ger·ry·man·der: to manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.
In other words, gerrymandering is inevitable.
The U.S. states themselves are an example of gerrymandering.
You think God drew the lines of New York, Virginia, South Dakota?
As a New Yorker, I’ll acquiesce this may be true for my home state…
But for all the other states, the lines were drawn by self-interested individuals who wanted to advance their own party or class.
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the Earth and the State of New York” — Genesis 1:1
The 13 colonies were divided up by the King of England and handed out to his various political cronies.
The Missouri Compromise of 1851 drew the state lines in order to balance power between free and slave states.
Therefore the primary problem with gerrymandering is not that it happens (manipulate boundaries to favor a party or class), but that it becomes too blatantly partisan and undemocratic.
For example, when congressional districts looks like this…
Or the numbers look like this…
So then how do we reduce partisan gerrymandering?
Some suggest MMP (Mixed-Member Proportional Representation).
For example, New York gets 27 congresspeople.
17 could be elected by a district.
10 could be elected at-large.
The 10 at-large would then be chosen by a party vote.
Let’s say the vote came out with…
Party A at 10%
Party B at 70%
Party C at 20%
The 10 congressional seats would then be divided up accordingly and the party member to sit in the seat would be chosen based on a party-list, i.e. publicly available ordered list of candidate names.
As a states-rights guy, I’d be happy to see a few states adopt this format to elect their congressional delegation.
But generally speaking, I wouldn’t want to see the whole nation rush into MMP for several reasons…
- Rural voters could lose a lot of power. At-large candidates will flock to the city centers because that’s where the most votes can be won thereby candidates will pay less attention to suburban and rural needs.
- Retail politics vs. Media politics. Retail politics is about going door-to-door, shaking hands, and kissing babies. It’s that personal touch that gets lost when an electorate becomes too big. Elections then turn into Media politics, i.e. whose hair looks the best on TV? Who can give the best soundbites? At-large congresspeople will be less responsive to local needs.
- Too much party power. If a state implements an MMP and the only two viable political parties on the ballot are “Republican” and “Democrat” then this could drive our politics even further to the fringe because congresspeople will have to be even more of a party hack in order to get their name at the top of the party-list.
For most states, I’d prefer them to reduce partisan gerrymandering by utilizing an Independent Commission.
Currently, there are only 8 states with a non-partisan or bipartisan independent redistricting commission.
These commissions should have three main guidelines…
- Compactness: a district mustn’t break up voting districts and towns. There are various algorithmic strategies to quantify compactness: convex polygon ratio, shortest splitline, minimum isoperimetric quotient.
- Competitiveness: when a party draws its lines in order to waste the maximum number of opposing votes, i.e. packing and cracking, we see more extremism and gridlock in Congress. In our current system, incumbent congresspeople are more afraid of losing their party primary than their general election. In 2018, 91% of incumbents were reelected.
- Computers: the commission should have to utilize computers. One idea is that the computer could generate multiple versions of the state congressional map and then the independent commission votes for their favorite version OR the commission generates multiple versions of a map and the computer selects the version.
If God is unavailable then commissions with computers may be our next best hope to reduce partisan gerrymandering.