, it was a "paper" candidacy, undertaken as a favor for the party. (That the party officer who asked was a pretty girl might have been a factor, too.) The point merely being that, when they needed a paper candidate in my district, I'm the guy they thought of, because I WAS a long standing LP activist.

So, Rational Leftist's position is that the major parties didn't really need to re-write campaign finance laws to defund the LP, or take the debates away from the League to keep us out of them, or subject us to extremely expensive ballot access requirements they exempted themselves from. That none of these things they actually did had any effect, or were expected to have any effect. They were just pointless gestures, not a response to the fact that the LP was actually starting to get into the double digits in local races?

And that nearly 3 decades of activity in the Libertarian Party does not count as third party experience, just because it leads me to a different conclusion than his?

Look, Irrational, you might not agree with me, but that doesn't mean I lack in relevant experience. It just means you disagree with me. Now, how many decades did YOU spend working in a third party, to have such an opinion?
 

Brett, what difference does it make, especially to you, since we'll all eventually die?
 

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