Thought of the day

Here are a few things which would go a long way towards fixing the U.S. legislative process:

  • Standardize House districts to be as close to rectangles in shape as possible
  • Change filibuster rules so that only 55 votes can override one; force Senators to stand and speak when they do invoke a filibuster
  • Lengthen terms for House members to 4 years and have House elections alternate with Presidential elections (President in 2016, House in 2018, President 2020, House 2022…)
  • Enforce term limits at 2 terms a piece for House members and Senators

Age restrictions (25 for House, 30 for Senate, 35 for President) should also be lifted, but that’s more a matter of their inanity than in actually changing much about the legislative process.

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5 Responses

  1. Not sure that the rectangle limitation is strict enough since they can still exploit size, shape, and position. Based on shape, each state has a center point that can be mathematically determined. From this center point you can draw a line due north to connect with the northern most border of the state that intersects with that line. Then, in a clockwise fashion, draw additional lines from the center point to divide the state into segments (as if it was a slice of pie) such that each segment encloses an equal amount of population.

  2. Whereas Congressional districts are generally based upon population, there would be only so much gerrymandering possible, but I’m always for more restrictions on the assholes in charge who do these things.

  3. I like the general idea. I’d amend them this way:

    * Automate the design of districts by publicly-inspectable computer software, as an optimization problem to find the partition that uses only borders, oceans, and latitude/longitude lines (no more than, say, 10) which finds the best fit so that each district has the same number of people (or close to the same number) in it. Failing that, I also really like Scott’s idea of sort-of-pie-slice-shaped districts. But there might be a problem in places like Illinois or New York… So many thin slices in one corner. Near the center, it’s possible someone’s house could be in several districts (or in the worst case, all of them). In any case, the main thing is to take the actual design of individual districts out of the hands of politicians (including judges).

    * Eliminate filibuster. Why should the outcome of a debate on legislation have anything to do with someone’s ability to stay awake for hours past their bedtime (or anyone’s desire to merely state they will filibuster, and then skip actually doing it)? Dr. Seuss doesn’t really add value to House debate. Someone can make a great speech standing up for their issue. That’s enough.

    * I like your idea about length of terms. Long overdue. It might reduce the endless campaign mode, or at least the election expense.

    * People have a right to try to re-elect someone they believe is representing them well. But maybe not if it’s harming others. So I would soften it a different way. A representative would run to represent their own district, but would also have to factor in all adjacent districts for re-election. With each re-election, voters in adjacent districts would have more and more influence (up to half) on the final vote. (Their votes would be simple, either re-elect, or don’t). Same for senators and states. I think many would probably just retire from politics rather than face that, but those who can win such a thing probably deserve to be there, even if it’s their 10th term.

  4. A few things:

    1. House districts are drawn by the states, per the constitution, so the people you need to bug are pretty available. However, since they are done by population, it’s almost always certain to be a mess

    2. They should just leave the filibuster alone. Congress is designed to be slow, particularly the Senate. 60 votes to end debate, and yes, make them speak.

    3. House terms are 2 years, the Prez 4, and the Senate 6 for a reason. You have the House with high turnover and short terms, making it more reactive to public demands and opinion. The Senate with it’s long 6 year terms serves to counter balance that reactivity. Lengthening House terms would fundamentally change Congress, and I don’t think for the better.

    Another thing those short terms permit is 2010. We get to weigh in on the president halfway through his term and put the brakes on if we wish. Your alternating would do sort of the same thing, but with 2 year terms we get to have our say at the 0, 2, 4, 6, and 8 year marks.

    4. Term limits on reps/senators are just silly. Yes, they serve to limit the time a bad representative can serve, but it does the same thing in the case of superb reps. If the people of district X want to keep electing the same guy, more power to them. Term limit the executive, too much power, but not Congress.

  5. I don’t think rectangles are doable or, if they are, they would be a really, really difficult mathematical problem. However, I think you can divide a state using longitudinal (or latitudinal) striping easily enough. With longitudinal striping, each district would run from the northern border to the southern border. This would be doable from a mathematical point of view. The width of the strip would reflect population density before the next divide point was reached. Still, with the very dense NYC environment, you’ll likely have problems with sliver-wide districts.

    Hmmmm.

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