The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

22 February 2007

Because they mind, I draw the line

Professor Bainbridge has an idea:

The national disgrace of gerrymandering has created a system in which the vast majority of House seats are safe for one of the two parties. As a result, the real action is in the primaries, which tend to be dominated by activists. As a result, we see the polarization of Congress, as GOP candidates tend hard right to win their primaries and vice-versa for the Democrats. Now the netroots plan to exacerbate the problem.

The solution seems obvious. A national system of nonpartisan redistricting designed to maximize the number of truly competitive seats. In such a system, candidates would succeed by appealing to the center rather than the extremes, which in turn would reduce the destructive influence of the rabid partisans on both sides of the net.

It is indeed true that damned few Congressional seats are "truly competitive," but I suspect this is a case where the solution is at least as unpalatable as the problem to be solved: gerrymandering is gerrymandering, whether it's done for purely partisan purpose or some ostensibly "nonpartisan" purpose.

(Aside: Is anyone truly nonpartisan? Or, more precisely, can anyone be nonpartisan without being wholly apolitical?)

James Joyner raises an objection of his own:

Communities are often quite naturally conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican. Id hate to see homogenized districts take that flavor away from the House. Indeed, representing localized interests is the whole reason to have districts in the first place; otherwise, we should just elect Representatives on an at-large basis in each state.

Which, if nothing else, would have the advantage of eliminating redistricting issues altogether.

Posted at 8:24 AM to Political Science Fiction


Maximizing competitive seats is the wrong goal. Districts should be compact and drawn with communities of interest in mind, which, as Joyner, notes, may turn out to be naturally tilted one way or another.

Iowa has a very sound redistricting system that makes use of natural boundaries, promotes compactness, and takes no consideration of incumbent protection or partisanship. I'd like to see something like that adopted in Oklahoma.

Posted by: Michael Bates at 10:09 AM on 22 February 2007

I have no direct knowledge of Iowa's system, but I agree completely with Michael's goals: compact, no consideration of incumbent protection, no consideration of partisanship. There probably will have to be demographic consideration so we don't wind up repealing the Civil Rights Act, but that shouldn't be too hard.

If we can get these districts right nationwide so that they really are local communities as close as can be managed, then I'm in favor of giving each district one discrete electoral college vote instead of bunching them by states, because the math shows that's how each vote counts the most.

My biggest internal question: if we get to change this stuff, should we even think about changing the Constitution so that congressional/electoral districts can cross state lines?

Posted by: Matt at 2:27 PM on 22 February 2007

The states would probably grumble about that Electoral College change, but it makes a certain amount of sense. (Isn't there a state or two already voting by district, or am I misremembering?)

I think they'd go into full-fledged meltdown, though, if someone introduced a plan for multi-state districts.

Posted by: CGHill at 4:04 PM on 22 February 2007

After the electoral earthquake of November, I can't believe anyone's worried "safe" seats. Safe seats are only safe in inverse proportion to the stupidity of the party of the officeholder, or of his/her stupidity itself.

I also like Michael's suggestion.

Posted by: Dan at 6:29 PM on 22 February 2007

I know Maine elects presidential electors by district, and I think Nebraska is the other state that does. It's a matter of state law.

I wouldn't want congressional districts so big that they could span multiple states. If you want to eliminate disparities in congressional district size among the states, make the House bigger and thus the district size smaller.

Posted by: Michael Bates at 6:06 PM on 23 February 2007