akin to a Rorschach inkblot
February 5, 2016 7:00 PM   Subscribe

A federal court panel has ruled that two of North Carolina’s 13 congressional districts were racially gerrymandered and must be redrawn within two weeks. Critics of the 2011 Republican-led redistricting contend the map lines were drawn to concentrate black voters in districts that reduced their overall political power. North Carolina is home to 3 of the nation's 10 most gerrymandered congressional districts.
posted by showbiz_liz (70 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
I was born and raised in Greensboro NC, currently located at the top of the 12th Congressional District, the most-gerrymandered district in the nation. We're number one!
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:02 PM on February 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


This is huge! Crazy that they have so little time to make these changes. It'll be interesting to see how this affects the primary here.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:08 PM on February 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


BTW, the second link gives a pretty good summary of the political aims of all this:

North Carolina Republicans really outdid themselves in 2012. In addition to the 12th district, there's the 4th, which covers Raleigh and Burlington and snakes a narrow tentacle all the way south to pick up parts of Fayetteville. And then there's the 1st District, which covers a sprawling arbitrarily shaped region in the northeastern part of the state. All three of these seats were won by Democrats in 2012.

Overall, the North Carolina GOP's efforts paid off handsomely. Based on their statewide vote share you'd expect North Carolina Democrats to hold about seven seats. But they won only four. This is because an outsized share of the state's Democratic voters were shunted off into the three highly-gerrymandered districts above.

posted by showbiz_liz at 7:09 PM on February 5, 2016 [10 favorites]


The funny thing is, if we had house seats that followed the guide of no more than 50,000 voters per seat we'd have 6,378 seats. They'd be much, much harder to gerrymander and would probably be elected at large in districts using some variant of instant run-off voting. If we followed Washington's advice and had a seat for every 30,000 citizens we'd have 10,630 seats in the house.

Could you imagine how much different the house would look with this system?
posted by Talez at 7:10 PM on February 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


Unfortunately this is the type of shit that happens all over the place based upon Republicans being so dominant at the state legislature level. Either you have districts that try to pack in as many minority voters as is humanly possible because that way you can get 1 75% democratic district and several 55% Republican safe districts or you have districts like the ones around Austin where a liberal city's voter base is diluted by being split into a bunch of more conservative districts.

Local and state races matter a lot which is something wealthy Republican donors figured out a long time ago and Democrats are struggling to catch up.

No wonder the Republicans are so desperate to gut the Voting Rights Act in the meantime.
posted by vuron at 7:15 PM on February 5, 2016 [27 favorites]


This actually fills me with optimism. Good work, judges!
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:17 PM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


I hope they get to go back to alternative maps already drawn (but not adopted), otherwise some map guys are about to have two very shitty weeks. Redistricting is NOT QUICK WORK.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:26 PM on February 5, 2016 [12 favorites]


I have been whining about Iowa politics nonstop for the past month, but the world would be a better place if every state drew congressional districts the way we do.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:31 PM on February 5, 2016 [9 favorites]


In theory you could set up a computer algorithm to redraw the districts to emphasize compactness while also respecting census tracts and get a very nice district plan almost immediately.

Washington Post article on this topic

Olson's Map for North Carolina House Districts
posted by vuron at 7:32 PM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yes, but especially once you're under a court order, it takes a LOT of human input and it all has to be checked by hand to make sure it matches the court's instructions. I went through two redistrictings when I was in office, it's not an easy problem even with smart computer programs, unless you know your input data is flawless (it's not) and you are working completely from scratch (you aren't).

The UK uses some very smart computer programs for districting that can weight a bunch of factors like historical local identities and modern county lines and urban agglomerations and Industry affinity areas and so forth, and recognize natural boundaries from rivers to motorways, as well as solving for compactness and optimizing equal size districts, but humans still have to input and flag up all the data for those criteria, and they still have to check it by hand afterwards.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:39 PM on February 5, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm just baffled that you guys still allow districts to be created by a partisan process.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:03 PM on February 5, 2016 [40 favorites]


Oddly enough, some states get sued if they don't do this, under the Voting Rights Act as it is currently interpreted. The requirement is to create "minority-majority" districts which will elect blacks to Congress.

A good example is Georgia's 4th District, currently represented by Hank Johnson, who replaced Cynthia McKinney. Johnson was reelected in 2014 despite the fact that he's out of his mind. (He's the one who asked a general if there was a danger of Guam tipping over. His aides claimed later it was a joke, but it sure didn't sound like it at the time. Anyway, this isn't the only example.)

It's not his fault; he's suffering from Hepatitis C, and the combination of the disease and the drugs he's taking are fouling up his brain. I feel sorry for him, but he doesn't belong in Congress.

Nonetheless, because of the way that district is drawn, it would take the famous "live boy or dead girl" for a black congressman to not be reelected there. And that's why Johnson is still in Congress. He'll probably be there until he dies.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:03 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Rearrange these deck chairs immediately!
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:06 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm just baffled that you guys still allow districts to be created by a partisan process.

No matter how it's done, it'll end up being partisan. A couple of states have tried setting up districting commissions staffed by retired judges and the like, but in the end those who control the appointments pick the people whose opinions they like, and it ends up partisan anyway.

The way we do it's partisan towards the way voters voted in the last state election. That's better than nothing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:08 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


Olson's map is good. This should be done for every state.
The USA is a two party "republic" with rigged districts.
This makes me really upset, it's mostly because of the "we're the best and most free and God loves our country more" bullshit that is culturally exported continually.
posted by sety at 8:13 PM on February 5, 2016


Oh hey! One of those ten most gerrymandered districts is mine here in Austin, where the Republicans have failed yet again to get rid of Lloyd Doggett, whose butt is going to be surgically attached to that seat until he decides to leave Congress. (As his constituent, I can tell you, he has one HELL of a ground game. His people call us regularly during early voting to remind us to vote until we're ticked off as having done so, and they know where our close polling stations are--we can vote anywhere during EV.)

This reminds me that I need to check on the status of our redistricting lawsuits here in Texas. I can't imagine anything is going to happen between now and the beginning of March, especially since EV is going to start in ... about two weeks, maybe? Eep.
posted by immlass at 8:15 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I live and teach in a social science in the I-85 district, as it is otherwise called, and on the one hand: YAY. Go federal judges. :)

On the other hand, dammit, this is why I don't update the politics and government week notes until the week before. :) (The fall that the voter ID law was put into place, the poor head of the board of elections was scheduled to come talk to faculty senate. The law changed something like an hour before his talk. He walks in and goes "Well, I guess I scrap my Powerpoint, but here's what we think is going to happen...")

It is never boring around here.
posted by joycehealy at 8:22 PM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


This Mother Jones article has some examples from the 2012 Congressional election that shows the percentage of Republican seats won is greater than the percentage of votes received by Republicans. I hope that makes sense how I said it, look at the chart. In NC, Republicans got just under 50% of the vote but won like 2/3 of the House seats.

When they first drew the 12th district, someone redrew it in the shape of Mickey Mouse ears and it was fairer that way. I wish I could find an example of that.
posted by marxchivist at 8:29 PM on February 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is there any mathematical research about fair redistricting processes? I'm vaguely aware of boundary-drawing computer programs like those mentioned above. But I'm thinking more about controlling the actual decision process going on in the smoke-filled rooms: how to ensure that even if you have a committee of partisans, nobody really has any incentive to try and gerrymander, or at least if they do the damage will be limited.

I know there's a lot of research about setting up auctions and other resource-distributing processes so that nobody has an incentive to lie or cheat -- and if they do anyway it usually won't work. Maybe there is something similar for redistricting?

Of course, much like weird runoff voting schemes, it would probably be too complicated to be adopted.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:29 PM on February 5, 2016


Is there any mathematical research about fair redistricting processes?

First you have to define "fair". For most people it means "...it's unfair in our favor, so it's OK."

I suppose its time again to bring up Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which says that the only truly "fair" system is a dictatorship (i.e. only one voter). In any system with two or more voters, when presented with more than two choices, some people's votes will count more than other people's. (I should mention that Arrow proved this mathematically, and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for his work.)

Redistricting is simply one example of that.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:52 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


I guess by "fair" I mean Nash equilibrium or something for the redistricting process involves not gerrymandering or gerrymandering in a very limited way. Not necessarily fair in the sense of representation of voters.
posted by vogon_poet at 9:05 PM on February 5, 2016


I have been whining about Iowa politics nonstop for the past month, but the world would be a better place if every state drew congressional districts the way we do.

Woah. I have never said this before and I never expected to, but that article has a Steve King quote that I genuinely like and agree with. WHAT.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:26 PM on February 5, 2016


Looks like it's time to roll out The Redistricting Game again.
posted by BiggerJ at 9:34 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's something to be said for having so few people your whole state is one district, eh Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Dakotas, and Vermont?

Oh, sorry, didn't see you down there Delaware. You too.
posted by maryr at 9:48 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


At large seats. Citizens are proportionally assigned a primary House representative contact based on Social Security number. Fixed it.
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:14 PM on February 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


At large seats almost always work to undermine minority representation at least that's almost always the intent with city councils and at-large councilmen. Plus all politics being local people tend to like the retail politics with having a local representative.

Plus the likely result of making US elections even more prone towards incumbents and self-funders because of the increased financial demands of running for congress in large states if you adopt an at-large model.
posted by vuron at 10:19 PM on February 5, 2016 [3 favorites]


It makes sense to have representatives represent regional interests. That's why these districts suck so much - not just because they're unfairly constructed, but because they basically eliminate the supposed benefits of having a congressional representative.

For example District 1 is mostly coastal flatland, but it also reaches up, over, and around to grab the city of Durham, which has no regional relationship with the coast at all. Durham now makes up 25% of the population of that district, even though it covers like a dozen counties. That's not fair to either Durham OR those more rural counties, because their needs are different and one single representative isn't going to represent them both equally well. This also splits Durham off from Raleigh and Chapel Hill, the other two cities that make up the Triangle, which is on its way to being a continuous urban area and really ought to have a single representative. AND SO ON.

Man this stuff makes me angry. We set up these systems to make our society function, not as political gamepieces.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:36 PM on February 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


I suppose its time again to bring up Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which says that the only truly "fair" system is a dictatorship
Enough with the Grimdark already!
posted by fullerine at 10:40 PM on February 5, 2016


There's something to be said for having so few people your whole state is one district, eh Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Dakotas, and Vermont?

Alaska has many voting districts and we had a redistricting while the Republicans were in control and gamed things, just not as bad as NC. This stuff really matters because these districts are used to determine the composition of the state legislature.
posted by D.C. at 10:40 PM on February 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I suppose its time again to bring up Arrow's Impossibility Theorem, which says that the only truly "fair" system is a dictatorship.

No, Arrow's Theorem does not say that. In fact, the very definition of Arrow's fairness criteria specifies that there are no dictators. You have turned Arrow on completely his head -- which explains your fondness for racial gerrymandering.
posted by JackFlash at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2016 [7 favorites]


Jack, I'm not fond of racial gerrymandering, and I'll be damned if I can see how you came to that conclusion about me.

Arrow did his proof by including an axiom of "No dictators" and then proved that there was no solution at all. I restated it as "The only solution is a dictatorship", which is essentially the same thing.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:39 PM on February 5, 2016


The other solution is a dictator selected at random. Completely representational... on average, anyway.

in the end those who control the appointments pick the people whose opinions they like, and it ends up partisan anyway.

Why not let each party pick exactly half the committee, and require a supermajority in agreement? At the very least it would make it hard to gerrymander to give a party an advantage, though the race issue would still be in play.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:01 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why not let each party pick exactly half the committee

There are actually more than two parties and doing this would make it extra impossible for the smaller ones to gain any traction.
posted by Candleman at 1:04 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


They've satisfied contiguity. Now make them minimize the perimeter. Problem solved, for the most part.

As for requiring a majority (what's a super majority?) from a balanced group -- we need solutions now, not never.
posted by oheso at 3:02 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


No matter how it's done, it'll end up being partisan.

False. Australia manages a completely independent and fair electoral process with absolutely no suggestion of gerrymander.
posted by wilful at 3:58 AM on February 6, 2016 [5 favorites]


Rearrange these deck chairs immediately!

The people have the right to equal representation, even (and especially) if the ship is sinking.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:39 AM on February 6, 2016


I'm just baffled that you guys still allow districts to be created by a partisan process.

In the US even the baffles are partisan.
posted by srboisvert at 5:42 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


The way we do it's partisan towards the way voters voted in the last state election. That's better than nothing.

Can you explain why? No other stable democracy exhibits the same levels of disenfranchisement though gerrymandering. Why is this system better than nothing?
posted by howfar at 6:11 AM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


what's a super majority?

More than a majority. Example: The US Senate passes bills on a simple majority, but a supermajority of two-thirds of the Senate is required to ratify treaties or override filibusters. Similarly, a presidential veto can be overridden by a two-thirds supermajority of both houses of congress.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:13 AM on February 6, 2016


This mirrors what happened about a month ago just across the state line in Hampton Roads. Bobby Scott's 3rd district is majority-minority; the Republican legislature last redistricted in 2012 to pack even more minority voters into the district. This was recently ruled unconstitutional by a Federal judge and new district boundaries were drawn by a professor at UC-Irvine. The US Supreme Court has declined to intervene, so it's definitely happening.
posted by indubitable at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think my home state of Michigan is even more egregiously gerrymandered:

"Although Republicans won nine of the 14 congressional races, Democrats received about 50,000 more votes out of 3 million cast.

and

"Despite receiving more votes statewide than their Republican opponents, Democrats only won 47 out of 110 state House races.
posted by tivalasvegas at 6:55 AM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it's pretty bad in a lot of states right now. Virginia is 8/11 Republican representatives, and I don't have the numbers from the last mid-term but Obama won Virginia both times, if that tells you anything.
posted by indubitable at 7:01 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


No matter how it's done, it'll end up being partisan. A couple of states have tried setting up districting commissions staffed by retired judges and the like, but in the end those who control the appointments pick the people whose opinions they like, and it ends up partisan anyway.
That genuinely hasn't been the experience in Iowa, for what it's worth. You could argue that we're an easy state to redistrict, in that we're pretty evenly divided politically and we don't have an egregious history of racially-motivated voter suppression. But I think that pretty much everyone thinks that our system works well and is fair. How it works is that redistricting is done by civil servants, overseen by a commission that is appointed by both parties. (One member is appointed by the state senate majority leader, one by the senate minority leader, one by the state house majority leader, one by the house minority leader, and the fifth member is appointed by the other four.) They present a proposal to the legislature, which votes for it straight up or down. It's been that way since 1980, and both parties seem pretty happy with it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:05 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Regarding the point made above about at- large seats and minority representation, I think the criticism is true if each seat is separately elected, but if there is a single election for N seats (i.e. one vote per voter, top N vote-getters are seated), the minority can, if it wishes, elect a candidate or candidates in rough proportionality to its electoral strength.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:10 AM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm fairly ignorant in this area, so please forgive me, but: is there any actual logistical reason that we need electoral districts in an age of telephones and computers and stuff? What's wrong with electing representatives in direct proportion to the vote?

(Leaving aside the political challenge of implementing that system-wide change, of course.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 7:20 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


This news is so encouraging. More needs to be done but the gerrymandering and GOP takeover of the state legislature in NC is crazy, and any movement towards making it a little less crazy is good.
posted by aka burlap at 7:32 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


is there any actual logistical reason that we need electoral districts in an age of telephones and computers and stuff?

Local representation is important, especially in the larger states. The wants and needs of San Jose are different than San Diego as are Northern Virginia and Rural Virginia.
posted by Candleman at 7:35 AM on February 6, 2016 [4 favorites]


is there any actual logistical reason that we need electoral districts in an age of telephones and computers and stuff? What's wrong with electing representatives in direct proportion to the vote?

A lot of people feel that maintaining a link between a specific group of electors and a representative is good for accountability, efficacy and transparency. I don't think that's nonsense, and I think that systems that pay some attention to the limited benefits of first past the post are the next logical step for democracies like the US and UK, that have clung to creaky and damaging FPTP systems for too long. But, of course, PR of some form is an absolute no-brainer unless you happen to be the party in power in a two party FPTP system . Which is the real reason why we've made so little progress on this.
posted by howfar at 7:41 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


No other stable democracy

The US is not precisely a "stable democracy" in the sense of all citizens having a relatively equal say in how they are governed, at any level (local, regional or national). Local governments are balkanized along racial and class lines and so poorer areas are forced to fund critical services like education, public safety and infrastructure with minimal assistance from wealthier areas. At the state level, conservative dominance of legislatures leads to outcomes like Flint and Detroit. And nationally, of course, there are numerous structural barriers to democratic representation.

We're a settler state at the core. We do have important, hard-won and substantial democratic graftings, let's not pretend things are worse than they are. We have robust traditions of free speech, a relatively independent judiciary, and a long history of welcoming and integrating immigrants and refugees. But the core organizing principle of the Republic remains: the domination of indigenous peoples and of the descendants of the people who were imported here as chattel.
posted by tivalasvegas at 7:45 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


No matter how it's done, it'll end up being partisan.

False. Australia manages a completely independent and fair electoral process with absolutely no suggestion of gerrymander.


So does Canada.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:06 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Local representation is important, especially in the larger states. The wants and needs of San Jose are different than San Diego as are Northern Virginia and Rural Virginia.

If a given locality (or type of locality, such as rural areas) has wants and needs significantly different than those of the rest of the state, then the people of that locality could form the "San Jose Party" or the "Rural Virginia Party". Or band together to lobby members of other parties.

Geographic districting privileges geography over all other common interests.
posted by jedicus at 8:48 AM on February 6, 2016


Arizona also manages (again via a nonpartisan redistricting process). Chocolate Pickle is simply wrong here.
posted by nat at 8:56 AM on February 6, 2016


Arrow did his proof by including an axiom of "No dictators" and then proved that there was no solution at all. I restated it as "The only solution is a dictatorship", which is essentially the same thing.

I think you need a course in remedial logic. The statement there is no solution to fairness without a dictator does not equate to "the only solution is a dictatorship".

Arrow required three criteria for fairness. He showed that when presented with three or more choices, all three criteria cannot be satisfied at the same time. This means you have to bend at least one of the three criteria. Only a fascist would say "Let's give up the no-dictator criterium. That's the only solution."

And Arrow's theorem has nothing to do with the problems of redistricting. Arrow has to do with coming to a conclusion when presented with three or more choices. With two choices it is quite simple -- the majority wins. In redistricting there are only two choices, white congressmen or black congressmen. And there is no ambiguity or Arrow impossibility at all. The majority clearly want white congressmen. That is why they gerrymander.

So the problem of redistricting isn't Arrow's problem of determining how to pick among three or more choices. It is a completely different problem of how to protect the clear majority from dominating the minority. The fair solution to that isn't impossible. It is proportional representation. The difficult part is how you achieve proportional representation when dealing with physical plots of land.
posted by JackFlash at 9:23 AM on February 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


Arrow required three criteria for fairness. He showed that when presented with three or more choices, all three criteria cannot be satisfied at the same time. This means you have to bend at least one of the three criteria. Only a fascist would say "Let's give up the no-dictator criterium. That's the only solution."

There are actually five, though ISTR that Arrow leaves one implicit.

ST -- social transitivity, if we prefer X to Y and Y to Z, we should prefer X to Z
U -- universal admissibility, nobody is removed from the social choice mechanism because of the content of their preferences
P -- Pareto optimality; if everyone prefers A to B then we should prefer A to B
I -- independence from irrelevant alternatives, if everyone reverses their preference ordering between chocolate and vanilla ice cream that shouldn't affect decisions about butter pecan versus pistachio ice cream
D -- Nondictatorship; there is no one person whose preferences determine all choices

Or, ST/U/P/I/D.

It's not like giving up one of the other conditions is okay. Violating U is horrifying tyranny, and violating ST, P, or I results in almost immediate collective insanity.

And Arrow's theorem has nothing to do with the problems of redistricting.

Arrow's theorem has to do with any decision that binds more than two people, and redistricting has way more than two choices -- there are an infinite number of ways to divide up a polity into districts, and we know that every possible way to decide how to do that is horrifyingly terrible.

Similarly, gerrymandering is one of those things that's impossible* to eliminate, for the simple reason that every possible set of districts encourages the election of some people and discourages the election of others. If you have civil servants doing it, congratulations, you have districts gerrymandered in favor of whatever they happen to like. You can probably avoid large and obvious gerrymanders with any number of mechanisms that boil down to "you need the consent of both major parties."

*Fine, a system that randomizes districts won't have any bias ex ante, but any realized set of districts that emerges from it will be biased, because every set of districts has to be.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:15 AM on February 6, 2016


The states should choose US representatives by state-wide party lists, which is a more modern system of representation, and because the constitution makes no mention of districts. As an alternative method which keeps districts, states could divide their senators into two districts. Then those two districts would either negotiate adjoining territory for a third congressional district, or divide themselves in half for four districts. In every instance after that, a new district is likewise created by local division of one or two existing districts, and never from scratch from a central corrupting source; the point being that there is no sure way for one district or state to evenly divide itself for political advantage.
posted by Brian B. at 10:59 AM on February 6, 2016


Arrow's theorem has to do with any decision that binds more than two people.

Three people vote for two candidates. Majority wins. This satisfies all of Arrow's criteria. There is no Arrow impossibility when there are two choices. Arrow is just fine with simple majority rule.

Likewise if a million people vote for two candidates in each district and the majority wins, it satisfies all of Arrow's criteria, as in North Carolina. The problem is that majority rule can be discriminatory towards a minority. Arrow's theorem doesn't address this issue. It is beyond the scope of his theorem which is narrower than often interpreted. The Voting Rights Act introduces an entirely new rule for fairness that is not included in Arrow's theorem and that is proportional representation, because majority rule, which is permitted by Arrow's theorem, is not necessarily fair.
posted by JackFlash at 11:49 AM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'd like it if we just gave up on geographic representation and adopted some sort of proportional representation system, or cumulative voting, or **SOMETHING** so we don't have to muck about with congressional districts at all.

As others have noted, some gerrymandering is mandated by well intentioned laws to try for minority representation.

But if we got rid of congressional districts entirely, then minority representation would be a snap. If minority group A is willing to put all, or many, of their votes from a cumulative voting system behind a candidate from their group, they're almost certain to win, and it scales perfectly.

I'm down with increasing the size of the House, it ought to be at least double its current size, if not bigger. But even leaving the size of congress alone, we could still solve the distracting problem by getting rid of districts.

I am not my zip code (or census tract, or whatever).
posted by sotonohito at 1:37 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


gerrymandering is one of those things that's impossible* to eliminate
ROU Xenophobes, that's not true, unless you don't understand the meaning of gerrymander. A gerrymander is a conscious decision to manipulate electoral boundaries for partisan advantage, it is NOT "any non-random selection of electorate boundaries". The AEC chooses electorate boundaries on a range of factors including historic communities of interest and major geographic markers. It does NOT make decisions based on voting patterns and is therefore not gerrymandering.
posted by wilful at 2:37 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


But if we got rid of congressional districts entirely, then minority representation would be a snap. If minority group A is willing to put all, or many, of their votes from a cumulative voting system behind a candidate from their group, they're almost certain to win, and it scales perfectly.

Just so long as minorities give up the pretense of choice. The tyranny of the majority isn't really solved here.
posted by srboisvert at 2:38 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Oddly enough, some states get sued if they don't do this, under the Voting Rights Act as it is currently interpreted. The requirement is to create "minority-majority" districts which will elect blacks to Congress.

A good example is Georgia's 4th District, currently represented by Hank Johnson, who replaced Cynthia McKinney. Johnson was reelected in 2014 despite the fact that he's out of his mind. (He's the one who asked a general if there was a danger of Guam tipping over. His aides claimed later it was a joke, but it sure didn't sound like it at the time. Anyway, this isn't the only example.)

It's not his fault; he's suffering from Hepatitis C, and the combination of the disease and the drugs he's taking are fouling up his brain. I feel sorry for him, but he doesn't belong in Congress.

Nonetheless, because of the way that district is drawn, it would take the famous "live boy or dead girl" for a black congressman to not be reelected there. And that's why Johnson is still in Congress. He'll probably be there until he dies.


As a constituent of Congressman Johnson's who has gladly voted for him twice, I find this really offensive and can't quite believe anyone would say it in the 21st century. Not everybody who disagrees with you is crazy. And as a resident of DeKalb Co, as far as I can tell, it really doesn't matter how the lines are drawn--we will send a black democrat to Congress because the county is majority black democrats.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:13 PM on February 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


And seriously anyone can look at the map of the Georgia 4 and see that we are pretty contiguous with a pretty small perimeter, nothing like the districts that were thrown out in NC. I don't know where this rant against it came from, but it is mean-spirited, misinformed, and misguided.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:47 PM on February 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


But if we got rid of congressional districts entirely, then minority representation would be a snap. If minority group A is willing to put all, or many, of their votes from a cumulative voting system behind a candidate from their group, they're almost certain to win, and it scales perfectly.
Just so long as minorities give up the pretense of choice. The tyranny of the majority isn't really solved here.

There have been attempts to solve this issue, notably the confessional system used in electing the Lebanese parliament. Here, the intention is to guarantee all groups parliamentary representation in proportion to their representation in the census, and simultaneously allow them to choose the candidates they want.

There are some pretty major problems with Lebanese democracy, in particular vote buying and gerrymandering, but it's an interesting approach to consider when thinking about alternative electoral systems.

My view is that there is no final answer for electoral systems. I have long believed, in my anarchist-inclined way, that the only moral goal of the state is to render itself as unnecessary as possible while maximising the degree of real control that individuals and groups have over the conditions and directions of their lives. Unfortunately, as Trotsky learned, and libertarians never will, it is not enough to "issue a few decrees, then shut up shop". The C20th's bizarre obsession with the end of history, clinging on even now, needs, itself, to end. Electoral systems will have to continue changing to reflect the needs of society and governance, rather than settling into one notionally fair and ideal form.
posted by howfar at 2:20 AM on February 7, 2016


There have been attempts to solve this issue, notably the confessional system used in electing the Lebanese parliament. Here, the intention is to guarantee all groups parliamentary representation in proportion to their representation in the census, and simultaneously allow them to choose the candidates they want.

I would suggest that cultural groups are unneeded as representation because democracy shouldn't work for them. It would seem nicer to say that a minority needs to organize to defend itself, but that would likely be a reaction to the majority working against them, so the perceived solution is likely part of a bigger problem. For the most part, cultural or religious groups are resistant to progress, and have the agenda to negate any promise of democracy in replacing ancient cultural influences, and thus take any spotlight away from individual common interests. A major assumption here is that civil rights are universal, where all laws must apply to all equally, and no culture is favored by law, otherwise it's not yet a civil democracy.
posted by Brian B. at 7:57 AM on February 7, 2016


I nicked myself while shaving this week. The cut on my lip looked uncannily similar to North Carolina Congressional District #12.
posted by jonp72 at 10:39 AM on February 7, 2016


It makes sense to have representatives represent regional interests.

I mean, the thing is, it makes sense to have representatives represent local interests, but those don't have to be regional. Whenever I see these proposed redistricting plans that are drawn just to ensure that statewide representation equals statewide distribution of votes, I shudder, because to do that kind of thing, they need to trample widescale over actual district boundaries and coherent neighborhoods.

Some of those coherent neighborhoods are majority minority, yes. And so some of those coherent neighborhoods, that share cultural and other interests, are like 96% Democrat. That's real. But that doesn't mean the "fair" thing to do is to split up the neighborhood so that that Democratic vote is blended with other neighborhoods. That defeats the entire purpose of local representation, if you're splitting the district along boundaries that people don't understand.

And I mean, this seems to be really obvious when it's actual towns that are being split in half for these purposes, but somehow it becomes not-obvious when neighborhoods don't meet square boundaries, but instead snake and weave like actual neighborhoods do.
posted by corb at 11:35 AM on February 7, 2016


Some of those coherent neighborhoods are majority minority, yes. And so some of those coherent neighborhoods, that share cultural and other interests, are like 96% Democrat. That's real. But that doesn't mean the "fair" thing to do is to split up the neighborhood so that that Democratic vote is blended with other neighborhoods. That defeats the entire purpose of local representation, if you're splitting the district along boundaries that people don't understand.

I agree with this, but that's not how these NC districts were drawn at all. They don't snake around because they follow naturally odd-shaped coherent boundaries. Take district 12. The entire purpose of 12 is to group Charlotte and the Triangle (Greensboro/High Point/Winston Salem) into one district, despite the fact that these cities are almost 100 miles away from each other and don't really share a close affinity.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah no - hear me out, it's totally possible that those NC districts may be hopelessly fuxxored. I don't know NC neighborhoods nearly well enough to be able to answer to that. I'm just saying that 'how many votes go D/R' is not the best measure of that. And honestly I wish there were some nonpartisan way to say, like, "Hey, maybe Charlotte and the Triangle (given your example) BOTH deserve a district!"
posted by corb at 12:07 PM on February 7, 2016


When you're talking about U.S. House of Representatives districts, it's not a matter of "neighborhoods" outside of a few cities. NC-12 is the smallest in the state at 827 square miles. Walking from one end of it to the other would take you more than a day.
posted by Etrigan at 2:19 PM on February 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Yeah, this is not a question of neighborhoods. Charlotte is the #22 largest metropolitan area in the US and in any map drawn would probably have 2 congressional districts. The Triad (not the Triangle) of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point is the opposite end of the (now illegal) 12th district and is #75. It would probably have 1 congressional district of its own.

(Raleigh (just a portion of the Triangle of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill), which is even farther from Charlotte and not part of the district in question, is #46.)
posted by hydropsyche at 3:05 PM on February 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Update: The legislature's Joint Select Committee on Congressional Redistricting on Tuesday set the criteria by which map-makers are to attempt to adhere when drawing the new districts. According to Clark, a Democrat serving on the committee, these include:

Voter demographics to maintain the Republican Party's 10-3 majority control of the 13 seats. The committee's Republican majority approved this over Democrats' objections.


lol/cry/why is this allowed
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:57 AM on February 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


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