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January 07, 2005

Comments

Hopefully the formatting issues will have taken care of themselves by the time I post this.

I've always disliked the whole redistricting process; it'd be nice to see someone at least experiment with some alternatives. Taking the districting activities out of the hands of the elected politicians has its advantages and drawbacks, but I don't think the original plan of representative government anticipated that the parties would rig it the way they have.

Absolutely. Gerrymandering is to XXth century America what rotten boroughs were to XIXth century Britain; they don't belong in the XXIst.

Yikes, what happened to the automatic blockquote formatting? Edward help! :)
I posted the html on my own site and it looks fine. Grrr.

For another take on this, see Kevin Drum:

So as much as I hate myself for this, count me out. Gerrymandering is a national problem, and it ought to be dealt with nationally so that both blue states and red states are affected equally. If George Bush were serious about reform, instead of advancing hack ideology as a response to phony crises, he'd spend his time on this instead of Social Security and tort reform. But he's not and he won't. And so we're stuck.

UPDATE: I note from my trackbacks that many moderates and conservatives are unhappy with my stand on gerrymandering reform. I don't blame them. But how about if we make a deal?

Here it is: get Texas to adopt Arnold's reform. As soon as they do, not only will I support Arnold, I will personally gather signatures, raise money, contribute money, and blog endlessly for the cause. Any takers?

Random thoughts:
When I was studying to take my citizenship test, I learned about gerrymandering and how politicians changed the boundaries of a voting area to protect themselves.

Talk about over-preparing for a test. That isn't on the list of topics covered (see the govt supplied preparatory download materials at the bottom of this page)

Cynical thought:
So, another republican is looking to redistrict in a state with a lot of incumbent democrats?
*cough*Texas*cough*

Eep, CSS issues -- it looks fine in the feed.

i'll have a look see...


strange

That's right, votermom. There's absolutely no difference between trying to reform redistricting, and doing more of the same.

In reality, Ahhhnuld's proposal is actually gerrymandering. It's just that he--not the legislature--would do the gerrymandering.

And gerrymandering is really just a minor problem WRT the political process. If one is truly serious about making politicians accountable and answerable to those they represent--one must address the real problem: campaign finance.

better?

I thought the boxes were kinda cute. :(

I thought the boxes were kinda cute. :(

further evidence that ObWi is doomed...we'll never please everyone. ;-)

the real problem: campaign finance.

And term limits.

Pataki rode into office suggesting a Governor should only serve two terms...he's now looking like he's campaigning toward his fourth.

I can also announce that we intend to wipe out nearly 100 unnecessary boards and commissions, abolishing over 1000 political appointments in the process.

Devil's in the details. Some of the boards Ahhhnuld is proposing to do away with include the state boards that license, oversee, and discipline professionals such as MDs, engineers, nurses, accountants, building contractors, etc.

Other boards that are slated for elimination are those which deal with consumer protection.

No one paid by the state should make $100,000 a year for only meeting twice a month.

This is a lie; nobody makes $100K for "only" attending meetings twice a month.

I would prefer to have a published computer algorithim which does not take race or political part into account while drawing the districts.

Sebastian,

While an algorithm might work, it's not necessary. What is necessary is that the system be non-partisan.

In Canada, we have national elections agency that draws boundaries for each riding (the equivalent of a "district") using a commission of poli sci profs, judges, and the like. It's not perfect (rural ridings have a tendency to be overrepresented) but it's pretty good.

It's good enough that Ontario's (then) Conservative government passed a law adopting the federal government's (then run by the Liberals) riding boundaries for use in provincial elections as well, and redistricting is a complete non-issue in Canada.

Running good elections shouldn't be a partisan issue.

"While an algorithm might work, it's not necessary. What is necessary is that the system be non-partisan."

I agree with that, but I fear it is kind of like saying that a dictatorship would be ok so long as we could find a dictator who wouldn't abuse his power. It's true, but really difficult to find. I would be happy to support all sorts of non-partisan suggestions. But I think a computer program with simple and non-partisan inputs would be a good way to insure that the system is non-partisan. We could all run it on our computers from census data and confirm the results.

Running good elections shouldn't be a partisan issue.

Maybe it's because the US is so polarized at the moment that everything is a partisan issue.

I'm with Drum. As bad as I think gerrymandering is for this country, I think cementing DeLay's and Hastert's control of the House for the indefinite future is worse. And not only because I have substantive disagreements with them; they've also shown themselves to be unbelievably disrespectful of the democratic procedural values that are the argument for this law. Including nonpartisan redistricting itself.

So I would certainly vote against this in Massachusetts, though I would support a nationwide law against gerrymandering in a heartbeat, and although I would vote "yes" in a poll or non-binding referendum about whether I'd support such a law.

(Game theorists: is this a prisoners' dilemma? I think it is but I don't have a great handle on the terminology.)

The trouble is, a federal statute or constitutional amendment is extremely unlikely to pass Congress, as it is against the interests of almost every incumbent.

I see only three ways around this:
1) The courts step in. Unlikely, though, and there are solid constitutional arguments against the ruling they'd have to make.
2) State laws passed that enter into effect decades from now, so the political ramifications are harder to predict. Even then, I would have some hesitation, but probably vote for it.
3) State laws that only enter into effect if and when other state(s) of comparable size and on the opposite side of the political spectrum passes a nonpartisan redistricting law--and which is automatically repealed/struck down if the other state's law is repealed/struck down. I don't know whether this is really workable as a matter of legislative drafting, whether you can really pair up states mathematically. I also have this vague instinct that there might be constitutional problems with it.

I'm with Drum. As bad as I think gerrymandering is for this country, I think cementing DeLay's and Hastert's control of the House for the indefinite future is worse. And not only because I have substantive disagreements with them; they've also shown themselves to be unbelievably disrespectful of the democratic procedural values that are the argument for this law. Including nonpartisan redistricting itself.

So I would certainly vote against this in Massachusetts, though I would support a nationwide law against gerrymandering in a heartbeat, and although I would vote "yes" in a poll or non-binding referendum about whether I'd support such a law.

(Game theorists: is this a prisoners' dilemma? I think it is but I don't have a great handle on the terminology.)

The trouble is, a federal statute or constitutional amendment is extremely unlikely to pass Congress, as it is against the interests of almost every incumbent.

I see only three ways around this:
1) The courts step in. Unlikely, though, and there are solid constitutional arguments against the ruling they'd have to make.
2) State laws passed that enter into effect decades from now, so the political ramifications are harder to predict. Even then, I would have some hesitation, but probably vote for it.
3) State laws that only enter into effect if and when other state(s) of comparable size and on the opposite side of the political spectrum passes a nonpartisan redistricting law--and which is automatically repealed/struck down if the other state's law is repealed/struck down. I don't know whether this is really workable as a matter of legislative drafting, whether you can really pair up states mathematically. I also have this vague instinct that there might be constitutional problems with it.

sorry!

Sebastian "...would prefer to have a published computer algorithim which does not take race or political part(y) into account while drawing the districts."

When I was in 6th grade, the split up our 'graduating' class, sending a few of us to another Junior High for 7th grade. I was devastated. I didn't know many people and felt out of place. I'm not sure I'd agree to ignoring the human makeup of the districts.

Is it possible that most districts aren't that broken? And that the one's that are reek, needing obvious adjusting, especially according to those affected. Even to the extent of given people some choice in the matter. Removing human involvement out of an extremely human process seems wrought with it's own horrors.

And Jesurgislac, if there ever was a subject your particular slant should feel right at home with, it's this one. Of course, you don't need my permission to contribute.

Evil double poster. :)

I would support anti-gerrymandering statutes just about anywhere because they are the type of reform which strike people as very fair, and which would be hard to campaign against once demonstrated. I suspect you aren't thinking the political ramifications through the way I would if I were in the currently minority party.

A) You are currently in the minority

B) Gerrymandering as a whole will continue to work against you so long as you are in the minority.

C) The moral case against gerrymandering is strong.

D) California is a liberal enough state that anti-gerrymandering isn't likely to lose you huge numbers of Congressmen. And remember, you are already in the minority so long-term strategy should prevail over short-term.

E) Even if it did, the losses should be worth it if you can fashion a strong case to apply against places like Texas where gerrymandering gives a stronger hold to Republicans than it gives to Democrats in California.

F) You should be able to fashion such a case.

Gerrymandering isn't a left-right issue, it is an incumbent-challenger issue. And as much as they like their own incumbents, people typically hate other people's incumbents. (To steal the thought from The Onion via Volkh--98% of people think that public transportation would be great for other commuters.)

The major problem would be if you don't trust Democrats to be able to take a good issue and run with it. But the flip side of that is that if it is true, they are going to be in the minority for a long time. So why not take a chance.

Frankly, and I guess you will have to trust me on this, I would support anti-gerrymandering anywhere because it is about as right a procedural thing regarding voting as is possible.

"Is it possible that most districts aren't that broken? And that the one's that are reek, needing obvious adjusting, especially according to those affected."

I don't think so anymore. I think many districts are more subtly broken because gerrymandering by computer has gotten so good that you can have finer margins and more compact-looking districts while leavinging things safe for incumbents.

As for the 'out of place' problem, the program could include a best-fit concept to certain boundary lines like rivers, cities, or counties. I think the key thing is not to allow race or political affiliation as inputs into the system.

I would prefer to have a published computer algorithim which does not take race or political part into account while drawing the districts.

Step two in the process, begun by eVoting, that will ultimately lead to our enslavement by robotic overlords.

I'm for it. Not being for it strikes me as akin to not remodelling your house because the neighborhood ain't that great. Sure, the value doesn't go up as much as you'd like, but you still get to live in a remodelled house.

Drum's just wrong on this -- i've met far too many members of the California state house and senate. Noncompetitive elections means that party hacks get in. The quality of individuals in the Cal. legislature is really appalling.

There's a old saying -- hard cases make bad law. [because those activist judges will twist legal reasoning to achieve the desired result]. Dumb legislators make worse law.

Public radio [NPR? Fresh Air? Talk of the City?] had a story about gerrymandering sometime last fall. Apparently California citizens have largely gerrymandered themselves. If districts are drawn based on compactness [circles and squares] and existing political boundaries [districts staying within cities and counties] as the primary points of emphasis, some districts, both federal and state, would in fact be even less competitive and only a few would be more. This is because in California the cities are liberal and rural areas conservative.

And Sebastian, there are virtually an infinite number of algorithms which could establish district boundaries on a non-partisan basis. If you did it by initiative, what would it look like -- vote for this computer code? I'm not being facetious, i just don't understand what you want people to vote on.

Francis

"And Sebastian, there are virtually an infinite number of algorithms which could establish district boundaries on a non-partisan basis. If you did it by initiative, what would it look like -- vote for this computer code? I'm not being facetious, i just don't understand what you want people to vote on."

What you do, is have a large discussion about what you want the program to pay attention to. On the simplest level it could be something like "Start in the South-East-most section of the state and work from there with only census numbers". It could be something like "Using a compactness guide, districts should try to follow city or county lines." Or alternatively, someone could come up with a program and we could vote saying "The lines are to be drawn using Adobe Maprobat with the following location as the starting point and with only population numbers as inputs."

Blogbuds, in the UK we have a system very similar to the Canadian system; electoral constituencies are redrawn by a nonpartisan nationwide body. It works very well: it's how the old "rotten boroughs" were eliminated for good.

That's why I agree with Kevin Drum: setting up fair elections and fair electoral divisions ought to be a nationwide issue. The Republicans who care about this, rather than supporting individual Republican governors and making it appear that all they care about is getting more Republicans into the Houses, ought to be targetting their President: if they want a fair election in 2008, it ought to become a nationwide issue to be dealt with by a non-partisan body.

Of course, if the issue is simply how to get more Republicans into the Senate, I'm sure Governor Schwarzenegger will do a grand job and Republicans are quite right to support him but not to support any nationwide movement for fair elections.

To echo fdl's post, gerrymanding is both a natural occurrence as well as a political manuever. So some of the ranting about the "evil" of gerrymanding is overdone (as well as comparing it to rotten boroughs, which resulted from the failure to redistrict as population changed rather from gerrymandering). Even if you redraw lines for more "balance" (whatever that is), you will end up with safe seats, or seats that become safer as time passes. And once again, incumbents will be returned in vast majorities.

The significant issue here is the American habit of returning incumbents, which is what makes gerrymandering so effective. As a tactic, it would not have near the influence if people were more critical of incumbents (including in the primary process).

Arnold simply wants to gerrymand the districts to give Republicans more opportunity in California. To pretend he is against gerrymandering is naive. Arnold will never in a million years urge President Bush to join him in national crusade to reform disticting laws nationwide. Nor will Arnold make any statement about how evil the process was in Texas, which is allegedly why we need reform.

I like the information about the Canandian system above, although I suspect that it works so well in Canada not so much because of institutional devices but because of the character of Canadians -- i.e., they seem to be better at getting along. I suspect that if the same system was adopted in America, the forces at work here would find a way to politicize it also.

Drum has it right -- this should be a national issue, and I could care less about making California the alleged "leader" of a reform that Republicans have no intention of ever adopting in any red state, but would love to see in every blue state. Advocating this "reform" only in a blue state is not reform -- its just more partisanship.

Sebastian,

"I suspect you aren't thinking the political ramifications through the way I would if I were in the currently minority party.

A) You are currently in the minority"

Not in all states. Since election districts are determined on a state-by-state basis, and the number of legislative houses and governorships are close to 50-50, this does not hold true.

"B) Gerrymandering as a whole will continue to work against you so long as you are in the minority."

See above.

"C) The moral case against gerrymandering is strong."

Agreed.

"D) California is a liberal enough state that anti-gerrymandering isn't likely to lose you huge numbers of Congressmen. And remember, you are already in the minority so long-term strategy should prevail over short-term."

This only holds if every state removes gerrymandering. If California removes gerrymandering while Texas does not, it is a net loss for the Democrats.

"E) Even if it did, the losses should be worth it if you can fashion a strong case to apply against places like Texas where gerrymandering gives a stronger hold to Republicans than it gives to Democrats in California."

You have more faith than I do in the Texas Legislature (or other Republican controlled legislatures) listening to such a strong case.

"F) You should be able to fashion such a case."

Yes, but will it move anyone?

My experience in Pennsylvania fits well. following the 2000 census, Pennsylvania gerrymandered pretty noticably, with the effect that an 11-10 Democratic split in Congress became 12-7 Republican. It was litigated to the State Supreme Court, who struck 1 districting plan, and then permitted another. My home has 3 congressional districts within a 3 mile drive and 6 within 10 miles, where historically, nearly all of Montgomery county would have been 1 district (with only 1 other nearby district over the county line in Philadelphia).

Why on earth should I expect this to change based upon what occurs in California? Do you really think that support for gerrymandering will cause people to change votes? Or do you think that Pennsylvania Republicans will have a change of heart if the Democrats in California let them pick up a few additional seats this way?

I strongly suspect that Republican legislators need a few times of having their tactics coming back to bite them before we can trust them to do what is in all citizens' interest. Perhaps on that level the Washington governor's litigation is a good thing.

I have so little faith in the leaders of majority party, though. Not none, but close to it. That's true of a large and growing section of the left. (In the most recent poll of Bush's approval rating I saw--not only did a slim majority disapprove, but 39% "strongly disapproved" whereas only about 20% "strongly approved." And I have if anything less faith in the Congressional Republican leadership--from Dr. Bill "tears and sweat may or may not transmit AIDS" Frist to Dennis "Soros is a drug lord and let's legalize extraordinary rendition" Hastert to Tom "no need to elaborate" DeLay.) After the Texas episode it is not only implausible, but patently ridiculous to think that the Republicans will follow suit. Maybe most Republican voters would support nonpartisan redistricting in their states, but I bet Fox News & Rush & Republican politicians could talk them out of it. And even if they couldn't--the vast majority of people simply do not cast their votes on goo-goo issues in legislative elections. Even if partisan politics played no role, the state legislators probably don't want to give up their redistricting power. And maybe people would vote for it in a referendum, but there are relatively few states like California where a referendum cannot be overturned by the act of the legislature. Even in those states, opponents can often get it repealed by changing the phrasing of the question.

I also really like my state's Congressional delegation. Somehow they manage to range from fine to really great, even without facing nearly as much in the way of competitive election as they should.

Massachusetts would probably lose only one or two Democratic seats, but in this political environment when the stakes are this high and it can mean the difference between a majority and being completely and totally excluded from the lawmaking process, it's a risk I simply will not take.

And if you're right about the popularity of the idea, you should be able to get some conservative states to make the first move.

So, anyone from California: think hard before you support this. It's cynical, sure, but we vote cynically all the time--any time you vote for a candidate because he's electable instead of because you think he'll be the best President you're voting cynically.

also, I think the U.S. government is structured in a way that systematically and unfairly discriminates against people in large-population states. For a liberal voter in Massachusetts, California or New York--not only do Republicans in whom we have no faith control the executive branch, both branches of the legislature and (soon enough) the courts--we are also grossly underrepresented in the Senate, the constitutional amendment process, and the electoral college right now. The House is the only place where are votes count even close to as much as a resident of Utah or North Dakota. We are not going to risk losing even a single House seat under these circumstances. At least, I'm not.

You say we have less to lose. I say we are losing so much already that we cannot be expected to risk more. Not now. Not with so much at stake. Not when the person who gains most will be the person who organized the Texas redistricting power grab and is doing his best to undermine the integrity of the legislative process.

I don't like being cynical, but there you are. I really doubt I can be talked out of it.

I'm not always so cynical at Arnie's expense--I am all for a constitutional amendment making naturalized citizens eligible for the presidency.

"Of course, if the issue is simply how to get more Republicans into the Senate, I'm sure Governor Schwarzenegger will do a grand job and Republicans are quite right to support him but not to support any nationwide movement for fair elections."

Umm, gerrymandering has nothing to do with the Senate.

And about what Governor Schwarzenegger is trying to do, I think it has more to do with shaking up calcified legislators on both sides (I'm not sure he loves dealing with some the Republican crazies in CA either) than party advantage.

"I strongly suspect that Republican legislators need a few times of having their tactics coming back to bite them before we can trust them to do what is in all citizens' interest."

Ha. You clearly need to investigate gerrymandering in the 1970s and early 1980s if you don't think Republicans are fully aware of how it can work against them.

"I have so little faith in the leaders of majority party, though. Not none, but close to it. That's true of a large and growing section of the left."

I honestly don't see what this has to do with anything we are talking about. I'm not asking you to trust the Republican leadership. I'm asking you to trust the American voter. If you don't trust your ability to influence the American voter on a slam dunk case you shouldn't be thinking about getting rid of gerrymandering ever, because you clearly can't win. Domestic partnerships are spreading across the country on a state by state basis, why not anti-gerrymandering statutes?

The problem is that there is always a minority party which is afraid to give any ground and there is always a majority party which wants to protect its incumbents. The only thing that changes is the identity of those groups. If enough aren't willing to work against gerrymandering without respect to the short term gaming, it will never be dealt with. You are part of the problem.

Note those were responses to different people depending on what I quoted. Sorry for not throwing in names there.

I'm not asking you to trust the Republican leadership.

Yes, you are. Ahhnuld is proposing to remove redistricting from the legislature and put in his hands.

You remember Ahhnuld has that (R) thingy after his name.

If you're really interested in electoral reform, the more effective and efficient way is to enact meaningful campaign finance reform.

I'm with Drum and Katherine. If you want to get rid of gerrymandering let's have a constitutional amendment. I'll support that. Peace treaties are fine, unilateral disarmament isn't.

BTW, Katherine, whether this is a prisoners' dilemma depends on who you regard as the players. If it's simply the dominant party in each state, then it's not, because the total number of seats is fixed, so there's no way both sides can improve their position through some sort of agreement. If it's the people then it gets more complicated.

"If you're really interested in electoral reform, the more effective and efficient way is to enact meaningful campaign finance reform."

Silencing voices sounds more like incumbent protection to me.

"Yes, you are. Ahhnuld is proposing to remove redistricting from the legislature and put in his hands."

In his hands? Even though we don't have a hyper-detailed proposal, I can safely say that is not what is being proposed. And having an (R) after his name doesn't invalidate the idea he proposes.

If Democrats were in power they wouldn't be proposing anti-gerrymandering then either. That is why all this talk about the need to hang on to every seat because we are in the minority thing is silly. When the Democrats had hugely comfortable margins in both houses, they still gerrymandered to make House seats safe. That is why you need someone who has not been 20 years-entrenched in politics to shake it out. The anti-gerrymandering options for the forseeable future are either state-by-state or none. State-by-state change can be powerful. See for example domestic partnerships. You can either take a long view or a momentary political advantage view. It is theoretically possible that Democrats could lose one or two seats in California if they couldn't gerrymander districts.

This ultimately isn't a Democrat-Republican issue, this is a voter issue. I believe voters can be convinced to protect their voting interests if presented with a good plan.

Not everything is about momentary political advantage. Sometimes it is about long term political advantage.
;)

That's why I agree with Kevin Drum: setting up fair elections and fair electoral divisions ought to be a nationwide issue. The Republicans who care about this, rather than supporting individual Republican governors and making it appear that all they care about is getting more Republicans into the Houses, ought to be targetting their President: if they want a fair election in 2008, it ought to become a nationwide issue to be dealt with by a non-partisan body.

It ought to be, but it isn't. So, if we can't do it 100% correctly and simultaneously, it's best to do nothing. I'd go for Drum's trade, but it's a trade that's never going to occur, for the reason that California has the governor using his bully pulpit to try to enact some reform, while Texas doesn't.

This ultimately isn't a Democrat-Republican issue, this is a voter issue. I believe voters can be convinced to protect their voting interests if presented with a good plan.


Not everything is about momentary political advantage. Sometimes it is about long term political advantage.
;)

Tell it to Tom DeLay.

The inconvenient fact is that a constitutional amendment would pass if it had Republican support. So maybe all the high-minded Republicans trying to end gerrymandering should be pressuring their Senators and Representatives on the matter. I eagerly await Schwarzenegger's efforts in that direction.

I'm with Drum and Katherine. If you want to get rid of gerrymandering let's have a constitutional amendment.

In other words, you want the change but you're willing to emplace conditions for change that are unlikely to ever be met. Dunno how this is much different from Drum's California/Texas swap, other than being more unlikely to ever take place.

In other words, you want the change but you're willing to emplace conditions for change that are unlikely to ever be met.

I want the change nationwide. I don't want it state by state. You want the change state by state? How likely is that? Is a change in Texas really more likely than a constitutional amendment?

You want the change state by state?

However I can get it, Bernard. Show me an even embryonic nationwide imperative to reform the drawing of congressional districts.

How likely is that?

Do you think one state now will somehow preclude an amendment being passed? Why?

"Domestic partnerships are spreading across the country on a state by state basis, why not anti-gerrymandering statutes? "

Because anti-gerrymandering directly harm the states the pass them at the expense of states that don't.

If you're right about it being a popular nationwide issue that will inevitable spread, great. I look forward to it spreading starting with.

There is always a majority party. There is not always a majority party that controls the entire federal government. More importantly, there is not always a majority that is this extreme or that shows such utter contempt for its political opposition, the Constitution, and the lawmaking process--including the very redistricting process we're talking about. California and Massachusetts do the ordinary, nakedly-partisan/self-interested-but-at-least-it's-only-once-a-decade redistricting that is a long tradition in this country. What DeLay did in Texas was new, and much worse.

If John McCain were President, Lindsey Graham or Richard Lugar were Senate majority leader, and Christopher Shays were speaker of the House, I'd happily vote for a redistricting law in Massachusetts or California. Until then...No.

And if you're right and I'm wrong about whether states with Republican-dominated legislatures will support anti-gerrymandering laws, that's great. But I'll wait for those states to make the first move.

This reminds me of a little poem I read once somewhere:

The rain it raineth every day
Upon the just and the unjust fella
But more upon the just because
The unjust has the just's umbrella

Under no circumstances am I giving Tom DeLay my umbrella.

Slarti: Show me an even embryonic nationwide imperative to reform the drawing of congressional districts.

According to Sebastian, "This ultimately isn't a Democrat-Republican issue, this is a voter issue. I believe voters can be convinced to protect their voting interests if presented with a good plan."

A good plan would be one which didn't favor either Red states or Blue states, but which reformed US elections nationwide.

Because anti-gerrymandering directly harm the states the pass them at the expense of states that don't.

Wait...it harms them both?

Does anyone honestly think that an act of self-defenestration by California Democrats will encourage the Texas legislature (or any other state legislature) to follow suit?

Slightly OT, as it stands, there are a dozen states that employ redistricting commissions of some form. Interestingly, these commission have also managed to come up with plans that have been unbalanced enough to get overturned in court. See this from the National Conference of State Legislatures for an overview of the current state of affairs.

A good plan would be one which didn't favor either Red states or Blue states, but which reformed US elections nationwide.

Maybe everything ought to be done nationwide. Drivers' licenses? Nationwide. Property tax? Nationwide. And let's dispense with those pesky state legislatures while we're at it. Building permits? You got it.

Maybe everything ought to be done nationwide. Drivers' licenses? Nationwide. Property tax? Nationwide. And let's dispense with those pesky state legislatures while we're at it. Building permits? You got it.

Slarti, if you want to argue for any of the above, I wouldn't dream of contradicting you.

But as far as I know, this is a thread to discuss gerrymandering, not drivers' licenses, property tax, state legislatures, or building permits, so if you want to make your argument for nationwide control of any of those issues, maybe you should start a new thread?

Well, Jesurgislac, the point is that gerrymandering, redistricting, or whatever the hell you want to call it, is a power that's currently held and exercised by the states. How do you propose to take it away from the states, and what's your rationale for doing so? Is your position that the federal government will somehow fail to screw it up less completely than the states have?

Silencing voices sounds more like incumbent protection to me.

To you, perhaps. However, many feel money is not speech. Including the USSC.

Are you seriously saying incumbents don't have a fundraising advantage?

"Because anti-gerrymandering directly harm the states the pass them at the expense of states that don't."

No they do not harm the states that pass them at the expense of the states that don't. You worry that they may harm the political party in power in California, not the state of California or its citizens. That is a very different proposition. Your worry is not that the state will be harmed, you worry that the political party you identify with will be harmed. There will always be such a position and there will always be people who say that now is not the time to change the process because for the next two years it could hurt us. Maybe, but I doubt it. What if I were in Texas and I had your position? How could you argue against it? You can't because your position is a power position, not an objection on the merits. Your position makes fixing gerrymandering impossible.

Convince me as a Texan that I shouldn't risk the narrow Republican lead that I cherish on killing gerrymandering.

"Convince me as a Texan that I shouldn't risk the narrow Republican lead that I cherish on killing gerrymandering."

Convince me that accepting removing gerrymandering in California will lead to removing it in Texas (or Pennsylvania). If not, then all you are arguing is for the Democrats to be bigger suckers than Republicans.

"Are you seriously saying incumbents don't have a fundraising advantage?"

Are you saying that he who spends the most money wins? Ever heard of Darrel Issa's 1998 senate race? Dole outspent Clinton. Bush Sen. outspent Clinton.

What I'm saying is that people donate money to candidates that they like. It isn't typcially inappropriate to do so.

oops. I meant to type either

"Because anti-gerrymandering laws directly harm the states that pass them and helps the expense of states that don't."

or

"Because anti-gerrymandering laws benefit the states that don't pass them at the expense of the states that do."

and I combined them.

I am happy to go state by state provided that red states make the first move or the blue and red states somehow figure out a way to go simultaneously. I am happy to support a federal statute. I am happy to support a federal constitutional amendment. What I will not do is have the Democratic states go first in the naive hope that Republican states will follow suit. Particularly when the only solidly Republican state that is even close to the same size as California has the most nakedly partisan redistricting process of all.

If California passes Schwarzanegger's proposal, and Republican states with a similar total population do not follow suit, House districts in 48 out of 50 states will be as non-competitive and gerrymandered as ever, and the Republicans will be guaranteed control over the House for another decade. The Republican House that completely excludes Democrats from the legislative process, violates the ethics rules and then rewrites them according to their convenience, holds votes open until they get the totals they want, adds provisions to bills in conference that neither house voted on and then tries to hold a vote before Congressmen can read the bill.

This is Dennis Hastert, who will not allow a debate on any bill unless a majority of the Republican caucus supports it, and who likes to imply that his political opponents are funded by drug cartels. This is Tom DeLay, who is responsible for the joke of Texas redistricting, ethics violations that I'm losing count of, and maybe some honest-to-God crimes.

These are the guys trying to amend the Constitution to attack gay people. These are the guys who a few months ago tried to attach a hidden provision legalizing extraordinary rendition to the 9/11 commission bill.

And whether you like it or not, if you voted for a Republican Congressman, these are also the guys who you helped put into power.

So. Get them out of power, or find a way to get Texas (or a bunch of smaller red states) to do this at the same time or before California, or let's figure out a way to do it on a national level. But until then--the good government arguments are going to fall on some very deaf ears.

"Convince me that accepting removing gerrymandering in California will lead to removing it in Texas (or Pennsylvania). If not, then all you are arguing is for the Democrats to be bigger suckers than Republicans."

Have you seen nationwide political trends that started in California? I have. They typically appeal to peoples' ideas about fairness. This is classically similar.

Look, I don't mind if you don't care about gerrymandering. If you don't think it is a big deal, support it or talk about the political advantage it gives the partisans you happen to prefer. That is fine. Completely justifiable. Just don't pretend it is a big deal and also work to thwart the first place it has a chance of being dealt with. There has to be a first place. California looks like it may be the first place because it has a strong administration who doesn't like the incumbents he has to deal with from either party and it has a governor who is not deeply wedded to the same old political games. California is also a big enough state to inspire change elsewhere. If you actively resist the change there, you aren't going to be getting another chance later. And don't pretend the chance will come when the Democrats are in power. That is self-delusion. See 1976-1980. See Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil (D) 1977-1987. See Robert Byrd Senate Majority Leader (D) 1977-1981. See President Jimmy Carter (D) 1976-1980. Notice anything about who controlled all three branches of government?

The federal game-players aren't going to stop gerrymandering. It wouldn't happen under Tip O'Neil, it won't happen under Tom Delay. So what? We don't need them to. The states draw the districts.

""Convince me that accepting removing gerrymandering in California will lead to removing it in Texas (or Pennsylvania). If not, then all you are arguing is for the Democrats to be bigger suckers than Republicans."

Have you seen nationwide political trends that started in California? I have. They typically appeal to peoples' ideas about fairness. This is classically similar."

Not very convincing. And in light of what happened in Texas last year, you need to be _very_ convincing.

Do you think one state now will somehow preclude an amendment being passed? Why?

No. I don't think so. All I meant was that I think Texas is less likely to change its procedures than an amendment is to pass.

Are you saying that he who spends the most money wins? Ever heard of Darrel Issa's 1998 senate race? Dole outspent Clinton. Bush Sen. outspent Clinton.

In the vast majority of campaigns, yes; the candidate with the most money wins. For example, in 2000, top spenders won 94% of the US House races. In 2002, the top spenders won 95% of the US House campaigns.

And I'm saying it's much easier for an incumbent to raise that money.

What I'm saying is that people donate money to candidates that they like. It isn't typcially inappropriate to do so.

True...but campaign finance reform wouldn't prohibit the
practice of donating money to their chosen candidate.

"Have you seen nationwide political trends that started in California? I have. They typically appeal to peoples' ideas about fairness. This is classically similar."

To put my response another way, this is like the old joke that the stock market has predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions. Many political trends which have passed in California have not caught on elsewhere. So just relying on this becoming a national trend is far from sufficient to get my support.

The state LEGISLATURES draw the districts. It protects their seats as much as Congressional incumbents', and gives them even more power.

In California, the voters can pass a Constitutional amendment about redistricting even if the legislature opposes it, and the legislature won't be able to override it. This is not typical; there are very few other states where that is true.

As unlikely as a federal statute against gerrymandering is, Texas following California's lead is even less likely.

I'm not actually trying to convince Sebastian, I'm trying to convince liberals who live in California who might be inclined to vote for this. And I'm not sure any are reading this, so I think I'll leave it at that for now.

I still don't understand your hurt states comment. The state is not getting hurt. It is being helped by getting representatives which are more representative. A particular party may or may not get hurt, but I don't care about that.

"So. Get them out of power, or find a way to get Texas (or a bunch of smaller red states) to do this at the same time or before California, or let's figure out a way to do it on a national level. But until then--the good government arguments are going to fall on some very deaf ears."

Right, because naked political power for the group you like is more important to you than the gerrymandering issue. That is fine. I don't mind. The key to you is 'get them out of power', which I'm not interested in because I think that Democrats are typically quite bad for the country when in power. But I also supported an end to gerrymandering both when my party was in power and when it was not, including a period of time when Republicans controlled my home state's legislature. For me, an end to the really bad system of gerrymandering is good because it frees the process to be better. I don't know exactly how it will be better, and if spread across the nation, perhaps Republicans would lose some power--I doubt it, but perhaps. But fixing the process is important. We aren't likely to be able to fix the whole process at once, but California would be a darn good start. The funny thing is that you aren't likely to lose many or any seats in California if their weren't gerrymandering. That suggests that you are only interested in places like Texas where you think you could gain seats. That makes it much more a political calculation game. Which is fine if that is what you think is important. Just say that you don't care much about gerrymandering as an issue of it own and you are more interested in how you can leverage districts to your own advantage. Gerrymandering is not going to be stopped nationwide all at once. It has to start somewhere. The only way it is going to start is in a state where more people are worried about getting a fair process than people who want to play partisan games. You don't have to play along, there isn't anything wrong with that. But you should realize that you and your exact counterparts on the other side are pretty much going to make it impossible for anti-gerrymandering to get anywhere.

How would you argue with the Republican Katherine in Texas?

Florida has the option of referenda.

Slarti: Well, Jesurgislac, the point is that gerrymandering, redistricting, or whatever the hell you want to call it, is a power that's currently held and exercised by the states.

And the states are incapable of getting together and agreeing jointly as a group to change their legislation in order to make elections fair nationwide? States in the US are unable to act together, or legally prohibited from doing so?

"Maybe everything ought to be done nationwide. Drivers' licenses? Nationwide. Property tax? Nationwide. And let's dispense with those pesky state legislatures while we're at it. Building permits? You got it."

What do Drivers' licenses and building permits have to do with the balance of power in national government? It's not purely an internal issue. If California redistricts and gains 3 Republican House members, those 3 members then move on to Congress and start passing laws that affect the state of Washington, a practice that I'm acutely concerned about.

Keep in mind, I really, really, really hate gerrymandering. I think it's poisonous and anti-democratic. But there is enormous interdependence among the states on this issue and any state that just decides to go first without assurances that there will be balancing moves from other states would be abysmally stupid.

"The only way it is going to start is in a state where more people are worried about getting a fair process than people who want to play partisan games."

No, the only way it's going to start is with assurances. That's how detante works. Here's the likely order of preference of most people here and probably most people everywhere, from good to bad:

1. No gerrymandering
2. Balanced gerrymandering
3. States dominated by my opposition party gerrymandered, but not those run by mine.

What you're suggesting is that someone go from 2 to 3, with the intent that someday they'll get to 1, to which the only rational response can be, naturally, 'you first'.

It's a stupid arms race and it needs to be dealt with in the same way. By negotiation and diplomacy, not unilateral concession.

"The state is not getting hurt. It is being helped by getting representatives which are more representative. A particular party may or may not get hurt, but I don't care about that."

The people who adhere to the principles of those parties do, and I'm guessing that's a majority of the country.

"Gerrymandering is not going to be stopped nationwide all at once. It has to start somewhere. The only way it is going to start is in a state where more people are worried about getting a fair process than people who want to play partisan games."

If a statement like this were made more than 1 election cycle after the abomination that was Texas's redistricting, I might be able to agree. But this smells too much like rewarding such a naked power grab that I cannot support it. If that means Sebastian thinks I am a political tool, too bad.

"But you should realize that you and your exact counterparts on the other side are pretty much going to make it impossible for anti-gerrymandering to get anywhere.

How would you argue with the Republican Katherine in Texas?"

Oh, it's almost certainly impossible, but it's not because of me and it won't be because California rejects this plan. It will be impossible even if California adopts this plan.

I wouldn't bother arguing with Republican Katherine in Texas, as I know there's very little hope of me convincing them and no hope of them convicing or forcing the legislature to adopt nonpartisan redistricting.

"Right, because naked political power for the group you like is more important to you than the gerrymandering issue. That is fine."

Sebastian? I very much appreciate your opposition to the federal marriage amendment, Abu Ghraib, the abuse in Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, the ongoing bankrupting of the federal government, the way DeLay runs the House, the Texas redistricting procedure, the various and costly policy mistakes in Iraq, and a litany of other bad things that the Bush administration and G.O.P. Congress are directly or indirectly responsible for. I think it is sincere, and it does you credit, and it's reassuring that there are still Republicans who still share some basic values of mine. But you voted for Bush. While I'm not certain I would guess you voted for a Republican Senate candidate who would have voted for Frist, and I would guess you voted for a House candidate who would did vote or would have voted for Hastert and DeLay.

How would you feel if I described your vote like this:
"Right, because naked political power for the group you like is more important to you than the deficit, whether innocent prisoners are tortured, your own and Edward's civil rights, a competent Iraq policy, the gerrymandering issue, and the integrity of the legislative process. That is fine."

At some minimal level of accuracy, you could defend both statements*. But neither is really fair, and neither is a very effective argument--because God knows you, Slarti and Moe have gotten enough of the second one here, and I never saw it do anything but annoy you.

Actually, the gerrymandering issue matters to me. But I'm 98% it's hopeless anyway, and other issues matter more.

*I suppose you could distinguish in that California's vote will involve a referendum and you just voted for a candidate. But my goal is not an end to gerrymandering in California, it is an end to gerrymandering across the country. I don't believe a single conservative states will follow California's lead, I know Texas won't, and I know if California goes first and the GOP House majority increases there is even less hope of a federal statute against gerrymandering.

"If a statement like this were made more than 1 election cycle after the abomination that was Texas's redistricting, I might be able to agree."

It is the statement I made 5 years ago, 10 years ago and 15 years ago. I can't help that you weren't listening to me then.

"It's a stupid arms race and it needs to be dealt with in the same way. By negotiation and diplomacy, not unilateral concession."

Hmm. I dare not comment.

Why not? If it's topical, I'm sure your comment will be welcome. If not, check your assumptions.


"I don't believe a single conservative states will follow California's lead, I know Texas won't, and I know if California goes first and the GOP House majority increases there is even less hope of a federal statute against gerrymandering."

There is zero hope of a federal statute against gerrymandering. No ruling incumbent party will ever go for it. Your party didn't in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, my party won't now. It isn't a party issue except that whichever party is in power is all gerrymandering while the party out of power hopes to get their gerrymander through. (See for example the Democratic push in Texas to have their highly obnoxious gerrymander plan restored--triggering much of this debate with DeLay's response of new districting). That is why you have to go outside of the parties.

"At some minimal level of accuracy, you could defend both statements*." Your asterik is much more accurate. I vote for candidates based on lots of things. I would vote for an amendment on gay marriage on the gay marriage issue. I will vote on the California referendum on its own merits because you can do that in a referendum. Dealing with this issue can't go through political parties in the normal channels. The party in power has no interest in changing. But you are right, my argument as framed wasn't helpful.

For those interested in some background on California redistricting, see this article from the Sacramento Bee dated December 1, 2004.

A key passage (redacted) notes:

As it turned out ... the two parties agreed on a bipartisan redistricting plan. The bipartisan gerrymander had adverse consequences of its own, however. By making all but a handful of the 120 legislative districts immune to interparty competition, the scheme tended to create more ideological polarization in a Capitol already paralyzed by such conflict. Legislative races in 2002 and 2004 were largely resolved in the primary elections, which were dominated by the most rigid ideological activists of both parties. Democrats drifted to the left, Republicans drifted to the right and the ranks of moderates thinned.

Since Democrats are guaranteed dominance of the Legislature under the 2001 bipartisan deal, its practical effect has been to nudge the ideological tenor of the Capitol leftward ...

Those who dislike the Legislature's leftward drift ... tried to change its dynamics this year by sponsoring a ballot measure that would have created a new form of open primary and probably brought more moderates into the Capitol. But the two major parties joined forces to oppose it and voters rejected it.

The defeat of Proposition 62 doesn't end the ideological struggle for the Capitol but merely shifts it into a new arena. It's no secret that Schwarzenegger, business groups and centrists in both parties are thinking about pushing a new ballot measure to overhaul redistricting - taking it out of the Legislature and placing it in an independent commission - and perhaps enfolding it in a package of "government reform" measures that might include state government reorganization, public pension reform, modification of legislative term limits, and regulatory streamlining.


The target of the effort is clearly the legislative districts, not the congressional districts. However, it is also clear this move is intended to produce a result that tips the legislative balance to the right in relative terms.

As I noted upthread, there are already a dozen states with commissions. They were largely formed in response to Supreme Court decisions that opened the door to legal challenges to redistricting plans - in other words, they were established as a mechanism to avoid getting dragged into court. That is not the case here. This proposal has a partisan politcal underpinning and must be viewed in that light.

And on that note, I'm gone for the weekend. Have fun.

"There is zero hope of a federal statute against gerrymandering"

Quite possibly. I would say slightly above zero, because I think the hope of a state-by-state process working is actually less, and mathematically it can't be negative.

You seem to be arguing that:
1) it's hopeless if California waits for a GOP-dominated state of comparable size
2) a national solution is hopeless
3) but if California supports nonpartisan redistricting, there's a reasonable chance reform will sweep across the land

Isn't it just a little convenient that the only workable solution would benefit your party at the direct expense of mine? That would, if no Republican-dominated state follows California's lead, make it impossible for Democrats to retake the House for the foreseeable future?

Not that you're not sincere. But it's very easy to convince yourself of what you want to believe. Heck, I half-convinced myself Howard Dean was the Democrats' best political choice for the nomination.

Now that I'm embittered and cynical in my old age, I am less prone to wishful thinking. I think that 1, 2, and 3 are all just about hopeless, which you must admit is consistent.

Heck, I half-convinced myself Howard Dean was the Democrats' best political choice for the nomination.

I don't mean to veer off-topic, but you've got my interest piqued. If not Dean, then whom?

Kerry, of course! He's the electable one. Doh. . veering. . out of. . control.

Clark, probably, as far as this election. But then, there are times when I do think it was Dean, and times when I think Edwards, and right after the debates I thought it was Kerry after all. So who the heck knows.

It's just, most people I know who got strongly attached to a candidate also convinced themselves he was most electable. (The ones who always amused me most were the ones who thought that of Lieberman. No offense, von.)

In the short run, I did always think Clark and Edwards had a better shot than Dean to win. I thought Dean was a bit more likely to lose in a landslide than Kerry or Gephardt, but also more likely to win. And I'd stand by that.

But I thought that Dean was the best political choice because he was the most likely to be able to really re-define the debate in our favor and change the party, win or lose. That's what I think was wishful thinking. If he had lost, as lousy as an opposition as the Democrats are now, it'd be even worse. Look at the mileage the DLC gets out of bludgeoning people with McGovern and that was 32 years ago. The press loves a winner, and they love the DLC party line.

pssst. hey, there's an open thread somewhere around here ;-)

Sebastian: That suggests that you are only interested in places like Texas where you think you could gain seats. That makes it much more a political calculation game.

I hate to say it, Sebastian, but it honestly sounds like you haven't listened to a thing people have been saying in this thread. I think sidereal's detente analysis is probably the most accurate, succinct analysis you're going to get, so I'd be intrigued as hell to see what your excised response was.

Slarti: Maybe everything ought to be done nationwide. Drivers' licenses? Nationwide. Property tax? Nationwide. And let's dispense with those pesky state legislatures while we're at it. Building permits? You got it.

sidereal beat me to this, but seriously, Slarti: one of those things ain't like the others. This is a reductio ad absurdem that's absurd on its face unless you're somehow arguing that a nationwide referendum (whether expressed in the Congress or by means of an Amendment) would lead to a slippery slope of massive, nationwide centralization.

And the states are incapable of getting together and agreeing jointly as a group to change their legislation in order to make elections fair nationwide?

No, they just have even less incentive to act en masse than they do to act alone. Plus, there's no mechanism for them to do so to begin with.

Slarti: No, they just have even less incentive to act en masse than they do to act alone.

Well, if fair elections nationwide is insufficient incentive for states in the US to act together, then I guess the American people will simply have to put up with unfair elections forever, as apparently not enough people nationwide care enough to change it.

Plus, there's no mechanism for them to do so to begin with.

Hmmmm. I would have thought the mechanism was called... what's the word... federal government? Granted, the Republican Party now controls all three branches of it, but I would hesitate to be so impolite as to suggest that the Republican party leaders have no interest in running fair elections.

Jes - whether or not it was a wise choice, the guys who wrote the Constitution left most of the details of implementing elections to the states. Actions that can be taken at the federal level are generally mandates that don't specify the mechanisms to be used for compliance at the state level.

Slarti: one of those things ain't like the others. This is a reductio ad absurdem that's absurd on its face unless you're somehow arguing that a nationwide referendum (whether expressed in the Congress or by means of an Amendment) would lead to a slippery slope of massive, nationwide centralization.

Yes, it just might be a reductio argument, Anarch. Still, I'm not saying that you can't remove power from the states and give it to the feds, just that you'd have to make a mighty good case to each of the states for that being a good idea. Convincing each of the states to relinquish a state power is going to be quite different than convincing each state to reform its process but still have it retain that power. In one case, the state is subject to the whim of the federal government, while in the other it retains the power.

I'm not saying that you can't remove power from the states and give it to the feds, just that you'd have to make a mighty good case to each of the states for that being a good idea.

Fair enough, though I'll note that this isn't your original argument. My preferred solution would be an amendment which gave oversight to a National Election Board or somesuch that would be charged with a) transparency, b) apolitical concerns, and c) producing a "fair", uniformized subdivision of the states into electoral districts, possibly deferring the details to the states in question. [This would ensure a measure of uniformity, something highly important when determining national offices IMO.] Failing that, I'd take an amendment enjoining states to do something similar on their own, although I'm not sure how such a system would (or could) be enforced. As a last effort, sure, I'll take grassroots reform at the state level... but only in a political atmosphere less poisonous than the current one, where one state's "reform" isn't another state's "unilateral disarmament".

Fair enough, though I'll note that this isn't your original argument.

This is part of what's behind the idea that doing it as part of a nationwide effort is going to be rather difficult. If you want all of what's behind it, I'm going to have to actually put some thought into it.

JerryN: whether or not it was a wise choice, the guys who wrote the Constitution left most of the details of implementing elections to the states.

And of course, it's absolutely impossible to amend the Constitution.

Slarti: This is part of what's behind the idea that doing it as part of a nationwide effort is going to be rather difficult. If you want all of what's behind it, I'm going to have to actually put some thought into it.

Great. Do it. ;-)

We aren't likely to be able to fix the whole process at once, but California would be a darn good start. The funny thing is that you aren't likely to lose many or any seats in California if their weren't gerrymandering.

That's interesting. If the makeup of the delegation wouldn't change anyway, what is Schwarzenegger so upset about?

And doesn't that suggest that, on the Congreesional level at least, little harm is done by California's gerrymandering. Perhaps the process should begin with states where the gerrymandering produces a significant distortion in outcomes.

I think we should remember that gerrymandering is a bit of of a red herring. (nice mix of metaphors, huh?) The problem of the minority party in a given state not being adequately represented is a natural result of separating the state population into groups, with each group getting a seat. Without extreme gerrymandering it is only when the minority party supporters tend to be concentrated that it is possible to do this geographically in a way that will produce roughly proportional representation. A better system, I think, is statewide at-large election of Representatives, or perhaps big multi-member districts in large states.

Jes - I'll belabor the obvious point, it's really hard to amend the constitution. In this case, it's extra hard. The default mechanism for ratification is by up-or-down votes in the state legislatures, which just happen to be the source of the problem.

OK, some will say, there is another way. If specified in the text of the amendment, the state conventions replace the legislatures. Only one amendment has been ratified this way. Note that the courts have ruled that a statewide referendum cannot be used. Also, the states have set up their own rules for determining the make up of these conventions and they are all over the place. In fact, in New Mexico, the only members of the convention are the state legislators.

JerryN: I'll belabor the obvious point, it's really hard to amend the constitution.

Yes, I know. I will admit, while I feel strongly about the principle of fair elections*, I am in part teasing Slartibartfast - though if he does come up with a thoughtful piece on electoral reform in US, I promise not to tease him about that.

In this case, it's extra hard.

I hadn't actually thought of that. Yes, it would take an overwhelming change in the national mindset to get the Constitution changed under those circumstances. I can see now why the US never had any nationwide electoral reform - the structure of the Constitution itself.

*And I think a lot of people outside the US share this feeling: that for a country that prides itself on its democracy, it's kind of weird that US elections are so badly and unfairly run that those of us who live in countries that did have nationwide electoral reform in the 19th/20th century can only gawp. This is me gawping.

I'm with Sebastian on this one (I set to one side his specific anti-gerrymandering algorythmn). As Bird Dog (oops Chas) will attest, he and I have been united on the need to tackle gerrymandering since well before the November election. That's because we share a great concern about the constant erosion of democratic (small "d" please) principles for which gerrymandering is the poster child.

Switching to partisan grounds, immediately after the election I was that much more convinced it's essential that the Dems adopt it as a leading issue. Not because it's going to be a "winner" in and of itself. And certainly not because it's likely to make a huge amount of difference in how the little details might play out from one election to the other from state to state in changing the composition of Congress or state legislatures.

Calling for anti-gerrymandering reforms (and for that matter, a constitutional amendment) is one of the most visible ways Democrats can reposition themselves as a reform party. It needs to be made part and parcel of delivering a constant drumbeat of criticisms of the current system taken as a whole -- not just piecemeal campaign finance -- that's producing a political system totally unrepresentative of the vast majority of Americans in the center. We've got a system that gives inordinate power to ideological extremes and a host of narrow monied interests.

There's nothing inconsistent with calling for reform at both federal and state levels while criticizing a specific incarnation of "reform" if, as with Arnold's "plan," it can be shown to have inordinate Republican partisan benefits. But the Dems can't criticize the specifics of a concrete Republican "reform" proposal unless they're operating from a principled ground of calling for across-the-board reform themselves.

I have sympathy for the detente argument expressed earlier. But that assumes there's someone the Dems are going to negotiate with on the other side. Who in the GOP, other than an Arnold who wants to kill multiple birds with the gerrymandering stone (improve his party's position in Calif and polish his small "d" democratic credentials). Arnold is wrong-footing Dems if he can embrace a reform like this -- which ought to be a Dem Party leading issue -- and get them attacking him for it, when they themselves have a trackrecord of redistricting shenanigans when it suits them.

The problem in both Sacamento and Washington is that the insiders from both parties have too much invested in the current system, and when they sit down to negotiate, it turns into a back-scratching divvying up of the pie. The only time it doesn't is when one party can ram a result down the other's throat a la DeLay.

I don't think the Dems are likely to dynamite the Hasterts of the world out of their current position on a district-by-district basis, chipping away one election at a time. It's only going to be under a "throw the bastards out" scenario a la 1994. That means the Dems have to paint the Congressional Republicans as the folks in control of the whole shooting match and invested in the current system -- gerrymandering, campaign finance, ethics rules games, legislation in backrooms, "majority of the majority," etc etc. And position themselves as the process reformers to return Congress to the majority of centrist Americans.

I started to think about a blog or something focused along these lines right after the elections, but as with most things got diverted. But I'm still convinced that it's the only way for the Dems to go. They can't sit around decades waiting for another charismatic leader to take them to the promised land. (Or more acurately, they're perfectly capable of sitting around decades as they've demonstrated, but it's not a very promising idea.)

Further to the priorities of a Dem reform agenda, Mark Schmitt was discussing the redistricting issue a couple of days ago. He sees public finance for campaigns as the essential equalizer to reinsert competitiveness into legislative races. But unlike some, doesn't dismiss the postive contribution redistricting itself can make. He has interesting cites to a study, some more data and some blog commentary.

I think the best bet is actually getting the Congressional Dems to adopt this as part of a general reform agenda a la the Contract With America....

After a cursory read of Article 1, I think it allows for a federal statute on districts. I don't think a constitutional amendment is needed.

It's actually probably to the Democrats' disadvantage structurally because the cities are more heavily Democratic than anywhere is heavily republican. But I don't see a way around that. I'd like PR but it ain't happening.

Yes, the Contract with America is the precise analogy. Not focusing on a single element and getting lost in it -- like campaign finance -- but a package that reinforces the message over and over and over.

Would it ever get enacted? Like Contract with America not in its entirety, but that's not its objective. The goal is to define where the next pendulum swing is going, and lead rather than try to play catchup or see folks like Arnold pick off the lowhanging fruit. Give the Dems an identity that's forward looking, not just fighting to hold on to the bits they still have. Let's stop fighting the last wars.

I think nadezhda's idea is an excellent one. Part of the Republican success in 1994 was based on reform, rather than ideology. This has the obvious advantage of being attractive to swing voters.

Katherine is right that PR is very unlikely, though it's not inconceivable that some state might adopt it after growing weary of redistricting wars. But what exactly should the objective of a non-partisan redistricting scheme be? Is it geographically logical districts, and let the chips fall where they may, or should some effort be made to assure that the delegation roughly matches the party make-up of the state?

Unlike some of y'all IANAL, so I have to depend on sources like FindLaw, where their annotations to Article I Sec. 2 point out when examining the Supreme Court's role on congressional districting that:

Court involvement in this issue developed slowly. In our early history, state congressional delegations were generally elected at-large instead of by districts and even when Congress required single-member districting [Act of June 25, 1842, 5 Stat. 491] and later added a provision for equally populated districts [Act of February 2, 1872, 17 Stat. 28] the relief sought by voters was action by the House refusing to seat Members-elect selected under systems not in compliance with the federal laws.
so proportional representation would require the repeal of the relevant laws.

Further on in the notes there is a discussion of how strict the standard for equal representation is. It sounds almost like a prescription for gerrymandering. It's really a gem, so I'll quote the entire graf:

The most important issue, of course, was how strict a standard of equality the Court would adhere to. At first, the Justices seemed inclined to some form of de minimis rule with a requirement that the State present a principled justification for the deviations from equality which any districting plan presented. But in Kirkpatrick v. Preisler, a sharply divided Court announced the rule that a State must make a "good-faith effort to achieve precise mathematical equality." Therefore, "[u]nless population variances among congressional districts are shown to have resulted despite such [good- faith] effort [to achieve precise mathematical equality], the State must justify each variance, no matter how small." The strictness of the test was revealed not only by the phrasing of the test but by the fact that the majority rejected every proffer of a justification which the State had made and which could likely be made. Thus, it was not an adequate justification that deviations resulted from (1) an effort to draw districts to maintain intact areas with distinct economic and social interests, (2) the requirements of legislative compromise, (3) a desire to maintain the integrity of political subdivision lines, (4) the exclusion from total population figures of certain military personnel and students not residents of the areas in which they were found, (5) an attempt to compensate for population shifts since the last census, or (6) an effort to achieve geographical compactness.
Sweet, huh?

"That's interesting. If the makeup of the delegation wouldn't change anyway, what is Schwarzenegger so upset about?

And doesn't that suggest that, on the Congreesional level at least, little harm is done by California's gerrymandering. Perhaps the process should begin with states where the gerrymandering produces a significant distortion in outcomes."

I didn't say the delegation wouldn't change, I suggested that the political parties of the respective members wasn't likely to change. In many cases gerrymandering encourages the elections of hard-core partisans on both sides because pandering to the base is more important than appealing to the middle in a heavily gerrymandered district.

In many cases gerrymandering encourages the elections of hard-core partisans on both sides because pandering to the base is more important than appealing to the middle in a heavily gerrymandered district.

That doesn't seem clear. Appealing to the base is important if the district is overwhelmingly one-sided. Then getting the nomination is tantamount to winning the election. But more evenly divided districts encourage moderates. So the question of what your gerrymandering strategy is becomes important. You could cram all the minority party voters into one or two districts, and get the results you decribe. Or you could spread them out so, in a 55-45 state all districts were 55-45. That's a slightly riskier strategy, but it has a better (from the point of view of the majority) expected outcome. It also means the nominees can't be too extreme.

All that may be academic - my guess is that the first strategy is more popular - but it does suggest that the whole issue is pretty tangled up.

How and who can overturn a referendum like Prop13 in California?

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