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Gerrymandering and how to defeat it Options
Andrew Schultz
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 12:28:33 AM

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So I imagine this is relatively old news to Americans who follow politics, but 8 days ago, Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania's 18th district. It seemed like an easy hold for Republicans, but they got a bad candidate. And Democrats are, apparently, made enough to get out and vote.

So Lamb won even though this district was in "Trump country" and designed to be that way.

Okay, that's a bit of passive-aggressive gloating on my part. This is a rather big red flag for Republicans who thought they might not have much to do for re-election. But fact is, noncompetitive districts are bad for democracy. They withstood an energised base in Georgia and South Carolina and even made big gains in a Kansas seat. But there were no wins.

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/2/21/17032936/pennsylvania-congressional-districts-2018 has an example of how the districts looked before, and after. You can see one is a lot less cluttered than the other.

There will always be a swing to Republicans as long as cities are heavily Democratic as they are. And that's okay, as long as the districts are reasonable. I remember some writing from Molly Ivins on the matter. (Note: links don't show up if you have an ad blocker)

The thing is--I know this was supported on both sides from politicians who want to keep their seats safe. Ivins's book mentions California as being particularly bad, but they fixed it there. And we all dislike gerrymandering in theory, but the problem is, if getting rid of it would remove our own elected official, we'd get upset.

It's frustrating such a common sense solution took so long to implement in Pennsylvania, and I can't imagine it's the only place in the US and indeed the world where this happened.

There'll always be some sort of imbalance as long as populations are centered in cities that reliably vote one way, but all the same, there's no need for democracy to shoot itself in the foot. When, for instance, Wisconsin's statehouse is 63-36 Republican in a pretty even state, that seems to go beyond apathy/disorganization at a local level.

I'd be curious what sorts of gerrymandering people around the world see. There will always be ways to consolidate power.

100th person on TFD to 1 million neurons.
David Kitajima Miller
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 1:23:03 AM

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If I'm not mistaken, the new Pennsylvania map still favors Republicans, so I'm not sure what they are grousing about considering more people voted Democrat.
David Kitajima Miller
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 1:24:41 AM

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Interesting post and perspective though. Had some info I was unaware of.
mactoria
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 1:45:31 AM
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Loved Molly Ivins, good link.

As for California's districts: Molly mentions that back in the early 2000s Calif had almost no competitive districts (except for Condit's seat which folks may remember was due to his tie to the Chandra Levy disappearance/murder) and Schultz suggests Calif "fixed" its gerrymandered districts. We do have districts now drawn by a multi-partisan appointed panel instead of by the Legislature so it's somewhat less partisan. A semi-entrenched Republican was replaced by a Democrat who has been re-elected but by slim margins after the new system was put in place, so a case can be made that this district was made more 'competitive." But it resulted from sticking together groups of voters from totally different areas and interests: part of the district is suburbanized cities and rural towns in the valley while the other part is cosmopolitan Bay Area cities (much of the Bay Area is made of small cities that run into each other and are really just one big metro area). So we in the valley feel that we have nothing in common with our metro district brethren, and the district has seesawed from representation by a small town Congressman to a metro Congressman: half the voters don't feel their Congressman has any idea what their needs are. It's politically balanced, but geographically contorted.

I have no suggestions for a better way to avoid gerrymandering, but I do wonder if it's time for America to consider increasing the number of Congressional districts so that the number of citizens represented by one Congressperson is smaller than the current almost 800,000...that's an awful lot of people with a wide variety of needs, socio-economic statuses, etc. for one person to properly represent. 435 must have seemed like a great ratio in the late 1700s when the country had less than a million souls, but it's a huge stretch now that the population is around 330 million.
Drag0nspeaker
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 9:25:31 AM

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Another simple way to handle gerrymandering (in a country which insists on having two-party elections) - which cannot be 'fiddled' at all is simply . . . count up all the votes (total USA) for Republicans and all the votes for the Democratic party.
Then, for every 200,000 or 400,000 or whatever figure suits, you have a member.

If there were 100 million votes (which is reasonable from a population of 330 million), and if party A got sixty million and party B got forty million, then Party A has 480 representatives and Party B has 320.
Or it could be divided by state. Each state is allowed four representatives per million population - then the elections are held as above.

It wouldn't really work where there are free elections (non-party).


Wyrd bið ful aræd - bull!
philips daughter
Posted: Thursday, March 22, 2018 1:04:36 PM

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I am from Texas. Ten years ago our neighbhood was so gerrymandered my husband voted in one district and I voted in another. I joined a lawsuit claiming that my vote had been thrown out because I had voted in the wrong district. I had voted at the same polling station for 20 years and I just didn’t study my registration card hard enough. In my defense what kind of reason thinks of dividing households? I was put back in my district and my suit was over. No matter I was unfairly denied my vote. I think that for 40 years we have been convinced that there isn’t anything we can do, the government is too big and complicated to understand. They either didn’t vote, were too trusting of their representatives and allowed themselves every indulgence without being responsible or knowledgeable. However, there are our grandchildren. God bless their hearts and protect them. They are far more likely to reject the racist, gun-toting, homophobic, climate change deniers that are in charge now.

I think the entire electoral system needs to be updated for the new culture that these children have inherited. We can fight it if we are afraid or we can join andsppirt them. What worked in 1950 doesn’t work now. Of course, that isn’t meant to imply it was bad then. I had an idyllic childhood in small little farming community where we knew everyone and were related to half of them. But, the Korean War and the Vietnam War and loss of farms to big conglomerate agricultural businessmen has forever changed my little town. Is it good or bad? It just is. There is no good or bad. Having Mexican nationals going to school with us was normal. These are my friends. I knew their parents, brothers and sisters. Things haven’t changed. Good people come from everywhere. However, what has changed are white people. I’ll stop here. I’m just musing and in the wake of the violence here being perpetrated by young angry, white men. I have warned before that we are on a cusp and staying balanced on a thin blade is impossible.
progpen
Posted: Friday, March 23, 2018 9:14:14 AM

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As soon as gerrymandering became a political weapon it became a danger to the country. The act of drawing voter districts should never have been allowed anywhere near a politician or political entity. To think that anyone ever thought it a good idea is beyond belief.

One thing that I believe gets overlooked is that the voting districts primarily affect local and state elections, not necessarily federal.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
progpen
Posted: Sunday, March 25, 2018 8:15:33 AM

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Andrew Schultz wrote:
And we all dislike gerrymandering in theory, but the problem is, if getting rid of it would remove our own elected official, we'd get upset.


I guess I'd half heartedly kinda sorta disagree here, only because I've been talking about gerrymandering for so long I'd just think, "at least the playing field is a bit more level now".


Andrew Schultz wrote:
It's frustrating such a common sense solution took so long to implement in Pennsylvania, and I can't imagine it's the only place in the US and indeed the world where this happened.


In 2001, Arizona created a bipartisan commission for redistricting, which the Republican party has already tried to dismantle.

Florida's Fair Districts legislation has done very little to fix their gerrymandering problem. Florida has more registered Democrats than Republicans, but the balance of power in government doesn't even come close to reflecting that.

Despite a 2010 constitutional amendment aimed at preventing political gerrymandering, Republicans dominate Florida politics. Democrats only hold 41 of 120 state House seats, 15 of 40 Senate seats and are outnumbered in in the U.S. House 16-11.




Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
TL Hobs
Posted: Tuesday, March 27, 2018 1:44:42 PM

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progpen wrote:
As soon as gerrymandering became a political weapon it became a danger to the country. The act of drawing voter districts should never have been allowed anywhere near a politician or political entity. To think that anyone ever thought it a good idea is beyond belief.


You are on the right track. I can speak to this from experience as a Reapportionment/Redistricting Committee member following the 2000 and 2010 census. We were to establish voting districts and number of representatives within our local political area; called a Borough. Think of it as a very large County, equivalent in size to the average US state.

The Committee was made up of citizens at large, one attorney familiar with Gerrymandering law, one techy-geek (me) who combined computer maps with the US Census data. The maps/data were linked to an electronic spread sheet. The committee meetings were open to the public and usually attended by people interested in the impact to their party. The attorney dictated the law to everyone participating and called out any attempt to Gerrymander.

Our first action was to define the goals of redistricting; preserve a sense of community, consider the impact of physical boundaries, maintain district equality within the law (+/- 5%), and encourage public participation.

Secondly, we designed several options for representation to determine reapportionment; how many representatives should there be? Then we designed maps showing how each scenario laid out and looked on the maps. Third, we took the results of all this on a road show to the major population centers for evening hearings with the public to get their input and critique.

Last, the most popular choices were placed on a ballot for the next local election and we let the voters decide which one they wanted. The result: No Gerrymandering.

Footnote: I was amazed at how little interest the public had in participating in this process. Few people showed up at the public hearings, committee meetings, or responded with any criticisms. It seems no one could be bothered until the next election bothered them. Then, they yelled loud and long.

"When you don't know where you are going, you have to stick together just in case someone gets there." - Ken Kesey
progpen
Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2018 8:51:52 AM

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It is sad and damn near pathetic that it is so difficult to get people to be interested in that which governs their lives. I've been politically active for 20 years or more, but for a time I was also "too busy" to participate in local government. I saw public service and being publicly active as taking food off the table and taking time away from my family and I remember thinking that people who were politically active all must have some very cushy jobs with paid time off and flexible work hours, which were unheard of to me at the time. Unfortunately, I don't see a realistic solution to this in most cases because it's the low income people and families who are most affected by public policy, but only the middle class and higher can afford to be active in making policy.

There are many people who are exceptions to this rule and those exceptions tend to make significant waves simply due to their strong motivation and sacrifice.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
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