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"Used to be that the idea was 'once every two years voters elected their representatives.' And now instead it's 'every ten years the representatives choose their constituents.'"
November 14, 2012 6:35 AM   Subscribe

Obama won Ohio by two points, and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won by five, but Democrats emerged with just four of Ohio’s 16 House seats. In Wisconsin, Obama prevailed by seven points, and Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin by five, but their party finished with just three of the state’s eight House seats. In Virginia, Obama and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine were clear victors, but Democrats won just three of the commonwealth’s 11 House seats. In Florida, Obama eked out a victory and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson won by 13 points, but Democrats will hold only 10 of the Sunshine State’s 27 House seats. The Revenge of 2010: How gerrymandering saved the congressional Republican majority, undermined Obama's mandate, set the terms of the sequestration fight, and locked Democrats out of the House for the next decade. It's not a new problem. But if the Supreme Court guts the Voting Rights Act, it could get a whole lot worse. And the electoral college may be next. (What's gerrymandering, you ask? Let the animals explain. Meet the Gerry-mander. Peruse the abused. Catch the movie. Or just play the game. Previously.)
posted by Rhaomi (137 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
undermined Obama's mandate,

51% to 48% is not a mandate. Absolutely is not. That was a squeaked-out win that looks crushing only when viewed through the lens of the Electoral College, with its winner-take-all approach. It means Obama was just a little bit ahead in a lot of places, not that he was a long way ahead.

Now, 60% of the popular vote? That would be a mandate. 66% would be an absolute mandate.

51%, on the other hand, is about as low as you can go and have the Electoral College result still look legitimate.
posted by Malor at 6:45 AM on November 14, 2012 [16 favorites]


This election will never, ever end, will it?
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:47 AM on November 14, 2012 [36 favorites]


Regardless of whether it was a mandate or not, gerrymandering is pure political evil. No state that votes clearly with a majority of one party should be represented by 12 of 16 reps from the other party. That this is legal is appalling.
posted by mcstayinskool at 6:48 AM on November 14, 2012 [61 favorites]


Ahem, I believe the standard set in 2004 was that 51% equates to an overwhelming majority.
posted by Atreides at 6:48 AM on November 14, 2012 [82 favorites]


On the one hand: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now, I intend to spend it." -- George Bush, 2004 [EV: 286 to 251; Pop: 50.7% to 48.3%]

On the other hand, look how well that worked out.
posted by mazola at 6:49 AM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


God, I hope we don't eliminate the electoral college while keeping a winner-take-all executive branch. I cannot imagine the chaotic clusterfuck that would be involved in voter recounts at a nationwide level. It's bad enough at a state level.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:51 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


51% to 48% is not a mandate. Absolutely is not. That was a squeaked-out win...

I guess you don't remember Bush's "political capital" in his crushing defeat of Kerry of 50.7 to 48.3 in 2004 that he intended to spend on ripping apart Social Security.
posted by DU at 6:52 AM on November 14, 2012 [15 favorites]


My solution to gerrymandering.
posted by Brian B. at 6:53 AM on November 14, 2012


I agree there was some gerrymandering by the GOP, but I don't feel that it is alone responsible for the disparity suggested in the FPP's selected statistics.

Believe it or not, there were plenty of Republicans out there, especially in the northern states, who really did not like Romney. Not all zealots are Republican and vice versa.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:56 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


The Republican party is fighting demographics. Gerrymandering, Voter ID laws, etc. only further alienate the very folks that they'll need to convince in order to win in the future. By 2020 you're either going to have a very different Republican party, or the lines are going to get redrawn again, in a manner much more favorable to Democrats.

Oh, and the economic recovery in the next 2 years I suspect will significantly dent any gains the minority party picks up on an off-year election. If Obama can properly groom a successor for 2016, things will really be looking up.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:56 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


This election will never, ever end, will it?

Not while there's some "Obama didn't really win" narrative to justify the GOPs campaign of sabotage and assholery, no.

Here's vaguely hoping the American public actually wise up to this shit in 2014 rather than pulling the same shit they did in 2010.
posted by Artw at 6:57 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I propose benandjerrymandering, because at least that way everyone gets ice cream.
posted by jimmythefish at 6:58 AM on November 14, 2012 [29 favorites]


Gerrymandering is the spoils of war and the Republicans did indeed win huge in 2010. In addition to the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives, the mid-term repudiation of Obama resulted in the "biggest any party has made in state legislative seats since 1938 and is far larger than the GOP's tally in its 1994 landslide."

The GOP has played a good ground game and it shows that they are really very well-organised on the retail level. It would be foolish to count them out.
posted by three blind mice at 6:58 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


It isn't only the GOP that gerrymanders. The Dems just did it here in Maryland. It's shitty strategy regardless, and is in fact the source of our current political deadlock. Safe seats make the GOP crazy as fuck and unconcerned for the consequences. The Dems are not that crazy, but, then, they tend to believe in the real world.
posted by OmieWise at 6:59 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


undermined Obama's mandate,

If the Bush win wasn't good enough to be called a mandate here on the Blue, then the same should apply this time 'round.
50.7% 48.3% (Bush/Kerry)
50.6% 47.8% (Obama/Rmoney)

The voting machine problems of 2000/2004/2008 are still with parts of the nation in 2012. Too bad blackboxvoting.org is still but a fart in the whirlwind trying to raise a stink. Perhaps THIS time 'round people will care?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:59 AM on November 14, 2012


In OH, a redistricting issue that would have handed the job to a committee rather than the majority party was CRUSHED.

Why would individuals vote against that, regardless of party?
Eventually, the 'other team' will gain the majority, then you are screwed.
Well , we all are anyway.
posted by das_2099 at 7:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It isn't only the GOP that gerrymanders. The Dems just did it here in Maryland.

Even judges do it to allow a minority district to be created for their representation. The problem often lies in the fact that controlling parties will not allow a neutral commission to be established in order to draw boundaries, citing the spoils of victory.
posted by Brian B. at 7:02 AM on November 14, 2012


Now, 60% of the popular vote? That would be a mandate. 66% would be an absolute mandate.

So no president has had a mandate since Nixon got elected to a second term? And no president has ever had an "absolute mandate" since the popular vote started being counted in 1824? (source)
posted by burnmp3s at 7:03 AM on November 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


the problem with looking at popular vote is that neither candidate chooses to campaign in places where they already have the state sewn up and they don't do GOTV there in any meaningful fashion. Because it is winner takes all 50%+1 is just as good of an outcome at 66%. There is basically no information in popular vote. You can not say it is or is not a mandate.

Same with this HoR argument. Better to look at the number of districts with an insurmountable edge in one group of registered voters. That alone tells you our districting process is hopelessly partisan and needs to be examined.
posted by JPD at 7:06 AM on November 14, 2012 [18 favorites]


51% to 48% is not a mandate.

That's funny, my dictionary says:


mandate: the authority to carry out a policy or course of action, regarded as given by the electorate to a candidate or party that is victorious in an election:

posted by readyfreddy at 7:12 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't care what the Archdruid says, we need another constitutional convention and pronto.

(I refer to this; start from the bottom)
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 7:13 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]




If the Bush win wasn't good enough to be called a mandate here on the Blue, then the same should apply this time 'round.
50.7% 48.3% (Bush/Kerry)
50.6% 47.8% (Obama/Rmoney)


On the other hand, a difference of 120,000 voters in ONE state in 2004 (about a 2% shift in Ohio) would have flipped the entire election to Kerry.

Romney needed a wee bit more than that.
posted by delfin at 7:17 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


I guess you don't remember Bush's "political capital" in his crushing defeat of Kerry of 50.7 to 48.3 in 2004 that he intended to spend on ripping apart Social Security.

It was just as ridiculous then.

Remember, I'm no fan of the Republicans. But I also believe in using the correct terms for things, and 51% is not a mandate, no matter how bad anyone wants it to be. It wasn't true for them, and it's not true for us, either.
posted by Malor at 7:17 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I tell people here that this is the way they draw electoral districts back home, no one believes me.

I don't know what 'mandate' means. Winning more than 50% means you've won. What have you won? The power to govern, and to try to enact your preferred policies. Is this ever "the right the do as you damned well please, and screw everyone else"? I would hope not.
posted by 1adam12 at 7:18 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


DU: " I guess you don't remember Bush's "political capital" in his crushing defeat of Kerry of 50.7 to 48.3 in 2004 that he intended to spend on ripping apart Social Security."

Atreides: "Ahem, I believe the standard set in 2004 was that 51% equates to an overwhelming majority."

It was bullshit then. It's still bullshit.

The GOP has spent years perfecting an all-or-nothing political strategy.They try to vote as a bloc and portray reality as if it fits a single narrative. It's a shitty, totalitarian way to govern in a democracy. It's also often ineffective unless you have clear majorities in the legislative branch as well as the executive.

This country thrives on the diversity of our people and their variety of ideas and beliefs. Those sorts of regressive tactics may be effective in certain situations but ultimately, they're a hindrance to good government.
posted by zarq at 7:20 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]




As JPD put it so well, the popular vote is not a very meaningful signal precisely because of the electoral college. The reason no president has taken more than 60% of the vote since Nixon is probably due at least in part to campaigns increasingly concentrating their resources on the few swing states that can make a difference.
posted by phl at 7:25 AM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


Same with this HoR argument. Better to look at the number of districts with an insurmountable edge in one group of registered voters. That alone tells you our districting process is hopelessly partisan and needs to be examined.

Is this a terrible thing, though? Like, a district in Harlem is going to be close to 100% Democrat, and a district in rural Kansas is going to be close to 100% Republican, and that's basically the way things should be. It's the whole point of geographic representation, is that communities of people can send a representative who respects their interests.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:30 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I went on a mandate this weekend. Saw the new Bond movie. Good times.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:30 AM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Presidential mandate is a fiction, anyway. The president vetoes and administers. He is going to do these things as he sees fit regardless of how much of the popular vote he gets, and even if he got 100% of the popular vote, congress isn't just going to lie down and do whatever he tells/asks them to do (as long as there is a decent enough split between parties, or even within them).
posted by adamdschneider at 7:31 AM on November 14, 2012


narrative to justify the GOPs campaign of sabotage and assholery

Here are 2 separate vote counting narratives:

One VS Obama

One VS Romney

Blackboxvoting.org is going to be 10 years old next year. How many decades will need to pass before things are changed so that the issues they being up are addressed?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:32 AM on November 14, 2012


The Redistricting Game is great! I recommend it to everyone!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:32 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is this a terrible thing, though?

I should have clarified that to "when the general area has diverse registrations"
posted by JPD at 7:34 AM on November 14, 2012


Are electoral boundaries a state or federal responsibility? I'm guessing state.

So there's no need to wait for a national party in power to appoint a neutral commission; it could be started on a state referendum. Sounds to me like the sort of democratic measure that could be done by the people, if they're motivated enough, with a long-term strategy of gradually fixing the problem as the message spreads.
posted by Devonian at 7:34 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, but that's the point of the "mandate" talk. It is a fiction, but it's a pernicious one. Basically it's a way of reframing the normal political process — you know, "each party in congress pushes for their own constituents' interests" — as some sort of shameful obstructionism when it doesn't go the president's way.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:35 AM on November 14, 2012


What bothers me is how many more votes were cast for Dems in the House.
posted by nat at 7:35 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are electoral boundaries a state or federal responsibility? I'm guessing state.

State. Federal tells them how many seats, the states decide how to draw the boundaries.
posted by JPD at 7:37 AM on November 14, 2012


Several states actually DID vote in favor of man dates in this election, and their logical progression to man weddings!


i'll get me coat
posted by delfin at 7:38 AM on November 14, 2012 [11 favorites]


Gerrymandering to disadvantage political opponents is a bad thing. The U.S. Republicans are a bad party. But gerrymandering isn't the main reason why Republicans won the House despite receiving fewer votes.

Here's a paper about it (PDF):
We show that in many urbanized states, Democrats are highly clustered in dense central city areas, while Republicans are scattered more evenly through the suburban, exurban, and rural periphery… As a result, when districting plans are completed, Democrats tend to be inefficiently packed in homogeneous districts…

The simulation results provide a useful benchmark against which to contrast observed districting plans. We show that in general, pro-Republican partisan bias is quite persistent in the absence of intentional gerrymandering.
This is obvious if you think about other jurisdictions, which also experience this sort of problem. Canada, where I live, has an independent electoral commission that is widely acknowledged as fair and well-managed. But we still have had any number of elections where the "winner" didn't receive the most total votes. And those are just the ones I remember off the top of my head, I can find many more examples if you insist.

So fair electoral commissions, while a great idea, are not the solution to this problem. When New Zealand had this problem, they switched to Mixed-Member Proportional elections, and that worked out much better. Any system that awards seats proportionally would help.

(Also, counting "total votes" by party isn't a great measurement for House elections, because of the variety of voting laws. Louisiana has "jungle elections" where multiple candidates from the same party can run. California has a new top-two system, so there could be two Democratic candidates and no Republicans in the general election, or vice versa. Some districts are uncontested. Some states make voting difficult, and others make it easy, some even vote entirely by mail. Some have complicated ballots, some have simple ones. The real benefit of an electoral commission isn't fixing proportionality, but normalizing election procedures.)
posted by vasi at 7:40 AM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ah, I see down page on the WaPo story that California has done exactly that.

Are other states moving in that direction? Legalising marijuana is a fine thing, but fixing democracy may be yet finer.
posted by Devonian at 7:43 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


As an Ohioan, this is just an ongoing nightmare. The redistricting is so clearly not legitimate, but then the solution that people came up with to propose was something that was so obviously not workable that it never had a chance of passing. It's not just a problem of our federal House of Representatives seats. Both the state house and state senate maps are a travesty. They don't look even vaguely plausible. There is literally no way you could argue that some of these districts should exist without including "and it will get more Republicans elected".

For us, this is not just about how this impacts the national stage. I know that to people in other states, we matter for those purposes. But what we're talking about here is not just trying to get a Democrat house majority. It's the Republicans running roughshod at the state level over what should be a fairly mixed-party state. It's massive budget cuts for education, a public school funding mess even aside from that, it's the heartbeat bill and attempts to crush unions and a million other things that are trying to put us back into the dark ages.
posted by gracedissolved at 7:45 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


We show that in many urbanized states, Democrats are highly clustered in dense central city areas, while Republicans are scattered more evenly through the suburban, exurban, and rural periphery

Yes, under the current U.S. system, urban voters are at a distinct disadvantage--their votes count for less--even when districts are not gerrymandered at all.

In fact you actually have to gerrymander quite badly to get competitive districts in urban areas--like thing of pie slices with the center of the pie in the middle of the urban area and a district as a pie slice taking in a bit of the city center and stretching outwards to include some suburbs and surrounding rural area. If you go about it that way you can get close to a balance among competing parties.
posted by flug at 7:47 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There is no Obama mandate, just as there was no Bush mandate, and just as there was no Reagan mandate after the 1984 election when he won 49 out of 50 states. This is because voters aren't selecting issues from a Chinese menu, they're voting for one out of two possible candidates.

So, you can certainly say Obama has a mandate to raise taxes on income greater than $250k, not because he won the election with a certain percent of the popular vote, but because polling shows that people prefer raising taxes on income greater than $250k. Mandates for specific issues? Sure. But a carte blanche to implement whatever agenda you like because you won the election? No way.
posted by tonycpsu at 7:48 AM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


I don't care what the Archdruid says, we need another constitutional convention and pronto.

Make a list on a scroll of all the "evils" you see in the present system "controlling things".

Now imagine these "evil controlling things" being the driving force at such a convention. And now that you have that "axle of evil" - try and think of a way to keep their influence out of this new convention.

How long did it take to attempt to address "flaws" in setup #2* of the landmass/boundaries one would call "the united states - 1770's version"? And by flaws I mean the things like voting was for landholding free men?

Remember, the outcome of the work back then was to place power in the hands of landowning males. What makes anyone think THIS time round will someone result in improvement on the output side of 'another constitutional convention'?

*remember there was a set of law before the present one. John Hanson - a black man - has been called the 1st President by some historians because of his leading the political organisation that fell and the present one arose from.
posted by rough ashlar at 7:48 AM on November 14, 2012


More on the Maryland gerrymandering mentioned by OmieWise:
The map of Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District , as redrawn by Democrats in Annapolis after the most recent U.S. Census, is nothing if not cartoonish. Comically gerrymandered, it slices and dices counties, communities and neighborhoods. Splattered east, west, north and south of Baltimore, it also takes pains to hack the city itself into pieces. As a case study in majority-party abuse, Maryland’s 3rd District has few peers nationally.

In fact, Maryland itself now counts as the most — read: worst — gerrymandered state in America. In a (not yet published) definitive study of congressional districts conducted by a nonpartisan geospatial analysis firm called Azavea, the average compactness of Maryland’s eight congressional districts ranks dead last among the 50 states, as computed by an average of four measures of compactness.
The redistricting plan was put on the recent ballot and was overwhelmingly approved.
posted by peeedro at 7:49 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's not just a problem of our federal House of Representatives seats. Both the state house and state senate maps are a travesty.

It's the same here in Missouri. In the 2008 election, Republicans lost the state senate elections by a few percentage points (if you added up all the popular votes) but actually picked up TWO SEATS and ended up with a veto-proof majority in the state senate.

In the recent elections, Republicans did win the popular vote but like 55/45 or so, but ended up with veto-proof super-majorities in BOTH houses. The districting situation gives them about a plus 10% or plus 15% in seats vs the popular vote.

FYI a Democrat won the Governorship. If we were a super-Republican state I'd be fairly satisfied with supermajorities in both houses. But we are a BARELY Republican state with supermajorities in both houses.

That's just not right.

Flip side is, if Dems could figure out a way to win, say, 10% more of the rural vote they would crushingly win all elections.
posted by flug at 7:54 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Regardless of whether it was a mandate or not, gerrymandering is pure political evil. No state that votes clearly with a majority of one party should be represented by 12 of 16 reps from the other party. That this is legal is appalling.

It could just as easily be said that no state where a geographical majority votes with one party should be represented on a national level due primarily to the voting power of one isolated city. None of these are objective standards. These are ideas that we have about what is right.

For example: right now, gerrymandering is being urged, by Dems, to create majority minority districts to ensure that minorities are elected. Some people believe that it is a necessary evil in order to ensure more minority representation. Others believe that it's just as racist as deliberate districting in order to spread around the minority vote.

All of these are beliefs that we have - maybe some are right, maybe some are wrong, but this is why stuff like this happens.
posted by corb at 7:54 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


60% of the popular vote? That would be a mandate. 66% would be an absolute mandate.

By that standard, only four presidents have ever had a mandate, none have ever had an "absolute mandate". That's more than two sigmas of difference from the mean, less than a 1 in 20 chance.
posted by bonehead at 7:59 AM on November 14, 2012


Malor: Now, 60% of the popular vote? That would be a mandate. 66% would be an absolute mandate.

Bunk. The electoral college is all that matters.

Here's the analogy I use: You can look at all kinds of statistics in order to analyze a football game, but only one static really counts, in the end, and that is the score on the scoreboard as determined by the rule of play before the game started, as well as the play of the two teams on the field.

If the game ends, and your team has 12 points on the scoreboard, while the opponent has 14 points on the scoreboard, your team lost, on matter whether they had more offensive yards, more time of possession, more completed passes, or even if all of their individual statistics were better than the opponent - all that matters is the score on the scoreboard at the end of the game.

And 332 - 206 is a drubbing, my friend. A drubbing by the only statistic that counts under the rules in effect when this game was played.

Complain about the rules and try to change them for the next time, if you like, but you can't try to change them in retrospect, after the game is over, or whine that the opponent didn't really win, since he only came out ahead in points scored.

As I said, bunk.
posted by syzygy at 8:03 AM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]


None of these are objective standards.

100% agree. However, politicizing the redistricting job by allowing whichever party is in power to do it is so asinine it's a wonder anyone can talk about it as a reasonable thing.

This is why the Texas democrats fled the state a few years ago. They were absolutely right in doing it, because representative democracy was at stake, but they got completely skewered by the media, the public, and most of all by the god awful GOP effort by now-convicted criminal Tom DeLay.

Kind of wish this thread was about gerrymandering, but it appears the discussion is mired in whether Obama won or WON.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


You won the game, and you get the W in your column, but if you're going to spend the rest of the season crowing about how you're far and away the better team and would win ten times out of ten so the other guys might as well withdraw from the NFL entirely, maybe start competing for the Grey Cup, it's not out of line to mention that the other guys honked a couple of short field goals in a two-point game so perhaps you should dial the gloating down a notch.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:07 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Supporting literature on the DeLay Gerrymandering Story: 2003 Texas Redistricting was Tom DeLay's True Sin. Second link written by none other than Dick Morris. Yeah, that Dick.
posted by mcstayinskool at 8:12 AM on November 14, 2012


My solution to gerrymandering: Enforce a lower bound for the ratio of area to perimeter of voting districts.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:15 AM on November 14, 2012 [17 favorites]


Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish: You won the game

I suppose this was addressed at my football analogy, so I'll respond. First off, in the real game, the score was 332 to 206, or 33 to 21, which is a pretty decisive victory, in terms of football or just about any other sport. Scoring more than 150% of what your opponent scored is decisive.

Now, I chose 12-14 as the score in my analogy for the simple reason that the team scoring 12 points probably scored 4 times, whereas the other team probably scored twice. Yet again, the losing team has an advantage, this time, in the number of successful scoring attempts.

The main point here is that if the rules are changed such that the winner was determined by who has the most scoring attempts, the team that won the 12-14 game would have played differently, focusing on racking up the most successful scoring attempts and keeping their opponent from doing the same. There's no way to go back and analyze a game played under one set of rules and determine who would have won had the game been played under a different set of rules. The game would have been completely different.

So, again, the score on the scoreboard, as determined by the rules in force when the game was played, and the play of the two teams, is all that matters.

Now, let's hear more about gerrymandering, a topic which I do find very interesting.
posted by syzygy at 8:19 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


My solution to gerrymandering: Enforce a lower bound for the ratio of area to perimeter of voting districts.

I love math. This is such a simple explanation of why districts look so ridiculous. This needs to be done.
posted by DynamiteToast at 8:20 AM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]


Kind of wish this thread was about gerrymandering, but it appears the discussion is mired in whether Obama won or WON

We can push back! But seriously, I think the problem with districting may actually be the fact that it was originally intended when you had a much lower population, and distinct cities and town and areas. Now no one has a clue. What is a "cohesive community" in a time of suburbs and cities with 8 million people in them?

The problem is also that any fix to this will hit existing people - both Democrats /and/ Republicans, which is why neither are really arguing for substantive change to the districting process. But you also run against the rural/urban problem. How do you make sure population is represented, without completely disenfranchising small, but geographically large areas? And should this process be left to the states to divide (Your state has population Y, this means you have Z congressmen. Divvy it up on your own) or does that cause more problems?
posted by corb at 8:23 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Having seen the data* available to the local redistricting committee in the last go round, I came to the conclusion that there is no possible way for people to fairly and accurately create a redistricting plan.

The scenario we came up (which was considered for all of about 2 seconds by the commission) was feeding a GIS program population data only, having it create X number of districts, then submitting it to a randomly selected population group from the state.
The population group would be able to adjust the boundaries for certain parameters (keeping an identified neighborhood wholly within one district, not separating voters from the school district they attend, etc) but only up to a certain population change and/or total area change.

It was posited that the program could be designed to minimize changes from census to census, but it wasn't definitive if that was a desirable trait.

* Other than for gerrymandering purposes, why exactly is household income, voter registration, race, number of cars, employment status, etc, necessary for deciding a population-based district?
posted by madajb at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I honestly don't see how there can be any honest argument for allowing partisan political figures to set the boundaries. There are a bunch of different ways that might work - from strict mathematical formulae to creating an independent panel and telling them to go nuts - but this one absolutely doesn't, and yet it's the most common.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:25 AM on November 14, 2012


I'm not disgusted by the weird Maryland district, and I'm not exactly offended (even if I am quite bothered) by the over-the-top partisan weirdness of the districting in Ohio and Missouri and so forth. "Throw up your hands cause both sides do it and if we only had a clean party" is a really wrongheaded reaction — I don't have a good analogy, but the best one I can think of is "it's like blaming cold weather on the thermometer." The reason both sides do it is not because they are inherently corrupt and antidemocratic, but because the constraints of the system demand that any party that doesn't use the redistricting system to secure districts for themselves will fail, messily and embarrassingly.

The one distant silver lining is that because the game of gerrymandering is all about concentrating your opponent's supporters in a few districts and efficiently distributing your own across the rest, should the republican party suffer a more major collapse in support than the one they suffered this time around, they will lose a huge number of seats all at once. All of the carefully designed 55% republican, 45% democratic districts will flip hard if 6% of those Republicans grow a real set of values, come to Jesus, and start voting for Democrats.

[all that said: maybe you can identify the small-d democratic party by figuring out which one seems more serious about reforming the electoral system nationwide to eliminate the strategic advantage granted by partisan control over redistricting. The only way a party can really take that stance is if they're pretty sure that in a fairly districted system, they'd win.]
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 8:29 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My solution to gerrymandering: Enforce a lower bound for the ratio of area to perimeter of voting districts.

I love math. This is such a simple explanation of why districts look so ridiculous. This needs to be done.


I know, right? It still gives some flexibility to move boundaries around, while easily ruling out the most egregious gerrymandering. Upon further reflection, the rule should be applied to a cartograph (a map stretched to give uniform population density across area).
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:30 AM on November 14, 2012


If I may say, electoral college vs. popular vote and the wisdom of districts vs popular vote are two different facets of the very same thing.

That is, they are systems that shift the power away from pure popular-vote majority rules and towards other factors.

Like in the U.S. we like to give large swaths of mostly empty land a rather large voice in all elections.

This is bad in some ways, but it does keep (for example) the large rural states engaged in the electoral process when without this slight electoral advantage they would be routinely ignored. So it's part of the pact we have made as a nation to keep the various parts of the country engaged and part of the union.

But . . . we all feel there must be SOME connection between the electoral and popular votes. If some candidate won the presidential election 60/40 yet lost the electoral college, everyone would agree there is a large, serious problem that should be addressed.

With local/state districts, we're there already:

* 2008 state senate election in Missouri, Republicans won 48.5% of popular vote and 67% of senate seats.

* 2012 congressional elections in Missouri, Republicans won 55% of the popular vote and 75% of Congressional seats.

+1% or 2% or even 5% due to the system is "hey, let's give a little boost to the little guy here."

+20% due to the system is just outright unfair. It can barely be called representative democracy at all.

Source for election tallies is the Missouri Secretary of State.
posted by flug at 8:30 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was also going to link to Chen and Rodden's work above that vasi hit. There's also a post on the the monkey cage today about this; short answer is that even with the pre-2010 districts, the Democrats would still not have won a majority of seats.

It's shitty strategy regardless, and is in fact the source of our current political deadlock.

Nope. One of the few things we know with real confidence about the increase in congressional polarization since the 70s is that it is *not* due to gerrymandering. The polarization is increasing because Democrats and Republicans who represent similar districts are casting more divergent votes.

A simple way to see this is to simulate purely random districts -- randomly assign each area to a district and see what sort of MC should be elected. When Poole/Rosenthal/McCarty did this, it turned out that we have only slightly more polarization than we would expect from randomly drawn districts.

undermined Obama's mandate

Mandates don't exist. They're somewhere between ad copy and fairy tales. All that elections tell you is who won. Not why, not what the collective preferences of the electorate are, not what the will of the people is. As a first approximation, those things don't and can't exist in any meaningful and consistent way. Fuck you, Ken Arrow.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:32 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


How do you make sure population is represented, without completely disenfranchising small, but geographically large areas?

When we simulated our proposed GIS solution, starting from a fixed point, you ended up with several large strips in the rural areas, with some more compact squares in the urban areas. If you squinted, it sort of resembled the classic 'golden rectangle' diagram.

And should this process be left to the states to divide (Your state has population Y, this means you have Z congressmen. Divvy it up on your own) or does that cause more problems?


Absolutely it should be a state responsibility. Remember, it's not just federal districts that get changed. State representatives and local races are also important.

And to be honest, living in a state that doesn't really favour the crazy left or the extremist right, the only thing worse than local people on a power trip would be out of state political operatives drawing our districts for their own pleasure.
posted by madajb at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2012


Electoral districts should be separate from geography. You get assigned to one of 501 electoral squads when you get your social security number, it will be the new first 3 digits. When you pick up your ballot to vote, the election official ticks off your team from their registration information before handing it over to you. You then vote and the candidate who wins at least 251 of the electoral squads gets to be president.

It'd probably be easier to just switch to a straight up popular vote, but national elections should not be in the hands of local politicians.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:33 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


* 2008 state senate election in Missouri, Republicans won 48.5% of popular vote and 67% of senate seats.

* 2012 congressional elections in Missouri, Republicans won 55% of the popular vote and 75% of Congressional seats.


What's interesting is when this happens it usually gets almost no media attention.

The 2008 Senate vote in Missouri, which I considered a travesty, got ZERO media attention. Like, not even one mention in the media. Most likely, no one even added up the numbers to realize there was a problem.

So it's interesting to see the 2012 Congressional results getting at least some national discussion.

I agree with those upthread, however, that the real problem is inherent to voting by districts--the gerrymandering issue is just a thin bit of icing on top of a very thick cake.
posted by flug at 8:39 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


How do you make sure population is represented, without completely disenfranchising small, but geographically large areas?

I don't think I understand what an area being "geographically large" has to do with the franchise.
posted by adamdschneider at 8:45 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Iowa doesn't have gerrymandering. It would be great if this system could be required federally.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:45 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can we use the Game Theory Cake Solution for districting?

One party cuts, the other chooses which districts to get. How would that work in districting? I have no clue, but surely there's some way to implement it, since a district is a district and not mutually exclusive. Then this gets back to the point - they choose the voters, not the other way 'round.

But I feel that there's some potential solution lying in wait there.
posted by symbioid at 8:48 AM on November 14, 2012


Remember, I'm no fan of the Republicans. But I also believe in using the correct terms for things, and 51% is not a mandate, no matter how bad anyone wants it to be.

If you "believe in using the correct terms for things" you might not want to start by coming up with an entirely arbitrary and idiosyncratic meaning for the word "mandate" that doesn't feature in any dictionary of the English language ever published.
posted by yoink at 8:48 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Proportional representation is one solution to the district representation problem. In the U.S. that would probably look like:

- Senate remains as it is

- House, each state receives a number of reps in proportion to its population. Within the state the reps are selected according to proportion of the popular vote within that state similar to the way it works in other democracies.

Another possibility is a combination of in-district and at-large congressional seats. Some U.S. cities use a system similar to this.

- Half the seats are in-district, meaning the candidate must come from the district and only voters in that district vote for that candidate (similar to the current U.S. system)

- The other half the seats are district X at large, meaning the candidates must live in that district but everyone in the state votes for the candidates
posted by flug at 8:49 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


corb: How do you make sure population is represented, without completely disenfranchising small, but geographically large areas?

Acres can't vote, and large, sparsely-populated states already have 2 senators each, in addition to however many representatives their populations entitle them to.
posted by syzygy at 8:50 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Proportional representation is one solution to the district representation problem.

It would be a solution but it will never happen. It would require a constitutional amendment and the very forces that are behind the gerrymandering would scupper any attempt at such a constitutional change.
posted by yoink at 8:52 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Agreeing that in reality "political capital" is barely related to popular vote margins. This is the last thing Republicans are going to consider when deciding how much co-operation to give the president.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:52 AM on November 14, 2012


The dems would do themselves good by bringing the OFA organization to every contestable gubernatorial race. It may not be possible to fix congressional and state-senate districts very quickly, but winning back governorships might be good start. It could also do a lot to stop voter suppression.
posted by Golden Eternity at 9:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]


One party cuts, the other chooses which districts to get.

What does this even mean? There is only cutting, no choosing.
posted by ryanrs at 9:03 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


The upside of a gerrymandered majority is that it is vulnerable to crushing reversals in the event of a reasonably sized swing to the other side. The Congressional Republican leadership knows that it would only take a moderate "wave" election in favor of the Democrats to deliver a crushing blow to the Republicans in the house; much like what happened to the Democrats in 1994.
posted by yoink at 9:04 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Agreed; they call the choosing "elections". The problem is that the cutting affects how easy each piece is to win.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:05 AM on November 14, 2012


The upside of a gerrymandered majority is that it is vulnerable to crushing reversals

Why would a gerrymandered majority be more vulnerable to crushing reversals than a non-gerrymandered majority? This make no sense to me, I thought the whole point of gerrymandering was to make it less vulnerable to such a thing.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:07 AM on November 14, 2012


How do you make sure population is represented, without completely disenfranchising small, but geographically large areas?

"Population is represented" because voting is exactly proportional to population.

If you live in a place that has only a few voters, THAT is why you have less representation, not because it happens to be rural.

In fact right now in the U.S., all three representation schemes--Senate, House, and Electoral College--are clearly biased in favor of rural areas.

But JUST TRY to convince rural people of that basic fact . . .
posted by flug at 9:07 AM on November 14, 2012


East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94: Agreeing that in reality "political capital" is barely related to popular vote margins. This is the last thing Republicans are going to consider

Correct - I don't think they'll give it too much weight when trying to decide how to act, but I do think they will try (and are already trying) to build a narrative that says the president won a squeaker.

Before the election, a number of pundits on the right came out and predicted a Romney landslide:
- Larry Kudlow predicted a 330 vote electoral landslide
- George Will predicted a "321-217 [Romney] landslide"
- Dick Morris predicted a landslide for Romney with 325 electoral votes

In short, when pundits on the right thought Romney would take 325 or so electoral votes, they were calling that a Romney landslide. Now that President Obama has taken 332 electoral votes, many on the right are calling it a 'squeaker' and pointing to the meager difference in the popular vote.

I'm eager to combat this false narrative whenever it comes up, because it's simply another in a long line of GOP attempts to garner political strength through dishonesty and manipulation / by creating a false narrative and pushing it on their supporters.
posted by syzygy at 9:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]


ryanrs: "One party cuts, the other chooses which districts to get.

What does this even mean? There is only cutting, no choosing.
"

That's why I'm trying to figure out how it could work. There is a wiki page on this problem (more generically - Fair Division). Surely there must be *some* sort of solution here that ensures the cutter creates a more fair division.
posted by symbioid at 9:12 AM on November 14, 2012


Mandate
If we can't agree on whether a certain proportion or margin does or does not qualify as a 'mandate', we are simply arguing about the definition of the word, not about the election results.

See also, Yoink.

Electoral College
As a representative democracy in a republic of united states with federated sovereignty, the electoral college represents a part of the compromise between the flexibility of absolute democracy (see also demagogery and mob rule) and the stability of a representative democracy (see also authoritarianism).

The electoral vote is to the popular vote as the Senate is to the House of Reps.

The EV's other purpose is to make clear who the winner is in a close election. Like the Supreme Court it is not final because it is definitive, it is definitive because it is final.

Conceived in a time of pre-industrial-age information, communication, and transportation technologies, it has only failed to clarify the winner -- both definitively and finally -- twice in 57 presidential elections.

'Close' Elections and 'Landslides'
The last presidential election in which the winner got > 60 of the popular vote was Nixon in 1972.

The last presidential election generally described as a 'landslide' was Reagan in 1984.

Every election gave the winner a mandate; not necessarily a mandate to do whatever he wanted to do. We use a different word for that.

In the past 100 years *:
8 elections gave the winner < 50 % of the popular vote
9 elections gave the winner 50-55 % of the popular vote
5 elections gave the winner 55-60 % of the popular vote
4 elections gave the winner > 60 % of the popular vote
0 elections gave the winner > 61.05 % of the popular vote

TOP TEN
Year  Name       %PopVote Margin

1964  Johnson    61.05    22.58
1936  Roosevelt  60.80    24.26
1972  Nixon      60.67    23.15
1920  Harding    60.32    26.17
1984  Reagan     58.77    18.21
1928  Hoover     58.21    17.41
1932  Roosevelt  57.41    17.76
1956  Eisenhower 57.37    15.40
1952  Eisenhower 55.18    10.85
1940  Roosevelt  54.74    09.96

BOT TEN
Year  Name       %PopVote Margin

1912  Wilson     41.84     14.44
1992  Clinton    43.01     05.56
1968  Nixon      43.42     00.70
2000  Asterisk   47.87    −00.51
1916  Wilson     49.24     03.12
1948  Truman     49.55     04.48
1960  Kennedy    49.72     00.17
1996  Clinton    49.23     08.51
1976  Carter     50.08     02.06
2012  Obama      50.60     02.8*


-----------------------------------
* No president before 1912 is known to have received greater that 60% of the PV. PV was not recorded until the 1824 election, but most assume that Washington probably did better than that, at least the first time out.

Via WP, not too bad. 2012 results not final.

posted by Herodios at 9:13 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's said you only need a one vote margin to win; the rest is for ego.
posted by ceribus peribus at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


mcstayinskool: " Why would a gerrymandered majority be more vulnerable to crushing reversals than a non-gerrymandered majority? This make no sense to me, I thought the whole point of gerrymandering was to make it less vulnerable to such a thing."

Gerrymandering does increase your risk of a reversal. What you usually do is turn a handful of "ridiculously safe" districts into a larger number of "still quite safe" districts, under the theory that all those extra base voters in the "ridiculously safe" districts are being wasted. The thing is, by doing this, you're increasing the chance that many of those now less-safe districts swing the other way if there's a big political realignment.
posted by tonycpsu at 9:17 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


>>Proportional representation is one solution to the district representation problem.

>It would be a solution but it will never happen.


Well, when you're having a problem you start out by exploring what options are available and what advantages they would bring.

I'll bet the average American has never even contemplated proportional representation and at that level, just having the discussion is a beneficial thing.

Once people have settled on some potential solutions that have real benefits, it is often surprising how ways can be found to implement.

Just for example, the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact is making some real headway.
posted by flug at 9:18 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm eager to combat this false narrative whenever it comes up, because it's simply another in a long line of GOP attempts to garner political strength through dishonesty and manipulation / by creating a false narrative and pushing it on their supporters.

Yes, and the 'landslide' is the false narrative, not the squeaker. Attack the problem from the correct angle.
posted by Malor at 9:23 AM on November 14, 2012


Why would a gerrymandered majority be more vulnerable to crushing reversals than a non-gerrymandered majority?

Such a crushing reversal happens when you've got a lot of close majorities, which is what gerrymandering is designed to give you. The "winning" party in an evenly-split state might maneuver the districts to end up with a split of roughly 55/45 in their favor, and meanwhile the districts that the "losing" party gets are dominated to the tune of 75/25 or even 90/10, so there are a bunch of "wasted" votes.

Which is fine and dandy for the people who set up the districts unless there's a major swing in the electorate, say 10 percent or more of the population switching party loyalty. If the Republicans have a gerrymandered majority, then the Democrats run almost zero risks of suffering significantly, because a 10 percent swing still gives them 65/35 majorities in their "safe" districts. But if the swing goes the other way, then the Republicans' 55/45 victories are suddenly turned on their heads.

Meanwhile a non-gerrymandered state would be more likely to have districts that range evenly from big Republican majorities to big Democratic ones, so the parties would stand to be affected evenly by an electoral shift.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:24 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of California's few good ballot propositions was to set up an independent committee to handle redistricting. Every year since that passed we've had to vote down a new proposition to ruin it.
posted by ckape at 9:27 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gerrymandering does increase your risk of a reversal.

Yes--in a simplified way, what you're trying to do is pile the opposing party's voters into a few 80/20 districts while spreading yours out into many 55/45 districts.

So, for example, if there is a +5% shift to the opposing party your 55/45 districts are now 50/50 and all at risk.

Just to make the hypothetical real, it strikes me that we could indeed be looking at a +5 demographic shift towards democrats in the period 2010-2020.

When the tide turns, it could turn in a big way.
posted by flug at 9:29 AM on November 14, 2012


FairVote has published an analysis of the 2012 election again finding that most of the edge Republicans have in the House is because their voters are more spread out, rather than because of gerrymandering. FairVote's Unique Methodology Shows That 52% of Voters Wanted a Democratic House:
Overall, Democrats cannot win a majority of House seats without winning dozens of seats in Republican-leaning districts. Republicans, meanwhile, can win a healthy majority of House seats without winning any seats in Democratic-leaning districts. This disparity is tied to the Democrats' inefficient distribution of their votes--primarily resulting from the Democratic vote being naturally more concentrated, and in some cases (such as in North Carolina, where Democrats won four of 13 seats while winning the statewide popular vote in House races) due to gerrymandered maps.
They end up concluding that Democrats would have needed another 3 points to carry the House -- so the overall win percentage Democrats need to come out ahead (by their approach to guessing actual support) is 55% / 45%.

To sort of walk through why the House could be structurally tilted to Republicans, here's a simplified example. Imagine we redistrict according to the formula kicked around above, where we minimize the perimeter and end up with squarish districts of equal population. Suppose as a result we end up with 30% "urban" districts and 70% "rural" districts. Suppose urban districts vote 90% D, and rural districts vote 33% D. So we have fewer urban districts where D is winning by a lot, and more rural districts where D is losing by not so much. The upshot is that D wins 50.1% of the popular vote, but only 30% of the seats.

It's an interesting problem. The solution would have to be slate-based elections, right?
posted by jhc at 9:33 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


I know that no states have this, but is there any legal obstacles to at large election of representatives?
posted by Hactar at 9:33 AM on November 14, 2012


As someone who is related to Elbridge Gerry, I feel I must apologize every time I see gerrymandering still being used to disenfranchise people.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:40 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


As much as I hate the problems in Ohio currently, at-large elections have the problem off not providing reps who can effectively represent the smaller regions within the state. And I think there is value in that--not every issue is going to be one where party designation is the most important factor.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:42 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I honestly don't see how there can be any honest argument for allowing partisan political figures to set the boundaries.

Because there are no non-partisan political figures.
posted by Jahaza at 9:48 AM on November 14, 2012


Because there are no non-partisan political figures.

Hey, now, our local elections are officially, 100%, completely non-partisan.
It's entirely coincidental that the major donors for each candidate are party-based PACs!
posted by madajb at 9:53 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are no non-partisan political figures, but the redistricting entity can be set up in such a way that the people on it are civil servants who are not allowed to take things into account that would create partisan advantages in the redrawn districts. Of course it would be possible for someone to take these things into account "off the books" and provide different "on the books" justification for their redrawn districts, but at a very minimum, creating this degree of separation between the explicitly political actors and the implicitly political actors would be a good first step.
posted by tonycpsu at 10:02 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Believe it or not, there were plenty of Republicans out there, especially in the northern states, who really did not like Romney. Not all zealots are Republican and vice versa.

Something that's been consistent in the last 20 years of exit polls is that swing independents, moderates, and conservatives make or break elections.

Over family vacation with my parents over the last week, I got a fairly long conversation of rage over gerrymandered politics in my former home state of Indiana. Liberal Monroe county was split to ensure two Republican districts. According to them, their Representatives are reluctant to attend voter forums in Bloomington, give interviews to the local newspaper, or maintain offices in Bloomington. And they habitually attack Bloomington voters when campaigning in other parts of the state. In my parent's view, redistricting transformed their congressional politics from a see-saw between moderate Democrats and Republicans, to ideological extremism uninterested in compromise.

They consider the Indiana Senate race to be another symptom of tea-bag extremist fuckery in their state.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]


* 2008 state senate election in Missouri, Republicans won 48.5% of popular vote and 67% of senate seats.

I should mention that by the Missouri state constitution, state senate districts must follow county lines except when absolutely necessary to create equal-population districts.

The practical result is that all districts exactly follow county lines, except a few large-population counties that are divided up into several (all-Democratic) districts.

So there is no gerrymandering to speak of here. The problem, as several posts above have outlined, is inherent to districts and the fact that cities are by their very nature concentrated population centers. You would have to gerrymander wildly to make the districts even close to 'fair'.

The U.S. has and always has had something of an anti-city bias and if you've spent time wondering why the U.S. is politically different from other countries similar to it in history, wealth, and economics, you need look no further.
posted by flug at 10:23 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"One of California's few good ballot propositions was to set up an independent committee to handle redistricting. Every year since that passed we've had to vote down a new proposition to ruin it."

One of the most interesting political discussions I've had was with a guy who, prior to the Citizen's Redistricting Committee, was Governor Brown's redistricting consultant. He started out deeply skeptical of the committee — which was justified, in some regard, by both some of the yobbos selected for it and the substantial lobbying effort that happened behind the scenes, where multiple constituencies and "communities of interest" suddenly appeared, backed by c4 spending — basically, his position was that redrawing districts was hard work that involved a lot of math and that it was really easy to screw it up by starting with simple principles and ending up at a terrible final map.

But the CRC ended up delivering a super-majority to the Dems, something this guy said he'd never have even dreamed of asking for, since if it had to go through the legislature, there was no way the GOP would ever sign off on it. He called the supermajority back when I talked to him, around last March, and said that the unprecedented Dem success (which he did feel represented the state) would make sure that no GOP legislature ever signed off on something similar.

But yeah, between the jungle primaries and the redistricting, California has gone a long way toward breaking some of the perennial dysfunction of the state legislature.
posted by klangklangston at 10:27 AM on November 14, 2012


set the terms of the sequestration fight

How the Democrats Can Make the Republicans Pay
posted by homunculus at 10:36 AM on November 14, 2012


Malor: "51% to 48% is not a mandate. Absolutely is not. That was a squeaked-out win that looks crushing only when viewed through the lens of the Electoral College, with its winner-take-all approach."

tl;dr version: A straight popular vote is still a winner-take-all approach, but it's one that allows candidates to ignore anyone outside of a majority group and still win. The Electoral College limits the possibility that this can successfully get a candidate in office by breaking it up into a bunch of smaller winner-take-all contests.

Long form version: The reason the Electoral College works is that it allows states to representatively pick a candidate. The popular vote will start meaning something when more than 50% of the eligible voters in the country start showing their lazy asses up at the polling places.

The popular vote is almost ALWAYS a horse race, because most of the people who bother to show up are only the ones who feel strongly about the election. The Electoral College means that individual votes count to represent the general feeling of the proportion of the population present in each state, rather than the majority opinion of the entire nation. If Americans all bothered to represent THEMSELVES we wouldn't need the EC. Getting rid of it is an easy, easy thing to suggest but until we have mandatory participation in the elections (like Australia does, for example) we need to keep it around. Yes, sometimes the EC goes the opposite direction than the popular vote does. But the few times this occurs (even when the result SUCKS, as it did in 2000) are not worth throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The EC system means that it's a winner take all situation per state, rather than a winner take all system per the entire country. The end result is that you can't (easily) win by pandering to the majority; you have to make connections with people who are in minority groups as well. In a straight vote all you'd need to do to win is be the candidate that all women vote for (51% of the population) or the candidate that all Christians vote for (~80%) or all white people vote for (majority for now, anyway, but we all know this is changing!)... instead, you have to be the candidate that connects with Spanish-speakers in Texas and Caifornia, with rural folks in the Midwest, with urban dwellers in CA, NY, IL, and MA, with the organic farmers in the Pacific Northwest, with retirees in Florida, and so on. You can't afford to ignore too many of the small groups. You don't have to win the vote of ALL of these minority groups, just ENOUGH of them to put you over 170, but that means you have to at least TRY to speak with people all across the US. You throw that out, and you'd end up with a system where candidates only showed up in big cities, and ignored sparsely populated areas completely. No offense to Iowa, but in a straight popular vote system, who would waste their time winning the hearts and minds of Des Moines at the expense of throwing away NYC?

The Electoral College system isn't perfect, but without mandatory participation in the electoral process I'm hard pressed to suggest a better alternative.
posted by caution live frogs at 11:10 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yes--in a simplified way, what you're trying to do is pile the opposing party's voters into a few 80/20 districts while spreading yours out into many 55/45 districts.

So, for example, if there is a +5% shift to the opposing party your 55/45 districts are now 50/50 and all at risk.


Actually, you don't need a hypothetical. It's called a "dummymander"* and it's happened before.

Pennsylvania Republicans were too aggressive drawing congressional lines in 2001, and it cost them when waves broke in 2006. A small shift in the generic ballot to the Democrats translated into big gains in 2006 (that were promptly reversed in the Republican wave of 2010).

Waiting for waves isn't really a viable strategy if you like competitiveness. The three-wave pattern of 2006-2008-2010 was highly unusual, historically.

The biggest problem for Democrats is majority-minority districts mandated by Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. (Notice how Republicans are only going after Section 5, the part that mandates pre-clearance.) Minorities are torn out of their neighborhoods and cast into twisted, snaking vote sinks that routinely vote 70% or more Democratic, a method that virtually guarantees a safe seat for life for a minority at the expense of the issues and political beliefs those minorities voted for. It whitewashes neighboring districts and hands them straight over to conservatives, who then hack away at the issues minority voters care about.

As long as this structural imbalance caused by majority-minority districts costs Democrats seats all across the South, Republicans will continue to have an easier path to the majority for the forseeable future.

*So called because of Elbridge Gerry's lesser-known distant cousin, Lancaster Dummy.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 11:11 AM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


caution live frogs: " The Electoral College system isn't perfect, but without mandatory participation in the electoral process I'm hard pressed to suggest a better alternative."

You're glossing over the much worse (IMHO) problem of the fact that, while, yes, politicians do have to travel to every nook and cranny of the rural areas of Ohio, Florida, and my beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they don't have to set foot in either the cities or rural areas of nearly 80-85% of the states that don't matter in the EC system. Nothing, including compulsory voting (which I support) would get rid of this "non-swing states literally mean nothing" aspect of the Electoral College.

We don't live in the 19th century where the candidates have to show up in your town or you probably don't get to hear much about their message. We know what the candidates stand for because of the media, TV ads, televised debates, etc. In a pure popular vote system, rural voters and urban voters would basically have the same amount of information on the candidates, but the rural voters would have to travel a bit further to have a chance to shake their hands or have them kiss their babies. I think that would be a small price to pay to get a system that equalizes the imbalance between rural voters in Ohio and rural voters in California, urban voters in Pennsylvania and urban voters in Texas, etc.
posted by tonycpsu at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Malor: Yes, and the 'landslide' is the false narrative, not the squeaker. Attack the problem from the correct angle.

Allow me to remind you of your original statement in this very thread:
[President Obama's win] was a squeaked-out win that looks crushing only when viewed through the lens of the Electoral College, with its winner-take-all approach.

So enlighten me, what is the correct angle from which to attack this? Make sure you've read my first comment in this thread, the one that start out with 'bunk,' first.
posted by syzygy at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I know that no states have this, but is there any legal obstacles to at large election of representatives?

It looks like there is no constitutional barrier--Article 1 Section 2 says how the reps are to be apportioned by state and who may vote for them, but not much more. If that were the only relevant guideline, states could use a number of different methods to choose their representatives.

In fact, General Ticket voting--basically everyone in the state gets to vote for every one of the state's representatives--was used commonly through 1847 and less commonly in special situations up through 1967. The law passed in 1967 is here. More info about the House's history and about districting is here.

So it is an Act of Congress that created the district system and another Act of Congress could potentially change it.
posted by flug at 11:50 AM on November 14, 2012


tonycpsu: "In a pure popular vote system, rural voters and urban voters would basically have the same amount of information on the candidates,"

...but the rural voters make up the minority of the total population (see here - we're 79% urban these days, 58% in cities with populations over 200k), and thus wouldn't count.

In a straight popular vote system to win you only need to court the majority. Rural and small-town voters wouldn't be hearing anything from candidates about small-town values, job creation in the flyover states, funding for local schools and libraries, farm subsidies, or the like; instead they'd be hearing about how candidates will be addressing urban renewal, and how much money they'll allocate to put in that new subway, and whether or not the new sports team stadium will be built, and in which farm state to place the new landfill, because gee golly the one near the big urban center is full and costs too much and nobody in the city wants to smell it.

The point is that without making them matter, rural people wouldn't matter. There aren't enough of them to matter in a straight popular vote contest, especially one in which half the country doesn't participate. It has nothing to do with access to candidates. It has everything to do with forcing candidates to consider and discuss issues that are important to minority groups.
posted by caution live frogs at 12:04 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


'landslide' is the false narrative

Use whatever words you want, but this election would look a lot different if Obama had won 51% of the popular vote and also 51% of the electoral vote.

In fact the he won 51% of the popular vote and 62% of the Electoral College. That's a different thing and gives him more leverage than if it had been just 51/51.

That leverage or 'mandate' or whatever you want to call it, isn't a real physical thing but it lives in the minds of both his supporters and his opponents. Both of those groups can see that winning 51% of the popular vote and 62% of the Electoral College leaves him in a stronger position than he would have been if he had won 49% of the popular vote and 51% of the Electoral College.

So give us a better word for describing the Electoral College situation if you like. But really 'landslide' is sort of a good one, because a landslide is the sort of a thing where, once you reach a certain tipping point you get much more land sliding all at once than you would normally expect from such a small change. And once a little piece of land starts sliding it sort of brings along other pieces of land with it into the slide so that a small landslide soon cascades into a much larger one.

Sort of like how relatively small swings in the popular vote can leverage out to much larger swings in the Electoral College results.
posted by flug at 12:07 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


"So it is an Act of Congress that created the district system and another Act of Congress could potentially change it."

One thing that I think would really help is to increase the number of representatives. They're supposed to care for the local issues of their district, but in many districts there are just too many people for the reps to actually be responsive. Irrespective of partisan impact, I'd really support a move to increase the number of reps every ten years or so, until we get back down to the 1 per 30,000 that the constitution suggests.
posted by klangklangston at 12:13 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


caution live frogs: I think you're conflating two different issues here. Many "flyover states" still have some big cities in them with large urban centers. We can talk about the lack of representation for voters in lightly-populated states (a problem we address by over-representing these states in the Senate) or we can talk about your alleged lack of representation of rural voters across all states, which is a different issue entirely.

As I said, low-population states are over-represented in the Senate. This includes Connecticut and Delaware, but it includes a much larger number of mostly rural states like Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, etc. This over-representation shows in our larded-up farm bills, the amount of revenue that flows from the larger states to the smaller states, etc.

In terms of rural voters being the minority -- left-handed people are also a minority. We don't have a better system than majority rules. We can (and do) put in checks and balances to keep majorities from running rough-shod over the minority, but ultimately there is no reason to over-correct for the small number of rural voters by prioritizing their interests over and above the interests of urban voters.

In terms of the Presidential race (where this all started) you can't hold the Electoral College up as a good mechanism for helping rural voters when it's really only helping swing state voters. The fact that EC votes are skewed toward less populous states only matters insofar as those states matter, and most of them don't. Furthermore, your complaint about the problems of a popular vote system assumes that politicians could just ignore rural voters, which would be true if they only made up 5% of the population, but at 20%, they can't be ignored. It's not like they're ignored in the current swing states -- far from it.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:16 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The EC system means that it's a winner take all situation per state

Well, not quite.
Nothing about the Electoral College mandates a winner take all voting system.

It is actually best thought of as an interface between the States and the Federal Election.
In fact, each of the states could implement their own way of voting (first past the post, instant runoff, random selection from phone book) and it would require absolutely no changes on the Federal level.

I think it's actually quite a genius system, but the current implementation sucks.
A lot of the energy spent calling for the abolition of the EC would be better spent campaigning for changes in one's own State election system.
posted by madajb at 12:16 PM on November 14, 2012


das_2099: In OH, a redistricting issue that would have handed the job to a committee rather than the majority party was CRUSHED.

Gee, maybe if the damn question on the ballot wasn't ABOUT EIGHTEEN PAGES LONG more people would have understood what the hell it was going on about.

That's the other problem here. When you have these ridiculously long, confusingly-worded initiatives/propositions/etc, it's hard to figure out what's actually being asked. I'm college educated, up to date on politics, and if I had a hard time reading through that lengthy piece I can only imagine what kinds of problems others who are less literate or knowledgeable would have with it.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:20 PM on November 14, 2012


Sort of like how relatively small swings in the popular vote can leverage out to much larger swings in the Electoral College results.

Also there are small landslides and big landslides. This might not be the biggest landslide ever.

But the way almost everyone one of the swing states broke for Obama in the end looked a lot like a landslide to me. Fourteen of fifteen on 538's list of tipping point states all broke the same direction, much like a landslide does.

Those states are were both campaigns are working the hardest to make their case and to convince and motivate voters. The fact that Republicans took their best shot but still lost 14 out of 15 swing states says a lot--again, a lot more than if they had managed to win, say, 7 out 15.

It starts to look like there is something wrong with the Republican's message. The 'landslide' aspect, that is, the fact that they lost pretty much everywhere the vote was really in play, like a row of dominoes falling one after the other, the way it sort of went WHOOOSH and suddenly Obama had won almost every state in play, is what gives one that impression--true or not.
posted by flug at 12:21 PM on November 14, 2012


You're glossing over the much worse (IMHO) problem of the fact that, while, yes, politicians do have to travel to every nook and cranny of the rural areas of Ohio, Florida, and my beloved Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, they don't have to set foot in either the cities or rural areas of nearly 80-85% of the states that don't matter in the EC system. Nothing, including compulsory voting (which I support) would get rid of this "non-swing states literally mean nothing" aspect of the Electoral College.

Campaign in your state to assign Electoral College votes proportionally.
Assign them based on Congressional district victories.
Set up a system where the majority party only gets 50%+1 votes.

There are many ways to modify the system to correct perceived flaws, none of which(by design) require Constitutional changes.
posted by madajb at 12:23 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think your first and third suggestions have merit, while the second just compounds the "redistricting creates insane partisan advantages" problem.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:24 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


(See also John Husted's recent gambit to do the "congressional districts == electoral votes" thing.)
posted by tonycpsu at 12:30 PM on November 14, 2012


While I agree that the EC is a bad system, I think the narrative of two or three battleground states makes for bad political strategy. It's not chess, it's total war. You don't win the White House by fighting for 270 votes, you win by fighting for 350 votes and putting your opponent in the position of scrabbling for every state he or she can get.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:32 PM on November 14, 2012


Campaign in your state to assign Electoral College votes proportionally.
Assign them based on Congressional district victories.


Both of these are going to have a tough time getting put in place in any state because doing so dramatically reduces your state's leverage in the electoral process. It basically insures that your state will NEVER be a swing state.

Reason is, in either scheme generally only 1 or 2 of your EVs (or a similarly small percentage if you are a large state like NY or CA) will ever be 'in play'.

No candidate will be able to waste time and resources courting your 1 EV that is in play when even small states have 3 EVs and 'average' states have 8-15 and they are ALL in play in a swing state. So passing this is a way to guarantee that your state will be ignored in every future presidential election. No state is going to stand for that!

However--your idea #1, especially, would be interesting if adopted by all states simultaneously. But the National Popular Vote reform movement accomplishes the same thing and also has a realistic chance of being adopted.
posted by flug at 12:34 PM on November 14, 2012


narrative of two or three battleground states

Will it be any different under popular vote? In that case it will be the large, populous states that count for the most and we'll be hearing about NY, CA, and TX all day long.

Worse, it will be the same handful of states every single election. Under the current system, at least it switches up some from year to year.

Says the embittered resident of a former swing state . . .
posted by flug at 12:40 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree with those who have said the "mandate" narrative is a pernicious lie, designed mostly to undermine the winning president's authority. The fact is, at this point in history the two parties have essentially fought to a tie: politically, strategically, and demographically. You could put just the word "Republican" on the ballot and get 48% of the vote; similarly for "Democrat." It's a natural consequence of a two-party system, in fact; if either party gained too much advantage, the other would "move toward the middle" to regain just enough of the vote to have a chance to win. At this point, without a major shock, no candidate is going to earn the magical 60% or 65% of the popular vote to qualify as a "mandate" or "absolute (?) mandate." And if they did, I'm sure the goalposts would just get moved again anyway.

FWIW, I think the first time I remember hearing the term "mandate" being used was in the 1992 election, when Ross Perot (the last third-party candidate to draw significant votes, Nader-spoilage notwithstanding) split off something like 20% of the vote, and it became pretty clear that Clinton was going to win but without a majority of the popular vote. I think it was Congressional Republicans who then played the "mandate" card, questioning the legitimacy of his victory, and the big question in 1996 was not whether Clinton would win but whether he'd have a mandate.
posted by albrecht at 12:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Both of these are going to have a tough time getting put in place in any state because doing so dramatically reduces your state's leverage in the electoral process. It basically insures that your state will NEVER be a swing state.

True, under the current two-party duopoly.
But if we could get some viable 3rd party candidates going, it'd be a different ball game.

Ross Perot got 20 million votes. At the very least under a proportional system, he'd have gotten a few Electoral Votes.
It's not inconceivable that in heavily minority areas, a third-party candidate could grab enough Electoral votes to force other candidates to pay more than passing attention.
posted by madajb at 1:00 PM on November 14, 2012


Will it be any different under popular vote? In that case it will be the large, populous states that count for the most and we'll be hearing about NY, CA, and TX all day long.

My concern is not with how elections are spun by the media, but about how we organize. Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated they can dominate politics by organizing nationwide and at all levels of government. Democrats have the potential to do the same thing. "Swing states" are not natural entities, they're politically constructed.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:03 PM on November 14, 2012


I think your first and third suggestions have merit, while the second just compounds the "redistricting creates insane partisan advantages" problem.

Oh, sure, there are ways to make the current system that much worse, but the beauty of the system is that all of the states can decide their own way, as opposed to being conned into a system that wouldn't work.
posted by madajb at 1:07 PM on November 14, 2012


The point is that without making them matter, rural people wouldn't matter. There aren't enough of them to matter in a straight popular vote contest, especially one in which half the country doesn't participate. It has nothing to do with access to candidates. It has everything to do with forcing candidates to consider and discuss issues that are important to minority groups.


That argument cuts both ways. I ran some Census 2010 numbers. Rural areas are 85% non-Hispanic whites. Urban areas are 58.7% non-Hispanic Whites. 9 out of 10 of Asian-Americans live in urban areas. If the purpose is to force people to cater to racial minorities, politics should be focused on the cities. Malapportionment that gives rural voters extra weight reduces the political power of racial minorities.

Rural voters will still get catered to with straight popular vote because they are still votes. Republicans need to continue to run up big margins with rural whites, and they'll keep looking out for them. Where there are votes, someone will find them. Rural airtime, for example, is much cheaper than urban airtime and campaigns will exploit this difference when the ROI on rural votes is higher.

If you believe the premise that we have to skew our electoral system to protect rural minorities, why don't we skew it to increase the influence of racial minorities that overwhelmingly live in cities? No one's going to totally abandon rural issues if we switched to the national popular vote because getting 1 rural vote is just as good as getting 1 urban vote under that scenario--and it might be cheaper in many places to get the rural vote.

Right now, rural votes are worth way more than urban votes. This shows in our priorities, and it's a fundamental unfairness in our system.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 1:30 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]


Campaign in your state to assign Electoral College votes proportionally.
Assign them based on Congressional district victories.


This is the worst possible solution that allows gerrymandering to decide the Presidential race.
posted by Hollywood Upstairs Medical College at 1:32 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


My concern is not with how elections are spun by the media, but about how we organize.

Ah, yes, I would agree with this. FWIW I think 'coattails' in the presidential elections would be much larger if they had to organize more nationwide, not just in 6-8 key states. As an embittered former swing state voter, I couldn't see that either presidential campaign bothered to organized here at all.

That meant that the Rs natural advantage (due to districting) and ground game took the day. It could have been quite different if Obama had been organizing here, I believe--for statewide, congressional, state legislative, and local elections, not just for the presidential vote. Yes, Romney would have organized here, too, but I think the Ds lost more and the Rs lost far less due to the absence of the presidential race here this year.

The other reason I support the popular vote for presidency right now is because (as discussed upthread) the Senate favors smaller states and the House favors rural areas. So they are both anti-populace in different ways.

Having the Presidency more attuned to the general popular vote would provide a good counterbalance to those two chambers.
posted by flug at 1:56 PM on November 14, 2012


> (See also John Husted's recent gambit to do the "congressional districts == electoral votes" thing.)

Yes, please do! This story seems really under reported. I'm all for dropping the electoral college, but all-at-once. Individual states switching away from winner-takes-all elector assignment is a mess.

Ohio’s GOP Secretary of State Already Has A Plan To Rig The 2016 Election For Republicans
posted by morganw at 2:52 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Proportional representation is one solution to the district representation problem.

-It would be a solution but it will never happen. It would require a constitutional amendment and the very forces that are behind the gerrymandering would scupper any attempt at such a constitutional change.


Congressional districts are not mandated by the federal constitution. The states could go with proportional representatives if they wanted but Americans don't generally understand it, our traditions being somewhat primitive and carrying forward that way.

Perhaps the least political method to mimic proportion would be to create the concept of a super-district, beginning with dividing any state in half to create districts for US Senators. This is where gerrymandering is irrelevant because it is two equal parts that mutually exclude favoring one over the other. From there most states could elect all of their representatives from these large districts, by a simple ballot that allows the exact number of votes per seats on the ballot. So, if there were three house seats on one side of a state, a voter from there would have three votes to cast from a list. (A major party would likely place only three candidates on the ballot, to avoid internal competition). Very large states would subdivide these districts further, but always allowing more than one seat per district, to reduce gerrymandering and personalize representation. This isn't a party list method, but it allows proportions.

Why most Americans don't think it is suspicious to be forced to have a member of the opposite party represent them geographically is beyond me. It's a contradiction. It's not even in the US constitution that way. The justification for single districts isn't even maintained by anyone except tradition.
posted by Brian B. at 5:26 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would totally go on a man date with Barry O.

What?
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:45 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ross Perot got 20 million votes. At the very least under a proportional system, he'd have gotten a few Electoral Votes.
It's not inconceivable that in heavily minority areas, a third-party candidate could grab enough Electoral votes to force other candidates to pay more than passing attention.


My understanding is that Perot basically bankrolled his own campaign, though-- and this before our current era of the $1 billion campaign. I'm just not sure how a third party gets a foothold right now, at least at the federal level.
posted by shakespeherian at 6:53 PM on November 14, 2012




...as long as you assume that there was no gerrymandering at all before 2010.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:33 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


No one's going to totally abandon rural issues if we switched to the national popular vote because getting 1 rural vote is just as good as getting 1 urban vote under that scenario--and it might be cheaper in many places to get the rural vote.

This really isn't true. I hate to be so NYC-focused, but the population of NYC alone is greater than the population of several rural states added together. That would mean one city, under a direct voting scheme, would have more power than several states.

The reason regional representation works the way it does is to ensure each region has a voice, whether it contains fifteen hundred people or fifty thousand - to make sure one small region's character doesn't completely dominate the others.
posted by corb at 4:40 AM on November 15, 2012


One city already has more voting power than several states. NYC pretty much controls the state's electoral votes - a state which in turn outweighs North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Kansas and Utah's votes combined.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 4:45 AM on November 15, 2012


Yes I should have less of a say because i live in a big city.

The American political system is intentionally biased in favor of lower population density states and the way tax dollars get apportioned by the federal government is reflective of that.
posted by JPD at 5:40 AM on November 15, 2012


That would mean one city, under a direct voting scheme, would have more power than several states.

Yes, because it has MORE PEOPLE than several states.

This is just simply not a problem, no matter how many times you and other people say it is.

Can I repeat, for emphasis?

In fact right now in the U.S., all three representation schemes--Senate, House, and Electoral College--are clearly biased in favor of rural areas and/or small states.

But JUST TRY to convince rural/small state people of that basic fact . . .

posted by flug at 6:43 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


flug: No candidate will be able to waste time and resources courting your 1 EV that is in play when even small states have 3 EVs and 'average' states have 8-15 and they are ALL in play in a swing state. So passing this is a way to guarantee that your state will be ignored in every future presidential election. No state is going to stand for that!

Nebraska is going to stand for that. Maine is also going to stand for that.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 7:15 PM on November 16, 2012


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