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Gerrymandering v. Progressives
February 12, 2007 4:30 PM   Subscribe

Gerrymandering v. Progressives Al Gore's former Chief of Staff argues that, even if liberals are drawing voting lines to benefit Democrats, gerrymandering always hurts progressives.
posted by expriest (20 comments total)

 
Gerrymandering always hurts progressives democracy.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:52 PM on February 12, 2007 [3 favorites]


The full article is available in PDF here (click on "long run").
posted by jb at 5:11 PM on February 12, 2007


IRFH pretty much summed it up. Thread is over.
posted by Falconetti at 5:12 PM on February 12, 2007


Gerrymandering leads to lower participation and a dampened sense of “ownership” in government. Public support for progressive governmental actions may require a greater sense of public “ownership” of the political system. For example, public support for raising taxes to fund governmental action almost certainly requires a greater sense of investment in the political system than does support for lowering taxes.

this, really, is a damn good point.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 5:22 PM on February 12, 2007


I'm guessing that if there was the political will for it, it would not be hard to come up with a fair algorithm to divide up states into districts. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be that will right now from either side.
posted by octothorpe at 7:01 PM on February 12, 2007


The main incentive for gerrymandering would evaporate if districts had multiple representatives, elected by Single Transferable Vote. With 5, 7 or 9 representatives, minority viewpoints would always have some say in matters. Now that we're on the subject, why is Congress limited to 1 representative for every 700,000 people, when the founders suggested 1:30,000?
/hobbyhorse
posted by Araucaria at 7:15 PM on February 12, 2007


Gerrymandering occurs when politicians have lost all shame about perpetuating their professional class at the expense of the population. Have we lost every leader who cares about democracy qua democracy? Are arguments from utility all we have left?
posted by Nahum Tate at 7:18 PM on February 12, 2007


I'm guessing that if there was the political will for it, it would not be hard to come up with a fair algorithm to divide up states into districts.

No, such a thing is fundamentally impossible. Every possible set of districts gives some people an electoral advantage and imposes an electoral disadvantage on others.

You could have a system that was neutral ex ante by introducing a strong enough random component to legislative districts. But the actual, realized districts would still be non-neutral ex post.

why is Congress limited to 1 representative for every 700,000 people, when the founders suggested 1:30,000

Because a House with 10,000 members would be utterly unable to conduct any business. There are reasons why effective legislative bodies top out at around 500--600 members.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:02 PM on February 12, 2007


Because a House with 10,000 members would be utterly unable to conduct any business.

Sounds like a vast improvement on the current system.

Besides, I bet you could still get majority (and super-majority) votes for anything that really mattered.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 10:22 PM on February 12, 2007


Wikipedia's Gerrymandering page has some nice examples of odd districts I especially like IL's 4th, NY's 28th and FL's 22nd districts...
posted by nielm at 11:50 PM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


No, such a thing is fundamentally impossible. Every possible set of districts gives some people an electoral advantage and imposes an electoral disadvantage on others.

Aye, and when it’s the people who are elected that do the redistricting, you can be damn sure there’ll be a disproportionate advantage to them. This article is the best treatment I’ve seen of it, though it’s premium-only right now.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 2:01 AM on February 13, 2007


This district's construction doesn't seem so bad.
posted by blasdelf at 2:29 AM on February 13, 2007


He doesn't seem to mention (although I didn't read the full article) the corrosive effect that permanent incumbency has on the ideals of even the most progressive of representatives. Perhaps he doesn't because that would also be an argument in favor of term limits, an idea that progressives have always been uncomfortable with, for reasons I've never really understood.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 4:50 AM on February 13, 2007


Shorter Ron Klain?:

conservatives = aristocracy
progressives = democracy
gerrymandering = entrenched leaders = aristocracy != progressives

The Princes of DC includes not only politicians but also their media and "think tank" and lobbyist courtiers.
posted by nofundy at 5:16 AM on February 13, 2007


A few years back the Economist looked at this. They liked the system in Iowa, which I believe conists of a few retired judges drawing the lines. The article is off-line, but this seems to be an excerpt.
posted by Eddie Mars at 10:36 AM on February 13, 2007


The main incentive for gerrymandering would evaporate be somewhat reduced if districts had multiple representatives
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:02 AM on February 13, 2007


In the UK, an independent commission sets electoral boundaries.

I was utterly shocked when I discovered that US politicians are responsible for choosing their own constituents. What kind of democracy is that??
posted by mr. strange at 11:29 AM on February 13, 2007


such a thing is fundamentally impossible. Every possible set of districts gives some people an electoral advantage and imposes an electoral disadvantage on others.
You could have a system that was neutral ex ante by introducing a strong enough random component to legislative districts. But the actual, realized districts would still be non-neutral ex post.


As a response to the idea of independent redistricting, this statement is both specifically factual and generally false.
While it is true that every possible arrangement of districts is skewed in some way, the degree of disproportionality is far lower and the direction of that disproportionality is far less predictable.
IIRC the redistribution which preceded Tony Blair's first election swung a meaningful number of seats to Labour although the Conservatives were in government. Such an outcome would be improbable under the American system.
Furthermore, I believe that behind the statistical debate there is an ethical one: those who play the game should not also make or judge the rules, otherwise the midfield line ends up marked at 75 meters.
posted by Octaviuz at 6:08 PM on February 13, 2007


As a response to the idea of independent redistricting, this statement is both specifically factual and generally false.

Good thing that it wasn't a response to that, then, but rather to octothorpe's comment.

Are there ways that will be predictably less biased than districting directly by state legislatures? Almost certainly. Nominally independent agencies are one obvious way. Another, in the US two-party context, is some manner of board with an intentional partisan stalemate.

Will either of those ways, or any other method, create districts that are unbiased and fair? No.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:12 PM on February 13, 2007


How do you define unbiased and fair?
Certainly it's impossible (and undesirable) to draw a map where every district is winnable for both parties and it's improbable that the fraction of districts won by each party will exactly match its fraction of the vote. I would argue that the adjectives unbiased and fair should describe the process rather than the outcome.
posted by Octaviuz at 9:22 PM on February 13, 2007


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