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I think that Peter Levine feels similarly and has some constructive thoughts on the subject.






Indeed, more compact districts would be a fine reform.

I'm not sure how 'non-partisan' districts would be constructed:

- An 'independent commission'? Who would select the commission? Would it be weighted by party registration or last national voting pattern, or equal balance?

- This surely is not a job for the judiciary, although on occasion they have stepped in.

- Any system controlled by encumbants (even indirectly by appointment) will involve mutual log-rolling.

I can't see a mathmatical, statistical or other non-partisan method that would really do the work. Is there any non-partisan approach you would recommend?


I can't find the study at the moment, but I believe it's by a professor from Ohio. The gist of it:

Anyone can submit a redistricting map proposal. Only two criteria matter: compactness and contiguousness. The most compact and continuous map wins. Period.


Well for state districts the candidates who propose this lose, because all the other politicians give to the old school pol. At least that's the way it worked in a special election here in MA.

Funny thing was the union shop leaser/ political director type out for the perma politician who won the seat thought that the district map was ridiculous.


i think redistricting might be the single most problematic obstacle to "citizen representation" today

the practice has a name and a long tradition

It is called gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is a term that describes the deliberate rearrangement of the boundaries of congressional districts to influence the outcome of elections.

The original gerrymander was created in 1812 by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who crafted a district for political purposes that looked like a salamander.

In 1967, Congress passed a law requiring all U.S. representatives to be elected from single member districts�the system we use today. Congress in 1982 amended the Voting Rights Act to protect the voting rights of protected racial minorities in redistricting. Within those laws, states have great leeway to draw districts, which often leads to gerrymandering.

Politicians will practice gerrymandering unless there is some restriction on their ability to do so

has anyone written about ways to keep legislative leaders on the path of maintaining districts that enhance the "common good"


any districting proposal that focused on compactness and single-community representation would favor republicans. unfortunatly i can't find the study, but most communities trend slightly republican, while a few urban areas are 90% democratic.


I don't have anything substantial to add, except for anecdotal experience. After the last census, a lefty friend of mine who happily voted for a Republican he had respected for years (Amo Houghton) found himself in a curiously-shaped new district, as he described it, a bunny rabbit lying down. And a totally non-interesting representative in Sherry Boehlert.

But nothing can happen with the federal districts without fixing the state districts. I know you lived in New York, so you're familiar with the peculiar institution they call the state legislature. I was living in liberal Ithaca, and the city was split three ways for the state senate (assigned to the Republicans as the Assembly is given to the Dems) -- the districts extended from the city center out about 90, 100, and 200 miles, respectively.

And the only way to get the state legislature to do anything different is to scare them. I.e., a nice, boisterous governor's race (since nobody watches the legislature) about waste and corruption, timed just at 2012. (Would have been perfect for Eliot Spitzer, but he jumped the gun -- the proper outrage would have to come from an opposition party...)

Jeff L.

This is probably unwise to mention here, but Mark isn't your argument that "It has a substantial effect on the ability of representatives to give their time and attention to both legislation and representation" also an argument against the Senate? That is, against the equal representation of the states, regardless of population, in the Senate? I think this is part of the argument of a book by Lee and Oppenheimer.

I'm persuaded, by the way, of the value and importance of nonpartisan redistricting. My only question is, what is the political mechanism for getting it done? It can't be state by state, right? I mean, though I don't know all the details of Schwartenegger's proposed plan, assuming it was a good one, for Democrats to acknowledge the principle of the thing and go for it would just amount to unilateral disarmament in view of what is being done by Republicans in other states. So presumably any move has to be done nationally. Is it as simple as congressional legislation?


any districting proposal that focused on compactness and single-community representation would favor republicans. unfortunatly i can't find the study, but most communities trend slightly republican, while a few urban areas are 90% democratic.

If you think that Democratic fortunes are really so tied to current population distributions (in one of the most geographically mobile societies on the planet) you must have even less faith in the party than I do.

It's been demonstrated that there is no 'best' solution to the redistricting problem, the nub of the problem being just how one defines 'best'. So that leaves compactness and contiguity as reasonable criteria for deciding whether any given set of district boundaries are pretty good. Have a board of politically independent experts select the official boundaries from a set of alternatives, and --voila'!: Maybe we'll start to see something less than 95% of incumbents returned to office, Politburo-style, every election. Look, lifetime incumbency is the real cancer of representative government. It makes it real hard to argue with apolitical know-nothings who toss out remarks like, "What difference will my vote make, anyway?"

God knows the Dems don't have any better ideas of what they stand for, or what to do with themselves. I think that a party that spoke up for serious structural remedies for our broken political system would find an enthusiastic audience. (In general, a party that spoke up for anything would do better than the donkey.) It's also a nice way to do some of that debate framing that liberals always talk about these days, but never get around to doing. You won't hear the GOP advocating bottom-up political reform -- kinda makes it virgin terrain, a wide-open opportunity, no?


Common Cause has some suggestions about redistricting at www.commoncause.org


If a district is sufficiently gerrymandered, its congressman no longer has to campaign back home at all. Problem solved.


I've been thinking about this quite a bit recently. I'm in a district in Maryland that will be open in 2006 thanks to our Rep. Ben Cardin's announced Senate run. The segment of this district that contains my residence is between 2 and 5 blocks wide, and a few miles long. Do you think my representative is more interested in listening to me, or to the residents of the regions that my "corridor" segment serves to connect?

Although it might seem counterintuitive, why not give redistricting responsibilities entirely to the minority party? If they're too aggressive in rigging the districts in their favor, then the new minority party automatically gets to make corrections. It seems that in the long term this would have to create a stable equilibrium.


One might look at the Iowa rules --- they have a commission, but the commission has to work within clear rules. It has to miminize the divisions of counties, cities and towns and other governmental jurisdictions. That is only allowed if there is no other available solution to one person one vote in state legislative districts, and then Congressional districts. The result is that all their districts -- given good candidates and resources, are potentially competitive. No CD in Iowa is more than 5 points off dead center.

We Democrats need to realize that back in the mid 1960's the Republicans came to understand that it was a long term campaign to win enough State Legislatures so as to draw a Republican Map -- they started then, and achieved their goal in 1992. The Clinton Campaign threw their victory off by two years. There are a whole lot of good Democratic Political Scientists who understood this back in the 1970's and 80's but the party was not interested in listening.

The only way to really change it back is to win State Governorships and State Legislative seats, and then have the power to determine the map in 2012. (Census in 2010 -- new map in 2012.)

Understood this way -- winning state legislative seats is in part about eventually winning congressional seats. Of course you want a roughly even playing field -- thus rough honesty in how districts are drawn -- but the fundamentals are about good candidates for State Rep, and good platforms -- and resources for winning those races. That is the basic matter.

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