Gerrymandering Primer/Rant

Yesterday, I said there is no principled reason for gerrymandering. It is still true that legislative districts should not be designed with the goal of protecting particular incumbent officials or the party in power. The first principle of redistricting is to achieve, as nearly as practicable, equality of population between districts. However, boundaries can be drawn such that even with nearly equal populations, one political party has massive advantages. Either likely voters for the other party can all be confined to as few (equal sized) districts as possible, or likely voters for the other party can be split up into as many (equal sized) districts as possible so that opposition voters are well below a majority in all districts. The primary effect of redistricting in this manner is to isolate representatives from having to be responsive to citizens' desires. Gerrymandering is not a situation where some voters benefit at the expense of others, it is a situation where incumbent politicans and entrenched political parties benefit at the expense of all voters. It is an unmitigated evil.

Some states have had success battling gerrymandering either through the use of independent commissions or through set criteria. For instance, Article III of the Iowa state constitution specifies criteria for redistricting of compactness, contiguousness, and respect for political boundaries (counties). Further, Iowa Code §42.4(5) specifically forbids the following criteria from influencing redistricting: districts shall not be drawn to favor any political party, an incumbent legislator or member of Congress, or any other person or group, or for the purpose of augmenting or diluting the voting strength of a language or racial minority group.

However, Kevin Drum says that while he agrees about the evils of gerrymandering, he can’t support Schwarzenegger’s plan. He notes that an effect of creating fairer districts in California would be an increase in Republican representation. Therefore, in theinsanely partisanpolitical climate, he doesn’t feel he can support the measure. He further states that the Democratic majority in the California state senate and legislature would be insane to support this measure since,Guys like Tom DeLay and Hugh Hewitt would be guffawing in their beers for days about our terminal naiveté if we went along with this. Rather, he says that gerrymandering must be fixed nationally. Alternatively, he [semi-jokingly] proposes that if Texas accepts a similar proposal, he will actively campaign for Schwarzenegger’s proposal.

I don’t have much to say in response to this, since Drum makes clear that he knows he is wrong in principle. The only thing to add is that gerrymandering can only be fixed if the party in power takes actions which will hurt it in the short term, so the fact that it will hurt the Democratic party in the short term isn’t much of a counter argument.

Also, if you want to take a look at what some congressional districts look like, go here. New York Eight is an interesting one.