Why we need objective redistricting laws

Every time a state legislative body finds itself redrawing districts, there is danger afoot. If the body is controlled heavily by one party or another, and if the governorship is held by a member of the same favored party, it is likely the districts will be redrawn to favor those in control. Prime examples include Massachusetts and Texas, the latter likely being the biggest redistricting problem in the nation. Republicans have ironclad control over the state despite the fact that whites are actually a minority and – let’s not be subtle or coy – blacks, Hispanics, and other national minorities tend to vote for Democrats.

As old people and those knowledgeable about history may remember/know, due to Texas’ past of horrific racism, it is one of a number of southern states that must seek federal approval before implementing changes to maps and voting practices. (See 1965 Voting Rights Act.) This makes sense. After all, sure, we can chalk some ultimately racist redistricting up to a simple desire to maintain power rather than racism, but let’s not be stupid. Southern states, including and perhaps especially Texas, have a high number of racist individuals. If left to their own devices, they absolutely would not be nearly as fair in the way they treat voters.

Recently federal judges in San Antonio redrew district maps for Texas. They had ruled that the GOP-drawn maps did not reflect ‘minority’ (i.e., not white) population growth in the state. A halt has been placed on that redrawing because there are issues which need to be reviewed, but there is a good chance the Republican-favoring maps will need to be fixed. This, I think, demonstrates the fundamental problem with arbitrary redistricting rules. This is a state issue, but there is also too much subjectivity present in the federal process.

What the U.S. needs in order to fix this gerrymandering is an objective set of rules. They may need to be complicated since populations do not spread evenly across a region, plus most states are not fit into any given geometric shape. However, this is the only reasonable way to ensure that one of two parties does not become too powerful in a single state or region (provided that that power is unrepresentative of population dynamics). After all, ever wonder why the U.S. is so absolutely polarized? There are probably a number of factors at play, but the biggest one is almost certainly the concentration of power had via redistricting. Barney Frank isn’t representative of a huge number of people, but his current district makes it seem as though he is. (And in 2012, reality will be more well represented, hence why he won’t run again.) Michele Bachmann is a crazy idiot who is only in power because the odd shape of her district. If all this strangeness and subjectivity were removed, the result would be far more moderate politicians; no one would need to appeal to the craziest of the crazy in order to get votes since the crazies wouldn’t appear to be the majority.

8 Responses

  1. The problem is that no one has a good idea of what the redistricting rules should be.

    I was reading about the problem in Florida where they are not allowing districts with spokes and tendrils but are redistricting to look more like clustered blobs. This may or may not be better.

  2. I agree with you that gerrymandering is a problem, but there are already guidelines in place – the problem is the politicians tend to be more nimble than the redistricting rules.

    This is what Michelle Bachman’s district looks like:

    Compare that to these gems:

    This was Mass before the redistricting (Frank is District 4)

    and this is what it will look like next time around. Frank wasn’t the only one who chose not to run again, I’m in district 1 and John Olver is retiring as well. http://www.malegislature.gov/Images/ProposedRedistrictingMaps/18.jpg

    Redistricting guidelines typically involve grouping similar groups of people and respecting geographical features. But I find that hard to believe that was the motivation for things like: http://howardcountyblog.blogspot.com/2006/07/rank-worst-gerrymanders.html

  3. It’s far less horrible than it used to be, but still sufficiently horrible that we have to talk about it.

    The best system wouldn’t section off similar groups, it would just create a system of the most compact blobs of relatively similar numbers of people possible.

    However the worst thing going right now is that there is no constitutional bar on gerrymandering and the supreme court has ruled that politicians can select their constituents. Its kind of foolish that while the Feds get to play down south, the rest of the country is free to do whatever it wants, liberal, conservative or otherwise. The south should be left alone as are other states, it’s no bigger a problem there as anywhere else, probably less of one because of the scrutiny they know they get.

  4. […] at For The Sake of Science, Michael has brought up the topic that comes out of its hole once every census or so, US House […]

  5. About 60% of voters in both Alabama and South Carolina voted to maintain anti-miscegenation laws within the past 15 years. I see no reason why they ought to be trusted.

  6. Why trust people anywhere? Why don’t we create more systems where elected officials are held in check by unelected ones. Heck, we really don’t even need the courts.

  7. And on the other hand, going by the mere prevalence of actual hate crimes and the FBI’s most recent data, California is the most racist state and Alabama the least. Maybe Cali needs some federal meddling.

    And I did just think of one other thing. There are quite a few states that, while they may not be perfectly objective, at least have non-partisan redistricting procedures.

  8. California does have Federal meddling. Four counties require Dept of Justice review under section 5 of the VRA. So the Independent Redistricting Commission was required to reserve some seats for certain racial minorities in order to get Federal approval.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: