Saturday, November 8, 2014

Gerrymandering Viewed as a Nonpartisan (or rather pro-electorate vs the system) Issue

The difficulty we have with gerrymandering is that it will always seem attractive to the party in power.
Common sense reforms should make us all feel we have more of a chance of being represented. Redrawing the map by both sides has one big nonpartisan effect; it is overall very good for incumbents. It tends to make every district a "safe" district for one party or the other. Another effect, sometimes in competition with the first is, due to "safe" districts, primary elections become very important; general elections much less so. During the primaries, candidates must try to "click" with one group riled up enough to turn out for primary elections. So you are far less likely to get people with balanced perspectives.
In this age, balance or moderation tends to be ridiculed by both (or all) sides. But it is the way of getting the best from multiple perspectives. It gives you people able to argue fruitfully, not just posture for the "base". In reality, sometimes the more conservative idea fits the situation best, and sometimes the more visionary idea does. If people can fruitfully argue, we are more likely to get the benefit of that. I believe you are also more likely to see flaws (to missing the mark or just excess complexity) corrected in some legislation with more moderates rather than the attitude extremists often have "We won't cooperate to improve it because we like it being as bad as possible because we want it to fail" (see

What would an alternative to eternal gerrymandering look like? Maybe laws that say a district should have a certain geometric compactness. That is something  where an intuitive concept could be represented by a mathematical formula. We might not understand the formula, but by looking at examples of what conforms to it and what violates it, we could see whether results look intuitively right. Better yet, in my opinion, we might introduce an arbitrariness, according to a mathematical formula. If you had a square state (which we don't of course) it could look like a checker board. Actually this doesn't quite work because it won't give you districts of approx equal population within a state, city, or county to be "districted" More sophisticated mathematics could generalize that formula. Another reason for putting it all in the hands of a mathematical/computer best line-drawing system that we can judge intuitive by the intuitive pleasingness of the results: it eliminates the considerable amount that can be done to create solid incumbancy districts (Dem districts or Repub. districts, or white, black or Latino districts) while the districts still look nice and geometrically compact.

I believe some decades ago, gerrymandering, or rather drawing maps heavily relying on human judgement to attain some electoral tendency, regained some respectability when they were used to increase the chances of certain minorities getting a representative who looked like them. Lani Guinier, a legal scholar nominated by Clinton for Attorney General had some ideas for allowing such possibilities without distorting the electoral map in any way. They involved a sort of one man, N-vote sort of system, which was quickly vilified (as was Guinier) as a violation of the sacred 1-man 1-vote principle; but it did not violate it at all in spirit.

Besides anti-gerrymandering, another common sense reform principle driven by the goal of real representativeness (not favorong one ideology or the other) is to reduce the role money plays. In I proposed a model for this, suitable for growing up from the "grass roots" *if* the idea and trial results can over time persuade enough people.

One example of money in politics that a conservative might be able to relate to is how much of a farce the 2012 Republican presidential primaries were. There were several instances of one candidate being up in one state and another in the next that looked less like the states having different ideological tendencies, and instead seemed explanable by someone having just bought a few million dollars worth of ads through one PAC or another. E.g. Sheldon Adelson bringing Newt Gingrich up from out of nowhere to near the top for a couple of days. Adelson is a casino magnate whose main issue these days is to suppress online gambling.

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