Gerrymandering

Why Redistricting Reform Goes Off the Rails

"Buddymandering" is the widespread map-related misconduct that's wrecking our elections.

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Are you against gerrymandering? Of course you are! You've laughed at the shapes of districts with nicknames like the Praying Mantis, the Steam Shovel, and Goofy Kicking Donald Duck. Like almost everyone who follows politics, you agree that it's wrong to fiddle with legislative maps to help a favored party or candidate.

Or do you? To test your commitment, here's a composite example from a fictional 51st state of the union we'll call the State of Madison.

Public opinion in Madison is strongly opposed to extreme partisan gerrymandering, the sort where the more powerful of two major parties redraws the map to hurt the other. The leadership of the state legislature has taken this to heart and entrusted the task of drawing the next set of district lines to a bipartisan commission. It's split half and half between the two major parties; the tiebreaker is a genial retired lawmaker who gets along with everyone. True, there are no Libertarians or Greens on the panel, nor even any registered independents. But that's understandable—isn't it?—since voters have not chosen to elect anyone from those groups to the legislature.

And there's more good news. Some were worried that the majority party, which got about 54 percent of the vote and 56 percent of the seats last time around, would engineer matters so as to grab many more safe seats. Not so. When seasoned political analysts look at the lines that were drawn, they can predict exactly which party is going to win nearly every seat next time, and they say hardly any will change hands. There had been some grumbling about how only three seats were competitive in the last general election; the commission must have been listening, because this time there will be four competitive seats instead of three—not enough to tip any balance, but at least enough to provide some interest come November.

One curious thing about those four competitive-in-November seats: They're all open seats where an incumbent is retiring. That's because none of the incumbents who planned to run again volunteered their districts to be made into the competitive ones. In fact, when you look more closely, many incumbents got their districts snipped here and expanded there so as to make them safer, not just in the general election but also—this will be less obvious, except to the well-informed—in the primaries. Sometimes the voters in a town never really warm up to you, in which case the best course is to pass that town on to the next lawmaker over.

Once you look more closely, you see that many of the districts have shapes that are a little more stretchy and boundary lines that are a little more jiggly than they would strictly need to be. Also, they crisscross county and city borders more than they have to. In two or three instances, you notice a thin peninsula of land that juts out from the main body of a district to capture a remote neighborhood. You ask an insider, who explains that those fingers are meant to connect the home residence of some lawmaker with the district he or she wishes to represent. In fact, the starting point for most of the districts had simply been to ask incumbent members of both parties how they wanted their districts to look. To paraphrase a famous line: Officials had succeeded in picking their voters, rather than letting voters pick their officials.

In one case (and only one), the new map throws two incumbents from the same party into a single district. Your insider friend explains that that was to get rid of a member of the majority party who just caused trouble all the time—making noise about supposed scandals, never cooperating with more senior colleagues. No one likes him, really. Or at least no one in the leadership does. Without this disruptive personality, the next legislature will be more collegial and less polarized. And that's to the good, right? Also, seeing what happened to this troublemaker, none of the members are going to think about crossing the leadership next term.

Everyone Wants Reform—But What Kind?

I call this kind of arrangement a "buddymander."  Many people who hate partisan gerrymandering hate it too, but others are willing to let it slide or even are fine with it. The animating logic is: We'll protect our guys and you can protect yours. It's outwardly different from extreme partisan gerrymandering, since the main goal is not to take away seats from the opposition. But the two spring from the same underlying temptation: When the system gives insiders wide discretion over line drawing, they are apt to use it to advance their own interests.

The main task of redistricting reform is to confine that discretion. To appreciate the difficulty of that task, let's switch for the moment to a seemingly remote question: Why allow any discretion in drawing legislative maps at all?

When you serve on a redistricting commission, as I have now done in Maryland twice, that's one of the most common questions you get: Why can't we turn the whole thing over to a computer algorithm? At its simplest, this can take the form of proposing that the state simply be divided into districts of equal population (as the courts require) by some brute method. Thus a state might be divided among the proper number of congressional districts by drawing vertical lines dividing it into strips of varying widths.

To spend a few minutes with such a map is to grasp its flaws. Even in a conveniently rectangular state like Colorado, districts would end up comprising unrelated communities separated from each other by mountains and long distances. Coherent communities would be split, perhaps multiple ways, to no good purpose. Before long, you will have rediscovered some of the basic keys to good districting, namely: compactness, with districts looking more like turtles than snakes or octopuses; practical contiguity, meaning that all sections of a district are accessible by road connections without having to leave the district; and congruence with the boundaries of other political subdivisions, such as counties and cities.

Happily, each of these three desirable features can be translated into formulas in algorithm-friendly ways. While experts have devised many mathematical formulas to score compactness, picking any one of them will help curtail the worst gerrymanders. Likewise, a formula can keep track of the number of county splits (lower is better). Further prescriptions can install a decision mechanism such as splitting more populous counties before those that are less populous.

Unfortunately, algorithms are far less adept at incorporating formulas for a fourth aspect of good districting, one that has been called intelligibility. People want at least a fighting chance to describe their district in words, and to guess correctly whether someone lives in it based on knowing where his or her residence is. Curved and diagonal lines usually don't register as intelligible, while "east of the River" or "south of I-70" may work fine. And while some neighborhoods may need to be split to make the numbers come out evenly, intelligibility is lost if a district line heedlessly splits every neighborhood it hits rather than finding the boundaries between them.

Because few of us are willing to jettison intelligibility entirely, fully algorithmic districting is unlikely to arrive anytime soon. But the impulse at least deserves respect, since it stands for the right goal: to confine the role of discretion. And it points the way to what is probably the most promising use of mathematics in districting, which is to pair quantifiable formulas with a band of discretion within which mapmakers are asked to pursue intelligibility. For example, it might be proposed that a lawful map must attain a compactness score no more than 20 percent worse than the most compact map taken under consideration, or that it must inflict no more than two more than the minimum attainable number of county splits.

It's unsurprising and true: States that have enacted clear, objective rules to guide mapmakers on topics like compactness and congruence tend to have far less of a gerrymandering problem than those that have not. The same kinds of rules also provide a firm basis for judicial review. While it is troublesome to give judges themselves massive discretion in line drawing—for one thing, it risks magnifying the role of politics in judicial selection, already a problem in many states—it is much less dangerous to assign them the quintessentially judicial task of holding others to clear and specific marching orders.

For an example of a redistricting criterion that is anything but clear and objective, consider the notion that district lines should follow so-called communities of interest. No one can pin down what this means to general satisfaction. Should a town that is suburban, industrial, and coastal be grouped with other areas that are suburban? Industrial? Coastal? It's a recipe for arbitrariness, disagreement, and manipulability. The same is true if a court is instructed to apply that same vague standard later on.

The toughest question—on which it is hard to offer more than speculation—is that of who, if not political insiders, should draw the lines. The currently popular plan, adopted in such places as Arizona and California, is that of the independent citizen volunteer commission. Experience with this innovation has been mixed so far, with much depending on the details of how a given law is drawn. Over time, interest groups will probably attempt to influence, or even infiltrate, the citizen commission. At the same time, the new blueprints for citizen redistricting include powerful measures to shake up the old way of doing things, such as rules forbidding commissions to take into account the residence of any incumbent or the voter registration or voting history of any community.

Public submission of maps, enabled by open databases and the availability of free or cheap software, holds great promise as well. For one thing, courts are more likely to provide effective judicial review if multiple maps are made available for comparison.

Yet another reform blueprint is to turn over the task to a legislative services bureau bound by strong impartiality norms. The results have been applauded in Iowa, a state known for relatively clean politics in which the two main political parties are approximately equally matched. But legislative service bureaus in other states might prove less robust in resisting political influence.

In the background are widening differences over what the goal of good districting should be in the first place. Those of us on the classical liberal side are likely to be inspired by the ideals of neutrality, impartiality, and objectivity. But some of the academics and commentators drawn to the controversy want a rough match between seat strength and voter strength—implicitly, a criterion of proportional representation, so that if a state is 40 percent Republican, say, somewhere around 40 percent of its seats will go to Republicans. A second group of thinkers takes the view that the chief evils to be fought are those of polarization and the alienation that arises from feeling one's vote doesn't matter; they thus advocate conscious efforts to create more competitive districts, especially ones that are competitive in general elections. (As Charles Blahous of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and others have shown, the trend has been for more districts to become competitive in party primaries, even as fewer remain competitive in the general.)

These two latter schools of thought—proportional representation and a preference for the creation of more competitive districts—are in practical terms at odds with each other. When many districts are drawn to be competitive, relatively modest swings in voter sentiment can lead to large swings in seat control.

The polarization issue is also more complicated than it may look. It is true that party positions in the U.S. House and many state legislatures have grown more polarized in recent decades, with a winnowing out of conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans. But the same dynamic can be seen in the U.S. Senate, and no one now alive plays any role in drawing that body's boundaries. The best guess is that several forces are contributing to polarization, with gerrymandering one part of the mix.

Proponents of proportional outcomes sometimes seem to be fighting a losing war against the inherent nature of America's "first-past-the-post" electoral system, which has always tended to generate major gaps between voter strength and seat strength. (This faction might be better advised to throw its support behind a ranked-choice, Australian-ballot, or European-style system, each of which is meant to avoid this outcome.) At any rate, the result-minded thinkers in both schools have something important in common, which is that both are obliged to resort to line drawing that is intensely conscious of voters' political leanings. It's hard for either to get on board with the California idea of blinding mapmakers to political data about registration, voting history, and politicians' residences.

Indeed, once you accept a goal of corralling voters into patterns judged to yield good electoral outcomes, you may even grow cool (as some contemporary academics are) toward traditional neutral-impartial-objective criteria such as compactness and avoiding county splits. They just get in the way of reaching the right results.

Redistricting Reform Returns From the Dead

After many years of back-burner status, interest in partisan gerrymandering began mounting rapidly around 2015 for two reasons. First, constitutional litigators had a case they hoped to win. Second, the issue got pulled into the ceaseless noise machine of Red Team/Blue Team warfare, because (as had not been the case over long historical stretches) one party was now doing significantly better from gerrymandering than the other.

For years, the only hope of getting the Supreme Court to recognize a constitutional remedy for gerrymandering turned on the cooperation of Justice Anthony Kennedy. With Kennedy's tenure on the bench nearing what was to prove to be its end in 2018, a search went out for a case that might tempt him. That search failed. The "efficiency gap" test proffered in a case out of Wisconsin failed to persuade him. Kennedy then retired, after which the necessary votes weren't there. In 2019, the Court used two cases—Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek—to rule, 5–4, that there was no constitutional remedy to be had in federal court over partisan gerrymandering.  But in the meantime, the usual publicity apparatus deployed for big Supreme Court cases had done its thing, and the issue had risen in public awareness.

A brighter-than-usual spotlight on this issue also followed the 2010 wave election, in which Republicans ousted Democrats from 680 state legislative seats in the biggest such partisan pickup in history, flipping no fewer than 20 state legislative chambers. In what became an oft-told tale, the GOP carefully deployed its new power using a program called REDMAP, which helped in devising exquisitely detailed gerrymanders that enabled the party to push its advantage further against Democrats in state after state. It helped that database and geographic information system technologies were improving constantly so as to allow super-fine-grained assemblage of districts on the fly. Legislators were able to sort local voters by political preference down to individual blocks, buildings, and households—a far cry from the old days, when pulling off a gerrymander might require weeks amid maps and awkward printouts of voter data.

Republicans enjoyed one other systemic advantage as well: Their objectives often meshed nicely with those of the federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). That law sanctions and even encourages—though the courts have had trouble sorting out exactly to what extent—the creation and maintenance of race-conscious districts in which minority voters hold a majority big enough to elect a candidate of their choice. It's an open secret that maps that result in significant black representation are often also maps where Republicans do well, since VRA districts funnel one of the most loyal Democratic voting groups off from the rest of the map.  A Republican strategist could simply approach black legislators and ask them to draw their "perfect district." Wildly noncompact districting was accepted as legitimate in many VRA situations; indeed, it's not uncommon for districts that show up on lists of the worst partisan gerrymanders to have been created by legislators (or even suggested by judges) under a VRA rationale.

Notwithstanding what happened in 2010, there has been little over the longer term to mark out gerrymandering as a distinctively Republican practice. In 1986, for example, officials of both major parties took positions more or less the opposite of their 2019 ones. In Davis v. Bandemer, a high-profile Supreme Court case from that year, the Republican National Committee filed an amicus brief in favor of strong Court intervention to correct partisan gerrymanders (a stance requiring it to argue against its own Indiana state party, which had engaged in the practice in the case at hand). As one of the brief's co-authors explained the following year, Democrats had just pulled off a massive and successful gerrymander in the state of California, and Republican leaders foresaw the same thing happening in many other states, "since Democrats control considerably more state legislative houses than do Republicans."

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee disparaged the idea that the federal courts should be in any hurry to jump in, saying that Republicans, having failed "to win control of more legislatures," were now seeking "a quick fix" to make up their losses.

In the longer run, unease at California gerrymanders did help touch off what became the most notable development in redistricting reform: the rise of independent citizen commissions, typically propelled by the ballot initiative process. Arizona went first with Proposition 106 in 2000, followed by California with Proposition 11 in 2008 and Proposition 20 in 2010. (Prominent California Democrats, including once-and-future Speaker Nancy Pelosi, quietly worked to sabotage the latter effort and keep the electeds in control.)

Map-related misconduct was indeed a bipartisan affair. A 2006 report from Azavea, a geographical software applications firm, listed the 10 most gerrymandered states. At the time the maps were drawn, four were controlled by Democratic legislatures, five were controlled by Republican legislatures, and one was split. Of the 10 most gerrymandered districts, four were in states that had Democratic legislatures at the time of drawing, three were in states controlled by Republicans, and three were split. Illinois Democrats in 2016 managed to kill a referendum backed by 500,000 petition signers, just as Michigan Republicans have lately fought a pitched legal battle to foil a voter-backed plan for an independent commission. Maryland Democrats behave much like Texas Republicans, and so on.

What Comes Next?

Some of today's momentum will continue, come what may. While the federal courts may have bolted their doors against gerrymander challenges, their state counterparts are still capable of surprises, especially when they draw on the language of state constitutions, as Pennsylvania's high court did in striking down that state's congressional map in 2018.

A deeper problem for reformers is that they are beginning to run out of states with strong ballot-initiative and referendum provisions. Only 18 states allow voters to initiate laws or constitutional amendments directly, and the practical number is a few less than that, since several of the states make the process quite hard to use. Most districting reform successes in recent years have come in states where advocates either ran a ballot initiative or credibly threatened to do so, starting with Western states and more recently extending to Ohio, Michigan, and Missouri.

With Democratic fortunes beginning to revive in the 2018 midterms, the party will soon face decisions about whether to pursue gerrymanders in Virginia and other newly consolidated states at the cost of giving up some of the moral high ground the party has briefly occupied on the issue. Meanwhile, Republicans, who have ceded so much of that same ground in the scramble for the imagined cartographic Ring of Power, will have to decide whether it's worth trying to reclaim any. Barack Obama, who since his presidency ended has sometimes spoken out against gerrymandering, has now thrown in with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), an official Democratic activist organization, which may limit his maneuvering room to act in ways the party perceives as adverse to its interests.

Wouldn't it be neat, though, if there were a neutral reform that would do a powerful lot of good on a national basis, was plainly consistent with the U.S. Constitution, promised to work as intended with few or no unintended effects, and was easy to explain to boot? One that could slay buddymanders as well as gerrymanders of the extremely partisan kind?

Good news: There is! What's more, it's been hiding in plain sight all the while. Charles Blahous describes it in a valuable 2019 paper for the Mercatus Center.

It begins with the Elections Clause—Article I, Section 4—in which the Constitution grants Congress an express role in overseeing the elections states hold for the House of Representatives. The wording makes clear that it is allocating power so as to give state legislatures the lead but not the final word: "The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations."

Congress has used its enumerated powers in this area for well over 150 years. For example, it has at various points (including the present) required that states elect House members from single- rather than multi-member districts. It also began requiring states to divide population equally among House districts long before the Supreme Court began interpreting the Constitution to require as much.

Less well known is that for about 30 years a century ago, Congress extended its oversight to include other good districting practices. The Apportionment Act of 1901, whose relevant terms remained in effect until 1929, stated that districts must be made up of "contiguous and compact territory and containing as nearly as practicable an equal number of inhabitants." There is no reason why such rules could not be re-enacted today, updated (as Blahous persuasively argues) to specify a quantitative test of the sort that political scientists regularly employ. In measuring compactness across states, it makes sense to disregard elements of noncompactness that derive from the irregularity of states' external outlines, since Florida cannot help being more elongated than South Carolina, for example. A fairer comparison can be obtained by focusing on the length of district lines that are interior to the silhouette.

Depending on how much pressure it wishes to apply against gerrymandering, Congress would be free to make an overall compactness standard easier or tougher. For example, of the 18 states that already have a legal compactness requirement for House districts on their books, none currently has any districts with a "G score" (a metric that adjusts for exterior state boundaries) above 150. If Congress set the threshold at that level, it would render just 5 percent of current districts illegal, but those would include most if not all of what are known as the most egregious gerrymanders. If it proceeded to a somewhat tougher standard of 125, it would make 8 percent of current districts illegal.

Either way, we'd finally be rid of those oddly shaped, colorfully nicknamed monsters whose habitat is our electoral maps—districts like the Duck, the Snake by the Lake, the Broken-Winged Pterodactyl. And we wouldn't miss them.

NEXT: Journal of Appellate Practice & Process Now at University of Arizona

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  1. With Democratic fortunes beginning to revive in the 2018 midterms, the party will soon face decisions about whether to pursue gerrymanders in Virginia and other newly consolidated states at the cost of giving up some of the moral high ground the party has briefly occupied on the issue.

    Well, it’s not really the “moral high ground” if it’s an argument of convenience, is it? And that’s the problem, it’s only gerrymandering when the other side does it, when we do it it’s maintaining communities of interest. It’s one of those issues that we can all agree is a problem so it would seem the solution is easy and bipartisan, but it’s really not. Like the fact that some people just insist on voting the wrong way.

    1. It doesn’t matter what someone’s morals actually are, only what they appear to be. As Andy Breckman puts it, “May this show succeed and all others on this station fail, and yet may I always be perceived as a team player.”

      1. “…only what they appear to be.”

        Yeah, we already knew you are a Marxist, really no need to dwell on it.

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    2. Well said Jerry. We tolerate gerrymandering because it is the least worse option.

    3. I have a simple constitutional amendment to kneecap gerrymandering. It doesn’t require a computer algorithm, in fact it can be enforced with a paper map, a straightedge, a pair of scissors, and a balance scale:

      No Congressional District shall be drawn that does not cover at least half of its state’s land area inside of east-west lines through the northernmost and southernmost points of the District, and north-south lines through the easternmost and westernmost points of the District.

  2. No need to gerrymander; Democrats will just flood their states will illegals, give them all voting-rights, change the target of their “party of slavery” onto USA citizens and stuff the House.

    In the bigger picture; the DNC is the very enemy of the USA. The only “Democracy” this country is that of electing the most just and trustworthy person’s to uphold the U.S. Constitution (SWORN oath of office). That is why the USA is a Republic NOT a Democracy.

    That is why the USA is said to be the land of the *free*. Democracy has other plans by their very governing theology of “Democracy” (mob rules). It’s not about who will be best at upholding the Constitution – for them It’s about who will be BEST be able to entirely ignore the founding Republic and conquer/replace it with “communism” and mob rules. They brand every political issue and even personal issues as dictated popularity contests. Their very belief is YOU WILL BE DICTATED BY THE MAJORITY.

    The RED/BLUE growing/heated war against each other lies in this very outcome. The BLUE party has won over-and-over again even with a majority of RED politicians in office and that has turned the entire system way too “mob rules” based. Even RED politicians are pretending we are a democracy. Over 50% of our legal system exists because of a “popularity contest”. There is VERY FEW left who have even speckle of honor-ability in upholding the Constitutional Supreme Law.

    1. Put another way; The people where put in charge of electing police officers who would uphold the (Supreme Law) but far too many of us it seems ended up voting for the police officer that will allow us to steal from “those” people and turn a blind eye. The end result of which is a criminal government more than happy to make slaves out of us. In fact they even lobby on it’s sugar-coated slavery agenda, “Free Stuff” …. omit by purpose … “made by slaves”…!!

    2. The Founders referred to the government (NOT the country; the two are NOT the same) as both a democracy and republic. This modern fad of splitting hairs is just that, modern and a fad, of no consequence.

      1. … and to the Republic and Democracy for which it stands; one nation, under god, indivisible ….. I DON’T THINK SO…

        A Republic by its very definition is a system of elected officials – that doesn’t by any sense of the imagination change its system from a Republic to a Democracy..

        and P.S. your citation fell off.

        1. Your citations are also noticeable by their absence.

          Read the Federalist papers. Read anything written by the Founders. You’ll find both terms used interchangeably.

          Don’t wait for a reference to any Founder specifically stating the two terms are interchangeable. There are plenty of other ordinary words they didn’t define either.

          1. No, the terms were not being used interchangeably. Unlike you the authors understood the distinctions made when employing those terms.

            Maybe you should read Cicero, they surely did.

          2. Number of times ‘Democracy’ is found in the U.S. Constitution = 0
            Article IV; Section 4
            The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a REPUBLICAN Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion; and on Application of the Legislature, or of the Executive (when the Legislature cannot be convened) against domestic Violence.

            Seems the founder left off you’re wishful Democratic-Republic……!

            1. You do understand that by “republican” they didn’t mean “Republican”?

              1. “Republican Form of Government” doesn’t exclusively mean “Republican Party” politicians but you do understand that the party based it’s name on support for that “form of government”.

                Unlike the Democratic party that support “mob rules” governing.

        2. You’re making an ungranted assumption about the form of a democracy or republic. You can call that type either a representative democracy or a representative republic.

          This phony distinction became popular only in the 1950s, as promoted most notably by the John Birch Society. Lots of good stuff, and lots of bogosity too, came out of JBS.

          1. Horse shit. The distinction is not phony, they made it and they understood why they made it.

        3. It’s a poem. Notice how it’s always recited that way rather than as prose. The extra syllable in “democracy” doesn’t fit as well.

          1. Not to mention it was written in 1892. Completely irrelevant to a discussion about the founders and the language they used.

      2. The founders designed a system around representatives and subsidiarity.

        The modern left rejects subsidiarity and demands majoritarianism; this is radically different from what the founders wanted or envisioned.

        The difference between the two systems is not “splitting hairs”, it is fundamental.

        1. No it isn’t and you don’t know what you’re talking about.

          Nobody, not “the Left,” and not people who prefer the word “democracy” to its synonym “republic,” advocates for direct democracy. No country that I know of works like that or wants to work like that. The dead horse you guys are beating, year after year, post after tedious post, is essentially a straw man. A dead straw man horse.

          But this utterly mind-deadening and nonsensical obsession must persist for a reason other than you really got your mind blown one day in 6th grade civics class. Since it’s always being trotted out by right-wingers, I can only assume that they mean to imply that the Democratic party is illegitimate and shouldn’t even exist because it’s “Democratic” and that is evil.

          1. It is fundamental (VERY SIGNIFICANTLY FUNDAMENTAL) – and the evil (Democracy) will pretend the two are synonym’s in order to cover/hide their evil intentions. Just like they chop the two words “general Welfare” completely out of context and pretend it refers to “the people”. Just like they pretend demanding “free” labor from others isn’t slavery. Just like they pretend “stealing” from others isn’t theft. Just like they pretend lobbying on sex + color isn’t racist and sexist….

            One billion excuses, lies and manipulation tactics to turn the government criminal.

          2. Nobody, not “the Left,” and not people who prefer the word “democracy” to its synonym “republic,” advocates for direct democracy.

            I didn’t say that the left wants “direct democracy”, I said that it wants “rejects subsidiarity and demands majoritarianism”. That is, they want federal solutions to problems (rather than state or local ones), want to abolish the electoral college, etc.

    3. “Democracy” and “republic” are synonyms. Democracy is rule by the demos — the district, i.e. the people of the district. Res publica is the people’s thing. They each refer to government of the people by the people.

        1. The founders understood the danger of pure democracies. They were quite aware of Athens and ancient greece. Republics are a form of democracy but not a pure one. That is why the senate was there to put the breaks on the House.

          1. Republics are not a form of democracy. It is entirely possible to have a republic but taking no plebiscites.

            Just because there is voting that does not equal democracy.

            1. You are trying to have an honest discussion with lying leftists who will never accept an outcome not to their liking.

            2. The terms “republic” and “democracy” have multiple meanings. It’s pointless to argue over them.

              What is clear is that the founders rejected majoritarianism or universal suffrage. We didn’t even have direct election of senators.

              1. The argument is not pointless, else the leftist would not seem to render it moot.

                The Pope is chosen by a vote of Cardinals, yet no one seriously think the Roman Catholic Church a democracy or a republic.

                1. The argument is not pointless, else the leftist would not seem to render it moot.

                  Leftists are using debates over the meaning of words to distract from what they are actually trying to accomplish; don’t fall for it.

        2. Yes, and “they switched relative popularity” because people understand them to refer to different visions for the country.

          Whatever you call it, the founders wanted government based on representatives and weak centralization. The modern left wants strong centralized government and rule by majorities.

          1. Not just one country. They changed their relative frequency in British English as well. We don’t know why, maybe it was just increasing preference for Greek over Latin derivation of words. And sometimes they liked both so much, they named countries “The Democratic Republic of” wherever. But nobody applied the phrasing “The Republican Democracy of…”.

            1. Oh yeah, and the retroactive identification of an American political party of 200 years ago as the Democratic-Republicans.

            2. Not just one country. They changed their relative frequency in British English as well.

              British usage these days often just follows American usage.

      1. No, they really are not.

        A republic implies constitutional brakes on the pure will of the people. A democracy implies the legislature body is unconstrained from doing whatever it wills.

        1. An unwarranted implication, inasmuch as a jurisdiction identified as either democratic or republican may be equally constrained by such constitutional brakes, or equally unconstrained. And its constitution may be adopted in a manner described as either “democratic” or “republican”.

        2. ^^ THERE IT IS – “A republic implies constitutional brakes”

        3. A democracy implies the legislature body is unconstrained from doing whatever it wills.

          There have been many democracies throughout history, and that is clearly false.

          The terms “republic” and “democracy” simply aren’t particularly well defined and are not useful for making finer distinctions among forms of self-government.

      2. “government of the people by the people.” — Is not part of the U.S. Constitution. Quoting speeches by politicians doesn’t constitute supreme law.

  3. Why not just clump zip codes until you get to the right number of citizens per district?
    USPS has taken into account most of what is described, just because it makes sense logistically.
    As long as the government doesn’t take them back, that is.

    1. Interesting thought experiment, but zip codes are not distributed by population, but by mail volume. (In fact, some zip codes have 0 population). It’s not clear how you’d determine if there existed a fair distribution of zip codes within a state without highly specific data, and it could end up being a lot of effort to no useful purpose if there wasn’t one.

      1. “and it could end up being a lot of effort to no useful purpose if there wasn’t one.”

        Well, what else is a government committee for?

  4. I’m not sure how I’m supposed to think about race. This article makes it sound like giving black peoples their own district is bad. So, if we divide the black vote amongst a bunch of white districts so that no representative is black, is that not gerrymandering? Or is it gerrymandering?

    Some who’s woke, tell me.

    1. I remember a case where my state got sued because minorities didn’t get “their” district. The state ended up simply swapping some Hispanic votes for some black ones between two Democratic districts, which pretty much changed nothing at all.

      >So, if we divide the black vote amongst a bunch of white districts so that no representative is black, is that not gerrymandering? Or is it gerrymandering?

      It’s gerrymandering to purposely do it either way. Why are we even looking at skin color? Why not build districts based on gender while we’re at it? Or maybe all the people with red hair would really like to see someone who looks like them be elected; is it fair to dilute their votes?

      Also, why do you assume that a black cannot get elected if the district isn’t majority black? Illinois is like 70% white, and it elected Obama to the Senate, not to mention the Presidency.

  5. 1. Have representatives proxy the votes they won in the last election.

    2. Elect the top three vote winners from each district.

    3. Allow voters to simultaneously volunteer as a representative; pick one at random to be a volunteer legislator, same salary and all, who proxies all theremaining votes cast in the election.

    4. If you really insist that districts should be roughly similar on size, allow border property owners to shift their parcel to a neighboring district, if that new district had fewer votes cast last election.

    1. Run a computer simulation to figure out an interlocking shape that can evenly divide the land mass. Probably more than one, so have those available.

      Let the parties decide which shape they like best without knowing how they will be applied to the map; those are your districts. Yeah, some will get screwed, but thems the breaks. No claims of gerrymandering through random chance.

      Or they can figure it out among themselves. Choose.

      But to your other idea-

      I liked the idea of having a third house of congress composed of three people from each state selected at random. They get to READ bills, comment on them, and ask for clarification. They can veto any bill which can only be overridden by the other houses and the president in unison.

      Pay them the median wage for the country for their service (as well as providing a dorm for all of them to live at). They only serve for one year.

      1. I’d pay the volunteers the same as the elected representatives. They are not second-class legislators.

        A separate chamber requiring approval of all legislation makes it that much harder to pass “political” legislation, because volunteers are already lame ducks, although of course they may use their publicity to run for elected office. But mixing them in with the regular representatives makes it harder for any party to have an outright majority. I imagine volunteers as being mostly independents and wackos who can afford to take two years off from their jobs and homes.

        I would also reform the legislature itself. Every legislator introduces their own bills. No committees or bizarre rules where seniority matters. Each bill is in public review for 30 days, at the end of which, if it has collected a majority (simple, 2/3, I don’t care) of approvals from other legislators in every chamber, it becomes law. Any revision restarts the review period. If it gathers 90% approval in every chamber, it becomes law immediately; but all who approve it are forbidden from ever holding any government job or contract again. Political parties will have their own shadow committees and lists of bills to ignore and to approve, but it is more transparent.

        Every law has a standing repeal petition. If a simple majority of current legislators in any chamber sign the repeal petition, the law is voided immediately.

        1. Understood, but one of the primary focus of reform should be simplicity and elegance, with the limited amount of political capitol put towards choke-points. Same reason I mostly don’t support most of BLM’s police reforms- overly complex when something like rescheduling drugs would yield greater affects (even if harder to do).

          There is also second order affects- something like having public review of any bill is having the presentation of bills more simply or they will be rejected outright (or stalled into perpetuity as people ask for clarification of subsection 731, paragraph M., which relates to paragraph 841, paragraph C.).

          The tendency is towards single issue bills (or limited focus) without having to lobby for that separately.

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  7. Here is an unusual idea that may relate to the original idea of representation. Why not have districts correspond to segments of the population that are as philosophically and demographically homogeneous as possible, so that each such geographic segment of the population, if large enough, is represented in congress? This doesn’t solve polarization, but may actually increase philosophical diversity in congress.

    1. You are describing at-large elections (I think it is called) where people in the entire jurisdiction vote for the same set of candidates, and the top n winners are elected.

      Another alternative is to have people sign up as supporting specific representatives, but this requires doing away with anonymous voting.

  8. Buddymandering would be most effectively killed by term limits. If legislators were completely forbidden to be re-elected, the buddymander would disappear instantly. A less drastic reform would be to forbid anyone from serving again after a single redistricting, and that would also end buddymandering completely. After a census the entire legislature would have to turn over at the next election, but between censuses they could be re-elected.

    This wouldn’t affect partisan gerrymandering — in fact it might increase it once the parties were free from considering the fates of their incumbent individuals — but I think these days the buddy principle is the more vexing problem than partisality in most states.

    1. If legislators were completely forbidden to be re-elected, the buddymander would disappear instantly.

      Way too naive, you appear to be. Politicians don’t become political hacks the moment they take office, or cease to be political hacks the moment they leave office. They have friends and mentors and apprentices. They have influence to peddle, other offices to run for, and careers after political office to consider — bureaucratic appointments, lobbyists, and other sinecures to retire to.

      1. So? How would that sustain buddymandering? If the skein of influence is that pervasive and influential, then effectively it would come down to constituencies in one district being buddies of constituencies in another.

        The evidence on buddymandering is that it’s a very, very inside matter of elected officials serving each other personally, not any kind of connections they have. In fact, buddymandering to some degree reduces the influence some constituencies have over them, by reducing the threat of loss of re-election.

        1. Simple: the outgoing set of legislators set up districts favoring their party for the next election. This is not hard to imagine.

          1. I already wrote it would not discourage partisan gerrymandering. Try reading all the paragraphs.

  9. For one thing, courts are more likely to provide effective judicial review if multiple maps are made available for comparison.

    This is just wrong. Courts are not merely providing review but also instituting their own maps in violation of the constitution that puts means and manner in the legislature. It is an overstep of the judicial powers.

    Luckily the USSC had some semblance of sanity when they turned down gerrymandering cases.

    https://www.cleveland.com/open/2019/06/supreme-court-refuses-to-invalidate-gerrymandered-congressional-districts-in-cases-likely-to-affect-ohio.html

    But that doesnt mean leftists on the court arent done attempting to legislate districts from the judicial branch.

    1. Courts don’t have to create their own district maps. That’s happened only because legislators or commissions were intransigent and couldn’t come to agreements on the districts that could stand up in court. The buck had to stop somewhere.

      1. The courts made up ridiculous criteria for a divided legislature to fulfill by political means on an absurdly short timescale is called “intransigence” so the judges can do what they wanted (which included gerrymanders for the Court’s desired result) is transparent sophistry for usurping the legislative authority. See Pennsylvania.

        1. Pennsylvania was exactly what I was thinking of when I wrote that. And that was legislative intransigence, as observers at the time concluded.

          1. That was a usurpation. The court did the Democrat’s bidding. The reasoning of the decision was nonsensical, and imposed an unreasonably short deadline to adhere to their unlawful and irrational standard.

      2. Courts should never design their own maps. That is a function explicitly given to the legislature as they are electorally vulnerable to the populace.

        1. But then you have the people who get elected decide how they get elected next time. It’s like having the police in charge of the rules for policing.

    2. I get the impression that much of the Reason staff favor a Kritarchy, that is, judicial rule, as they always seem to place high trust in the courts.

      1. Journalists and judges. The only high moralistic people on the planet. Unless they arent a democrat.

        Sadly they believe that.

  10. “Independent” commissions? Hardly. Let a computer figure out the districts. If it means a township or county or boro or community is split, so what. That just means that said entity now has two voices speaking for it instead of one.

    1. Who programs the computer?

      1. We build a computer to design the computer like in Hitchhikers guide.

      2. A consortium headed by H.A.L. and SKYNET.

        1. Oh, yes, how could I forget; COLOSSUS.

      3. It is not really a question of who programs the computer but what is the expected out come. The fact is all redistricting is currently done by computers. The difference is whether you ask the computer to create districts of equal population or districts where your party get the maximum number of seats.

    2. It’s where you go when your ideas fail.

  11. Theoretical independent commissions are usually drawn from a self-selected pool of activists. It does not make them independent and it insulates them from being representative of the electorate.

    The advocates of proportionality have the problem that, right now, Democrat leaning voters tend to cluster in urban areas, while GOP voters tend to be evenly spread. Which means that any system that maximizes compactness and congruence will disfavor the Democrats.

    And any proportion based election system gives the parties the power chose who actually represents, as they will choose who fills what seats are assigned to them.

    1. In California, the independent commission members have to be independent. In that they could not have been in office, were not on any party committee, were not precinct chairmen, etc for the prior two years or so.

      But it didn’t work out. We still have gerrymandering going on. We might not have “activists” on the committee, but we still have puppets. Either activists that got through anyway, or the politically naive easily coerced into compliance through Roberts Rules of Order.

      The solution to the gerrymander problem is to take human hands OFF of the map making. Create a simple and open computer algorithm and use that. Keep the politicians’ hands off the knobs.

      1. Why don’t we just do this for every problem? Since humans can’t come to a fair compromise and agreement on any political issue, let’s have a computer program do it. Like some sort of ….artificial…intelligence?

    2. Micket Rat…Here in the People’s Republic of NJ, we have a ‘commission’ to advise on drawing boundaries. It is bullshit. They gerrymander just as much as the People’s Duma NJ Legislature did.

      Look, people are people. They are going to gerrymander. The system we have is imperfect. But it is a damned sight better than anything else I see in the world today. Seriously, who has a better alternative that is implementable here? No one.

      I am not a fan of using AI to draw districts, because in the end, I want local people making those district drawing decisions. I want to hold someone to account if I don’t like it.

    3. “Which means that any system that maximizes compactness and congruence will disfavor the Democrats.”

      Feature, not bug.

      1. Exactly. Geographic diversity is rewarded and Democrats don’t have it.

    4. Out of curiosity, what does “congruence” mean in this context?

      1. Read the article.

  12. If the Democratic Party wasn’t far left wing batcrap crazy I might agree on some kind of consensus solution. But now that they have aligned themselves with nutcase socialist marxist assholes and racist black lives matter groups it’s more important to keep them out of power and away from making decisions until they grow up and grow out of immature ideologies that spectacularly failed in the 20th century.

  13. So my local district looks fair. It’s a somewhat compact blob, not long and stretch, nor sinewy or windy. But zoom in close. Really close. There. That straight line between the two districts. That straight line? Yeah, it’s not straight. It’s a zipper dodging left and right along two residential blocks as it goes. Grab this house, but not that house. Sense would have said make the line go right down the alley between the houses. Nope. Someone deliberately chose which voters went where.

    Once years ago a friend and school board member asked if there was a computer algorithm to fairly district the city. A new school needed to be built, and htey had to make sure everything was balanced according to race and income. That wasn’t a strict requirement, but they wanted to make sure no school because the “Black” school or the “Affluent” school or the “wrong side of tracks” school.

    So I came up with a fairly simple algorithm. It was fair. It emphasized parental preferences and neighborhoods. And you really didn’t need a computer to do it. Just follow a single set of rules. But the school board overwhelmingly rejected it. Because what the algorithm did NOT include was political input. The whole point of the districts was that the school board got to draw the districts. No politician input and it was a non starter.

    1. Her political affiliation is not mentioned once in that entire article, which I’m sure you can guess due to that fact alone.

      But it’s totally Republicans who are trying to stifle freedom of speech and expression.

      1. I mean, I don’t have a huge problem with this. These people have had no issue making public and destroying the lives of anyone who dares speak out against them, when my mom gets murdered in a robbery and they can’t catch the guys because the cops are no longer there, I’m gonna want to know who the hell was responsible.

        1. It’s Republicans turning the Democrats’ technique against them? Who can forget the successful attempt in Washington to use FOIA to get the names of sognatories to a ballot initiative, for the express purpose of going to harrass them?

          Or a similar thing with gun permits, for shaming, which backfired and got turned into a roadmap for crooks to houses without guns?

    2. Did it mention the “protesters” who shot each other?

    3. Did it mention the couple who defended their home from “protesters” (by coming onto their porch with guns) who were doxxed by “protesters” who demand revenge upon them?

  14. The task for Team R is actually quite simple: Regardless of how the national election turns out, they must win decisively this year in the state legislature races. They draw the boundaries.

    1. That is less and less the case as the courts intervene and reform movemets demand “independent” commissions.

      1. That is 2 states out of 50. Yeah, I’ll stay with my point. Team R has to win state legislatures to have influence for the next decade.

  15. One district contains California, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington (state), Hawaii, Michigan, and Austin. The other district contains everyone else.
    We save a lot of money on legislative expenses with only two house members, The lobbyists who really run things only have to have three employees, which frees up a lot of real estate in DC for the homeless.
    Win-win-win.

  16. There is ZERO possibility of reform from inside the system – because the only thing DeRps agree on is that the status quo must be maintained because they can control the status quo. Structurally, there are plenty of ways of ‘fixing’ the system – many described above. But nothing would inevitably ‘fix’ the system and therefore whatever is implemented will be implemented to ensure that it DOESN’T fix anything but merely looks like it does.

    The only way out that I see is one that is driven by third parties (electoral outsiders) and independent-registered voters (who currently exist and don’t need to be ‘sold’ into existence). Not to advocate a particular solution – which is ALWAYS the fucking problem with third parties. So quit with the PR or abdication to algorithms or IRV or any other gee-whiz thing that first requires that you be ELECTED in order to implement it.

    Start by focusing on government reform as the PRIMARY mission of that third party. fuck noninterventionist foreign policy, private roads, end the drug war, and everything else that can only happen AFTER successful elections in a competitive system. First you gotta get to the competitive system. So what if G’s and L’s and C’s and S’s and indies and all the letters of the alphabet other than D’s and R’s can’t agree on what happens after they get a competitive system. Presumably they CAN agree on intelligibility and accountability OF a competitive system. And if they can’t, they are worse than DeRp’s.

    And the only way they can get to that is via PROCESS. Force the discussion into public (transparency) so it can’t be hijacked and stuck inside a ‘commission’ or some other black box. And force the agenda by getting possible maps/districts/ideas out there NOW. The first-mover ALWAYS ends up setting the agenda. The 2020 census has now occurred. So there is a six-month or so window before the DeRp’s organizationally take over that redistricting agenda – and it then soon after closes again for another decade. Until then, it is third parties and indies and other outsider noodges who have the chance to force the process to change.

    1. Same problem that happened to the TEA Party- mission creep.

      Even if you have folks with essentially the same ideology, the various players have their own take which leads to splintering, and you are no better off (or marginally so) than you were before. On the plus side, it affects the major parties as well (which leads to third parties being king makers).

      Duverger’s law is always going to be a feature of our current elections. I’d be willing to have state legislators appoint senators again just to throw some turbulence into the mix.

      1. The whole point of something driven by outsiders is precisely because they don’t agree on ideology. Find out what they CAN agree on – and do that and make that a serious focus. G’s and L’s have no problem agreeing on stuff like ballot access and prez debates. Those are both electoral process stuff too. As also is something as mundane as ‘restoring civility’. Those are exactly the things that can appeal to independent voters on the basis that they aren’t DeRp’s either and that’s where the external pressure that forces transparency will come from.

        The problem, for L’s at least, is that the entire issue of process is irrelevant to them. It is literally the last item in their very long platform before ‘the right to overthrow the government’. Even though every single preceding item requires it.

  17. The most democratic thing we could do would be a multi-party system where people could form coalitions and gain representation irrespective of their address.

  18. My small Illinois village of 16000 is split among 3 congressional districts, every census they change the lines and we’re shuffled to another democrat rep. But whoever the rep is, you can be sure (s)he never represents our interest. Most districts near Chicago are designed with a foot in the city and wide swaths into the suburbs. and somehow that foot always kicks everyones wide swaths. Notice no one ever complains about

    1. …gerrymandering in Illinois.

      1. I just looked at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illinois%27s_congressional_districts. Wow. The fourth district especially is a rather… interesting… shape. I guess that’s what you get when judges demand that you have a majority Hispanic district at all costs. Grab some Mexicans on the south side and some Puerto Ricans on the north side, extend a narrow band west through a few suburbs, and to top it off, connect the north and south parts with a stretch of I-294.

        1. Can you imagine how painful it would be to run for office in the fifteenth district?

          1. If you’re a democrat not painful at all. The votes will be provided on election day if you campaign or not.

        2. Check out Maryland’s districts.

  19. Why should accidents of geography define political affiliations?

    Why not simply divide the country into 435 virtual congressional districts and let people choose their district? This wouldn’t just get the question of gerrymandering off the table, it would also get rid of the issue of political parties, since people would choose their district affiliation according to their primary political concerns.

    1. There’s nothing sacrosanct about the number 435. I’d rather the number fluctuated with they population: one district per 500,000 people, say, or even one pretty 100,000. Assign people randomly to the district. Hell, to keep things interesting, reshuffle the districts before every national election. Every district instantly becomes competitive and stays that way, and you probably increase gridlock into the bargain, thereby preserving some semblance of liberty.

    2. That would involve way too much strategizing; victory would go to whoever got their people into the “right” districts efficiently. I don’t think that’s any better than what we have.

      It would also make it virtually impossible for the representatives to visit their constituents.

      1. That would involve way too much strategizing; victory would go to whoever got their people into the “right” districts efficiently.

        People themselves choose which virtual districts they would be part of. And, yes, they can and should strategize and coordinate to best represent their interests.

        I don’t think that’s any better than what we have.

        You don’t think it’s better for people to choose themselves who represents them than to be forced into districts by gerrymandering? Really?

        It would also make it virtually impossible for the representatives to visit their constituents.

        That was a problem pre-Internet, it’s not a problem now.

  20. “Let’s call it Madison.”

    I have a better idea. Let’s call it Toussaint Louverture. A name more in keeping with these troubled times.

    1. Playboy once wrote SWANS would have a number one album when the world was on the verge of collapse (roughly).

      As good as any as a soundtrack for the summer.

  21. In addition to the redistricting changes, California also changed the primary structure. The top-two primary system keeps the general election competitive in districts that are overwhelmingly tilted towards one party.

    1. Open primaries was one of the nails in that coffin. Top two is just one of the last.

    2. And they allowed ballot harvesting, which switched a bunch of seats from 2016 to 2018

  22. “Are you against gerrymandering? Of course you are!”

    Not really.

    I can’t think of anyone better than state legislatures to redraw the lines of districts as populations change. Invariably, the solutions seem to be about taking discretion away from representatives and giving the ability to make these decisions to people who are unaccountable.

    Markets are better than politicians at making the choices people want because companies are more responsive to customers than politicians are to voters, but politicians are more responsive to voters than they are to courts and bureaucrats.

    I haven’t seen a proposed effective solution yet that didn’t involve taking discretion to shape districts away from politicians that are accountable to the voters, at least, and giving that discretion someone or something even less accountable to the voters. The solution to our problems is not to give the voters and the people accountable to them fewer choices.

    1. “politicians that are accountable to the voters”

      This is far too naive. Partisan politicians are accountable to their party which in large part funds their campaigns. Voters should be wary of the poisonous role that partisanship plays in political issues.

      1. You’re an idiot.

        1. You’re a pitiful partisan clinging to a dysfunctional duopoly.

          1. No no. Ken’s a libertarian who happens to buy into the right-wing narrative. Big difference.

    2. The politicians are already using computers to gerrymander, so why can’t they use them to un-gerrymander? Leaving the choice to gerrymander up to them is the reason there’s a problem. Courts could decide there’s a fundamental right at stake (which is the actual reason majoritarianism is not absolute), and that shouldn’t be too hard or controversial to find in a constitution written for a democracy.

  23. IMO as a strategic matter, the best thing libertarians could do right now is advocate for electoral reform, including (1) ranked choice voting and (2) expansion of the House of Representatives.

    1. And why would that be good for libertarians? Looks to me that would be primarily good for socialists.

  24. The author ignores a less obvious but more effective solution to the gerrymandering problem: decreasing the size of each district by increasing the size of House.

    Its time to make House a 10000+ member body (one rep per 30,000, per Art I, Sec 2 Clause 3) Unwieldy? Yes! but only if done stupidly.

    In 1929, Congress limited membership to 435 simple due to the physical limitation of the building. At that time, each district would be about 250k people; now districts are 800k (undemocratic!).

    But now, in the time of the cyberspace and web conferencing, we are no longer limited by physical space. Some congressmen will still have to walk the halls of DC, but the rest can stay local, in constant contact with constituents.

    Kill 3+ birds with one stone: De-fang gerrymandering, dilute influence of big money, drain the swamp. Imaging House Rep campaigning being done door-to-door…face-to-face again, instead of one-way media like Facebook and broadcast TV.

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