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Pennsylvania's Gerrymandered Districts Were Bad. Will Tossing Them Be Even Worse?

The GOP-drawn districts are some of the worst gerrymandering in the country. But the state Supreme Court waded into ugly partisan politics by killing them.

Pennsylvania's congressional districts are a gerrymandered mess.

Take Montgomery County, where a 20-mile drive from the King of Prussia Mall, near the county's southern border, to Hatfield, on the northern border, requires you to pass through four different districts. You'd start in the 13th District (which resembles King Ghidorah, the three-headed Japanese kaiju) before crossing through a tendril of the 7th District, a cartoonish monstrosity. Then you'll enter the 6th district, which swoops like a shooting star from central Pennsylvania into the Philly 'burbs. Soon you're back in the 7th again before hitting another portion of the 13th and ending your journey in the actually-somewhat-reasonable-looking 8th.*

But the chaotic congressional districts in the Philly suburbs—and across the rest of the state—won't be used for this year's midterm elections. On Monday the state Supreme Court ordered the Pennsylvania legislature to redraw the district lines from scratch, giving them just three weeks to do it. The order creates an entirely different kind of chaos, and it may boost Democratic chances in the upcoming election.

If a new map doesn't make it through both chambers of the state legislature and get signed by Gov. Tom Wolf by February 15, then the court gave itself the authority to take over the process and draw a new map. The tight timetable is necessary because the state's primaries are held in mid-May, so candidates have to start filing and circulating petitions soon. At this moment, no prospective congressional candidate (nor any incumbent) knows in which district he or she resides.

Wolf, a Democrat, released a stoic statement about the ruling, saying he believes "gerrymandering is wrong and consistently have stated that the current maps are unfair to Pennsylvanians." Privately, Democrats are jumping for joy and Republicans are fuming. Drew Crompton, senior counsel for Senate President Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), says the Senate GOP will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to issue a stay halting the state court's order.

"I think its going to be difficult for the legislature to come up with a plan in three weeks, given the controversial nature of it," says Terry Madonna, a pollster and political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College.

There are, to put it mildly, huge political implications here. Republicans currently hold 13 of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional seats, in no small part because of the state's creative gerrymanders.

The state legislature and governor's mansion were in Republican hands when the current map was approved in 2011. There was also a Republican majority on the Supreme Court. (Pennsylvania's judges are elected via a partisan process and serve in what are technincally non-partisan roles on the bench**—but c'mon, everyone knows that's not a real thing.) As in other states where GOP-drawn maps have come under fire from the courts, Republicans seized on the opportunity presented by landslide wins in the 2010 election to cement their congressional majority with a conveniently -timed redistricting.

That Pennsylvania's congressional map is gerrymandered is plain to anyone who cares to look. That those bizarre lines give an edge to Republicans is also rather clear. In 2012, Democratic candidates received slightly more than 50 percent of the votes but were relegated to winning just five of the 18 seats. In 2014, GOP candidates got 56 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania's congressional races—and held their 13 seats. In 2016, Republicans got 54 percent and again won 13 districts.

But nothing about this is simple. When the map was drawn in 2011, the state Democratic Party declined to file a lawsuit challenging it (despite the fact that lawsuits were filed by outside groups; all were dismissed). At the time, Democratic leaders thought they had gotten a pretty good deal, all things considered. They had five deep blue districts unassailable by Republicans or anyone else. (Remember: Redistricting isn't merely a game of one party against another. It's a way party officials can exert control over members of their own tribe.) And a handful of the red-leaning districts were at least potentially winnable—even if it didn't turn out that way.

Republicans no longer hold all the cards in Pennsylvania. The GOP still controls the legislature, but the governor is a Democrat and Democrats have a 5–2 edge on the Supreme Court. Any map that gets approved within the next three weeks will have to get Wolf's approval, and the Democrat-controlled Supreme Court has given itself a trump card by claiming it can draw the maps itself if nothing gets passed. Republicans are boxed into a corner.

And that's why Monday's ruling has a whiff of politics to it. Maybe more than whiff. After all, it's "one of the best pieces of news House Democrats could get," notes Vox.

The precedent being set is worrisome. Even if the five Democratic justices had nothing but good intentions in tossing the map (a map that, again, is plainly political and terrible), this looks like a partisan play aimed at giving Democrats a better shot at winning the House in 2018. Courts should endeavor to stay above the political fray, and even the appearance of partisan motivation should be avoided in a case that is about literally nothing other than partisan political interests. That's particularly true in a state where judges are elected. Will every subsequent change in the balance of the state Supreme Court bring with it a command to redraw the congressional districts to the majority of the bench's liking? If so, Supreme Court elections in Pennsylvania just gained a nasty new level of significance.

Part of the problem is that there's really no objective standard when it comes to drawing districts. Federal law requires all congressional districts to have the same number of people, and the state constitution mandates that districts must be "compact and contiguious." But there's again no objective way to determind exactly how compact is compact enough.

Rather than rushing to redraw Pennsylvania's congressional map in the next few weeks, the court could have avoided the appearence of political motivation by letting the current map stand and setting clearer standards for what will or will not be allowed in the next redistricting cycle. Adding some detail to the vague "compact and contiguous" rules would make it clearer to lawmakers of both parties that a repeat of 2011's shenanigans will not be tolerated.

Republicans deserve to get burned for partisan maps drawn in bad faith. But Democrats don't deserve any credit for going along with those maps when they were drawn only to change course when they have a chance to affect the outcome of a congressional election.

None of that will solve Pennsylvania's—or America's—gerrymandering problem.

*For those who are curious, this route follows U.S. 422 West from the King of Prussia Mall to the interchange with Pennsylvania Route 363, then follows Route 363 North through Lansdale, then Pennsylvania Route 63 a short distance into Hatfield. It's a pretty straight shot across the middle of Montgomery County, no chicanery necessary.

** CORRECTION: This post has been corrected to clarify the process by which Pennsylvania judges are elected.

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  • Brian||

    Will someone please tell me how the districts are supposed to be drawn?

    Everyone seems an expert at explaining how bad they are, but they never seem to get around to saying what correct districting looks like.

    And that's all you need to know that this whole voting business really should be the authority on whatever it says it wants, or something.

  • Tony||

    Contiguous is unambiguous. Compact is apparently subject to interpretation.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Actually it wouldn't have to be.

    Given a state, coming up with n contiguous areas of equal population with the most compact areas will resolve to a single solution which a computer can arrive at moderately quickly.

    If you went that route, the gerrymandering would have to occur by messing with the census data...

  • Brian||

    At which point, people would still bitch because that method of districting would still favor one party over another, which is the definition of gerrymandering.

  • Rhywun||

    They would bitch, but that is not the definition of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering requires bias. A computer program can do the districting without bias.

  • Rat on a train||

    Disparate impact is proof of bias.

  • Rhywun||

    BS

  • Azathoth!!||

    Yes, disparate impact IS bullshit.

    But it's the law of the land.

    Reason grovelingly worships at it's altar

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    They would bitch, but that is not the definition of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering requires bias. A computer program can do the districting without bias.

    Not if I write the program.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Exactly

  • mpercy||

    Except unbiased computer programs don't make enough districts black enough. Republicans realized that when they were forced to make majority-minority districts those districts were also majority democrat, but the remaining districts were more republican too. So they happily went along with making majority- minority or at least more-minority districts.

    Since Democrats also tend to self-select in dense urban areas, while Republicans tend to be in the burbs Andy rural areas. Every district will have to reach into philly to get balance. That won't be weird at all.

    When the computer programs don't produce black enough or "balanced" enough the howls will continue.

    Also, just remember that gerrymandering does not impact presidential elections in winner-take-all states, nor goverships, nor us senate elections. Us representative and state houses are affected.

  • Brandybuck||

    Compact areas won't split up heavily urban areas, meaning fewer urban districts, meaning fewer Democrat get elected. Can't have that. The party who gets to draw the districts get to decide who gets to win the elections.

    What you can do is impose an area to perimeter ratio. Windier district boundaries get rejected while more compact districts get a pass. Democrats can still split up the urban districts, but they can't play games at the city margins. Republicans can have their rural districts, but can't futz about with suburbs.

  • Vernon Depner||

    "Democrats can still split up the urban districts"

    And the goal, of course, is to share the Negroes so that they end up with as many Democrat reps as possible, and that the Black voters are represented by white reps. Got to keep 'em on the reservation.

  • p3orion||

    On the contrary, Democrat-drawn districts tend to concentrate all the blacks in as few districts as possible, so that white Democrats will not have to make the uncomfortable choice of whether to be as "tolerant of diversity" as they claim, or to vote for a white Republican. EVERY black Democrat in the House of Representatives has come from a district in which a majority of the voters are black. Of course, while this solves their problem, it also lends itself to many of these districts being represented by complete idiots who are barely qualified to go out in public, much less hold public office; I offer as evidence Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson Lee, Hank "will Guam tip over?" Johnson.

  • Brian||

    I'm pretty sure you can gerrymander districts that are contiguous and compact.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Sure, but it's a lot harder. Cases like Pennsylvania here? They didn't even try.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    I would think that they should follow county borders as much as possible. No district should contain more than one partial county.

  • Rhywun||

    County populations differ vastly - that won't work because each district has to have roughly the same number of people.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Of course it will work.

    Step 1: Decide how many people you want per district.
    Step 2: Divide state population by that number. This defines the number of districts you will have.
    Step 3: Start assigning counties to districts, starting with the lowest population counties and working upward. You will have to work out contiguity at this time as well, so as not to assign a district counties on opposite sides of the state.
    Step 4: Once you are left with counties with population totals higher than the number of people you want per district, you start dividing them up to bring districts up to the right population. Then you'll have left just a couple of districts that comprise one single portion of a very populous county.

  • Rhywun||

    You might be right. Too distracted by work to test it out.

  • DaveSs||

    Additionally, when you get to those high population counties, city and town boundaries must be respected in the same manner as was done with counties.

    Cities within the county that are smaller in population than the maximum population of a district shall be be entirely within a district.
    Districts within a city that exceeds the maximum population of a district shall be entirely within the boundaries of the city, save that one district that may, to ensure equal district population may extend to a contiguous area outside the city.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Agreed! Once you get to within town/city boundaries, any gerrymandering that you can do should be so minimal as to be ineffective.

  • gormadoc||

    What about small cities that straddle county corners that have a comparable population to a district?

  • DaveSs||

    You mean a city that exists in multiple counties and that city is roughly the same population as a district.

    Easy, all parts of that city are in the same district, and if it needs a few more people include a town or city adjacent that can be included without intersecting if possible.

    If on the other hand the city is a bit larger than a district then you need to find parts of the city to intersect and be part of a different district. Easiest is to start with the county boundaries.


    Bottom line of this method is to maximize the preservation of existing political boundaries. A political boundary shall only be intersected a maximum of one time.

  • VinniUSMC||

    Obviously the right way to draw districts is whichever way benefits the current majority. /s

    When you have 13 + districts in a state, and greater than 50% of the population lives on 2% of the land area (in 3 or 4 distinct population centers), things become difficult (not that this describes Pennsylvania, just a generalization).

    I think one of the rules that could be added to compact and contiguous is minimization of perimeter. Maybe the shapes should all be required to be convex polygons (setting aside shape of state borders).

    "Fair partitions of convex polygons" is tangential to this type of process, but instead of asking how to cut shapes of equal perimeter and area, we can ask how to cut shapes of minimal perimeter and equal population.

    But, if you do that, now you run into the question of whether a district should be homogeneous with reference to the population of which a given representative represents. Any district which is bare majority urban is bound to poorly represent rural interests, and any district which is bare majority rural is bound to poorly represent urban interests. That's without considering any special interest groups, which run afoul of Civil Rights era laws regarding equal representation.

    There are only so many ways that districts can be drawn to be "nice looking" and those are nearly always going to conflict with one group or another.

  • Vernon Depner||

    Doing redistricting?

  • JoeBlow123||

    I have an easy solution. Make one district. Make it proportional representation with a 5-10% necessary minimum threshold.

    Done. Don't even need three weeks.

  • Marty Feldman's Eyes||

    That's a bingo.

  • JFree||

    they never seem to get around to saying what correct districting looks like

    That's because there is no such thing as correct districting in any election/voting system. There is no technological fix. More districts is generally better than fewer districts - but the US seems to have no interest in expanding legislatures in synch with (much less faster than) population. Which means that critter incumbency gets more valuable over time and the more valuable something gets, the more it will be protected.

    Election systems always devolve to oligarchy and gerrymandering is just one way of getting there. It's why Athens went to sortition instead (random selection of legislators - like jury duty). Where it wouldn't matter one whit what district lines look like. But that too requires legislatures that grow with population - and 'representation' that isn't geographic (eg liquid democracy)

    The status quo won't do any of that. It will only happen when private parties just go ahead and do it - and let competition force the issue (in the same way that bitcoin was started to compete with currency).

  • Mark22||

    The correct district is one that represents a community of people with shared interests sending a representative to Washington.

    The obvious way of achieving that would be to let people choose their districts themselves, and not necessarily geographically.

  • JFree||

    That's what liquid democracy can do - you get to designate who represents you on particular issues - eg Ron Wyden or Rand Paul on govt surveillance. The problem with that alone is that it still an election system which will tend towards oligarchy - control the agenda/communications/money and you will control the outcomes. And those elected incumbents will eventually control that - entrench themselves - and we have the same thing as today.

    Something in the structure still has to push in the other direction

  • Mickey Rat||

    Worse, is the threat thstvthe Court will draw the districts if the legislature does not meet their arbitrary deadline. The court has no authority to do such a thing and hence is behaving in a lawless manner. This smacks of gamesmanship that undermines the faith in the institutions of a republic.

  • Rhywun||

    Yep, it's complete BS. They need to wait until after the next census like everybody else does.

  • damikesc||

    Don't see how this does not go to SCOTUS. State courts have no power to do this, that seems patently obvious.

  • Happy Chandler||

    Easy . It's the Constitution. States are responsible for drawing districts. The Supreme Court doesn't have jurisdiction over the state constitution.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The PA SC does not have authority to do districting at all.

  • damikesc||

    That's my thought. State SC don't have the power to unilaterally seize power that they don't actually possess. The legislature should just tell them to go fuck themselves and ignore the order, but that would look bad.

  • shawn_dude||

    They have the authority to declare something in violation of the state constitution or other laws. Also, don't forget that the court is the third branch of government. It's job is to keep the other two branches from coloring outside the lines.

  • mandel||

    Obviously the right way to draw districts is whichever way benefits the current majority. /s

    When you have 13 + districts in a state, and greater than 50% of the population lives on 2% of the land area (in 3 or 4 distinct population centers), things become difficult (not that this describes Pennsylvania, just a generalization).

    I think one of the rules that could be added to compact and contiguous is minimization of perimeter. Maybe the shapes should all be required to be convex polygons (setting aside shape of state borders).

    "Fair partitions of convex polygons" is tangential to this type of process, but instead of asking how to cut shapes of equal perimeter and area, we can ask how to cut shapes of minimal perimeter and equal population.

    But, if you do that, now you run into the question of whether a district should be homogeneous with reference to the population of which a given representative represents. Any district which is bare majority urban is bound to poorly represent rural interests, and any district which is bare majority rural is bound to poorly represent urban interests. https://tinyurl.com/y9mvn8yp That's without considering any special interest groups, which run afoul of Civil Rights era laws regarding equal representation.

    There are only so many ways that districts can be drawn to be "nice looking" and those are nearly always going to conflict with one group or another.

  • JesseAz||

    The State Constitution has nothing to do with it if it affects federal elections. It is a Federal matter (federal elections) so it involves the Federal Constitution.

    "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, except as to the Places of chusing Senators."

    Note the explicit Legislature thereof part.

    The article appears to state this effects more than state districting:
    " Federal law requires all congressional districts to have the same number of people, and the state constitution mandates that districts must be "compact and contiguious." "

    Does this effect federal legislative districting or just state? Is there an overlap? I do not know Pennsylvania law. According to the Pa elections board, there are 18 legislative seats for the House as well. So I'm asking if this effects state and federal.

  • EscherEnigma||

    The Federal Constitution gives authority to states, but states are allowed to write rules to govern themselves and/or delegate authority to someone else (an election commission or independent board or something).

    And if the state passes a law or writes it into their constitution that they must/must not do something, then it becomes fair game for someone to take the state to state court over not playing by their own rules. Whereupon, being empowered to resolve such legal disputes, the courts must have the power to say "fix this or I will".

    I suppose you could argue that the court shouldn't be able to create it's own map, and instead it's recourse if the legislature doesn't comply is holding the entire legislature in contempt and throwing them all in jail until they work out an acceptable map, but... actually, no. I'm suddenly okay with this. The court doesn't have the authority to draw it's own map, but it does have the authority to hold the legislature in contempt and jail 'em all if they don't make a better map.

  • Jgalt1975||

    The case was decided based on the PA state constitution, not the federal constitution. There is no basis for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court other than arguing that redistricting violates the republican form of government provision of the federal constitution and that won't even be able to be determined until the new districts are drawn.

  • damikesc||

    I'd argue that a court deciding that it has power that it, in no way, possesses would lead to SCOTUS interference. Especially given the sheer partisan nature of the ruling.

  • DarrenM||

    The SCOTUS won't get involved with this. It's a state matter plus it would look bad.

  • Karen24||

    The decision was grounded in the PA constitution, which the PA court has the authority to interpret. The US Supreme Ct can't review decisions about state law unless there is a federal issue involved. Here there isn't one.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Does the PA constitution give the PA SC authority to usurp the PA legislature's power to determine the districts? Because that is what this ruling contemplates. That may be a basis for a federal issue.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Eh, it's no different then the SCOTUS stepping in and saying that Congress has passed an unconstitutional law, or that it's passed a law in conflict with some other law, and similar things.

    In this case, the state Supreme Court is saying that the state legislature has passed an unconstitutional map (by the state constitution). The whole "redo it or we will" is the general "enforcing court orders" thing.

    It's possible/probable that someone will try to legally contest that the court doesn't have the authority to do this, but even if the SCOTUS ultimately says that the State SC made the wrong choice, it probably won't say that it didn't have the authority to make the choice.

    So long answer short: Probably yes.

  • OGREtheTroll||

    Our political leaders are so incompetent they can't even gerrymander properly.

    Pennsylvania is as easy as it gets for drawing districts. Every election its clear that the cities are full of Democrat voters and the rest of the state is full of Republican voters. If you are a Dem you draw the districts so that the city districts take in as much suburbs as possible without tilting the district to the other side; ie you start in the cities and draw outward, having as many districts as you can include portions of the cities. If you are Rep you contain the cities into as few districts as possible, with nearby districts snagging a few of the Dem voters in the city so their votes become useless in R heavy suburban districts. This leaves you with a few districts of high D voter concentration, but the majority being large areas of majority R voters.

    Easy as pie.

  • shawn_dude||

    The "professional" phrase for what you describe is "Packing and Cracking."

  • Tony||

    In 2012, Democratic candidates received slightly more than 50 percent of the votes but were relegated to winning just five of the 18 seats.

    Nonpartisan freethinking libertarians find a way to justify this subversion of democracy, because they love arcane nonsensical rules!

  • Mickey Rat||

    While the districts are drawn to maximize the effect, when one party's voters segregate themselves into physically compact political monocultures, that is statistically likely outcome. Furyjermore the Democrats did not have much problems with gerrymandering when it was their party that was winning.

    But the Democrats love imposing arcane nonsensical rules on everyone (see ACA).

  • Azathoth!!||

    But the Democrats love imposing arcane nonsensical rules on everyone else

    FTFY

  • Brian||

    The irony is you're bitching because of how your favorite method of making decisions is coming out.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    So many of the Commonwealth's problems would have been not if it went to a parttime legislature all those years ago. Now if they could do something with the regular election fraud in Filthadipshitholeia, PA politics would be all sparkling clean.

  • sarcasmic||

    Why is it called "gerrymandering?"

    Why not "fredmandering" or "tonymandering" or "sarahmandering?"

  • Rhywun||

    They should call it "roundtine".

  • Get To Da Chippah||

  • sarcasmic||

    fuck you for taking the air out of my sarcasm balloon, and thanks for the history lesson

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Sorry.

    Alternate answer: "Because saying "Elbridgemandering" is a good way to sprain your tongue."

  • p3orion||

    And on that point, it's pronounced "Gary-mandering" rather than "Jerry-mandering" because that is how Gerry's name was pronounced.

    One more way for me to be a pedantic asshole.

  • chemjeff||

    Hey sarcasmic good to see you this morning. How are you doing?

  • Brian||

    Newmandering

  • EscherEnigma||

    According to Google, the origin of the word is such:

    early 19th century: from the name of Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts + salamander, from the supposed similarity between a salamander and the shape of a new voting district on a map drawn when he was in office (1812), the creation of which was felt to favor his party: the map (with claws, wings, and fangs added), was published in the Boston Weekly Messenger, with the title The Gerry-Mander .
  • NoVaNick||

    Funny how the dems dp not complain about gerrymandering, and engage in it themselves (see MD and MA for examples) when they're in control. Don't think any attempt to redraw these districts, which no doubt will make the cities the center of pies cut up to favor dems, will be constitutional.

    I can't think of anything that would be "fair" to voters of either party, except maybe to get rid of parties altogether.

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    It's okay when the Democrats do it.

    /Tony

  • Tony||

    Because I've totally taken that position which I'm sure you can cite.

  • Brian||

    Does pretending to be someone else really work often for you?

  • Get To Da Chippah||

    Can I cite your apparent lack of interest when the subject is Democrat controlled Gerrymandering?

    A simple 'gerrymandering is bad regardless of the party that benefits' from you would serve to make you seem more objective about the topic.

  • Tony||

    I'm for fair districts regardless of who benefits because I actually believe in the virtues of democracy.

  • JesseAz||

    Define fair. A study by Stanford a few years back said geographically determined proportioned districting across the nation would change the House makeup by about 5 seats. This is due to clustering of Democrats into urban areas.

  • Rhywun||

    There *are* well-defined measures of "compactness" - the software that states use to churn out these monstrosities is perfectly capable of applying these measures to generate non-biased disticts. The fact that no state will consider using them is telling.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Russians can hack the software. No can do.

  • JesseAz||

    Define non-biased. Does the software also take into account the proscribed biased districting for minority-majority disctricts required by the CRA?

  • shawn_dude||

    There are a number of states, California being one, that leave redistricting up to a non-partisan committee. Why do you think these states wouldn't use them and what does that tell you?

  • ||

    Permitting political parties to draw up districts invites abuse. Non-partisan boards or committees are a better idea, but abuses of that power are still inevitable.

    I'm in favor of lines derived strictly from geography: they'll be imperfect, but least liable to human corruption.

  • Mickey Rat||

    "Non-partisan committees" are unicorns. Calling something non-partisan does not make it so.

  • ||

    Of course. That's part of the reason for the disclaimer that abuses of power are inevitable.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Their nonexistence means they cannot be a "better idea".

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Non-partisan boards are almost always created by partisan bodies.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    Gerrymandering is one of the unattractive aspects of our system of government, and I'm not sure it's avoidable. Whoever draws up that map is going to have a point of view, and maybe it's better for the biases to be open than to be concealed in a flood of piety. Do the parties play games with each other, and maneuver against third parties? Of course. How else. And naturally the districts will be drawn up with an eye on every advantage. And that will go back and forth. And that is what the system was designed to do; shift. Eliminate rotten boroughs that could be controlled with a handful of votes.

    There fight over redistricting is likely to me messy, vulgar, and nasty. Just nowhere near as messy, vulgar, and nasty as living with a monarch and a hereditary aristocracy.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Whoever draws up that map is going to have a point of view, and maybe it's better for the biases to be open than to be concealed in a flood of piety.


    That's what some states do. California, for example, has a voting commission made up of equal Democrats and Republicans†. The 2016 map gave us 73% Democrats with 63% of the vote (giving Republicans 27% of the seats with 35% of the vote).

    For comparison, 2016 Pennsylvania gave us 72% Republican with 54% of the vote (giving Democrats 28 % of the seats with 46% of the vote).

    So while it doesn't give us perfectly proportional representation (something you can't realistically achieve with single-seat districts), it does help make the number of seats match much closer to the votes.

    Long story short: like most problems of bias, by addressing it head-on and making sure you fairly consider it in the process, you can reduce it's effect on the outcome.
    ________
    †Which it should be noted, does not fairly match the ratio of Democrats to Republicans in the state.

  • Hugh Akston||

    This is a nice reminder that one reason not to vote is that vote structuring is done for you well in advance, rendering your actual vote all but superfluous.

  • DarrenM||

    Yes. Everyone's vote is completely meaningless, which is why political parties put no effort into getting anyone to vote for them.

  • chemjeff||

    There is no requirement that House seats have to be apportioned by district.
    Would it be better, or worse, for parties to simply run slates of candidates for an entire state?
    Discuss!

  • 68W58||

    At least part of what a representative is supposed to do is address concerns within his or her district. The interests of voters in different parts of a state will be different. I would no more want the voters of Raleigh and Charlotte to overwhelmingly determine what happens in my rural western NC district than I would want California, New York, Texas and Florida to overwhelmingly determine national elections-they will have their own representatives to watch out for their interests in either case. The Senate is supposed to represent the interests of a state as a whole, we don't need to duplicate that in the House.

  • H. Farnham||

    Unless you do ranked-choice voting or some system, I think it would be much less representative. Think 53 democrat reps from Cali, 32 republican reps from Texas, etc.

  • JesseAz||

    The city of Tucson, Az does this. Everyone gets to vote for every district representative for the City Council. The City is 65% Dem, 35% GOP with two districts pretty heavily GOP. The City Council is all democrats.

  • EscherEnigma||

    I feel it should be noted that even if every Republican running for City Council in 2017 had won their seat, there would only be a single Republican on the City Council. Because they only ran one guy. In 2015 they did run one person in each district, but didn't have a candidate for mayor.

    So the weird "at-large general election, district primary" aside†, I think part of the problem for Tucson AZ might just be the Tucson AZ Republican Party.
    ________
    †Which does sound pretty bad. While I personally prefer multi-seat districts, Tucson AZ is a nice example of how to do it wrong.

  • Brian||

    Really, we should just abandon geographic districting, and have a multi-party system, where people are free to form coalitions and send a rep to the legislature without worrying about geographic constraints.

  • chemjeff||

    That is what I am kind of thinking too. Get rid of this nonsense of geographical boundaries for House districts. They just get gamed by the parties in the long run, and really, what is even the point anymore if NOT for these gerrymandering games?

  • damikesc||

    Because NY State cannot have views different than NYC has, can it?

  • Mickey Rat||

    Right, NYS is completely homogenuous, it is not as if the people who live in the North Country or the Southern Tier have completely different interests and lifestyles from Manhattanites, right?

  • EscherEnigma||

    Well, it can, but look at the numbers.

    (2016 estimates)
    Population of New York State: 19.75 million
    Population of New York City: 8.54 million (42.2% of the state population)

    2016 Presidential election voters in New York State: 7.8 million
    2016 Presidential election voters in New York City: 2.8 million (35.4% of total state-wide voters)

    Outside of NYC, the state split for Clinton fairly weakly at 2.3 million to 2.1 million (very close to 1:1). NYC split for Clinton at 2.1 million to .5 million (about 4:1). So the state as a whole split for Clinton at 4.4 million to 2.5 million† (somewhere around 9:5 or 2:1). So in that case, while NYC did have a much stronger bias then the state as a whole, it didn't actually change things.

    Keeping NYC constant, in order to have NYC have a different "view" then the state as a whole would have required the "outside NYC" voters to break for trump at 3.0 million to 1.4 million (about 2:1).

    So sure. The state can have different "views" then the city. But (A) at least in the 2016 presidential election, the city was significantly under-voting for it's population anyway, and (B) with the strength of the city's bias, the state would need a very (but not quite as) strong bias in the other direction before the city and state weren't agreeing.

    Unless you mean "NY up>state cannot have different views then NYC has, can it?", but that's a whole different (rhetorical) question.
    ________
    †Sums don't match up because I'm rounding.

  • Rhywun||

    Burbclaves

  • Rich||

    Obviously the solution is random assignment of each voter to a district, where the number of districts is determined by the census.

    The ultimate in (non-)gerrymandering.

  • Rich||

    But I see Brian has a better idea.

  • DarrenM||

    Just cut to the chase. Random selection of representatives. This way, people don't have to bother voting at all.

  • LaKeisha||

    I have to confess, it seems rather curious as to why this is suddenly such a horrible thing, when gerrymandering was actually praised and encouraged back in the late 1980's and early 1990's to guarantee that African-American candidates would be elected.
    When the Democratic Party still controlled the Georgia legislature, they drew up one district that was just a big bloc in a predominantly-Black section of Augusta, then had a twenty-foot wide strip running 90 miles down the middle of the Savannah River…to represent all those catfish, I guess…and then took it back inland to include another big bloc of a predominantly-Black section of Savannah. The entire district looked like a big dog bone.
    And the same people who thought that was fine and wonderful are some of the same people who are now raising hell. Congressman John Lewis praised the re-drawing of two districts because…after the careful gerrymandering of the district boundary lines…it created an overwhelming majority of Black voters in each district. It was great when Democrats ran things...until Republicans got elected, and started their own gerrymandering.
    I guess it's only a problem when the "wrong people" are doing it.

  • dave b.||

    Generally, the people are supposed to elect their representatives, not the other way around.

  • Lester224||

    It's wrong when anybody does it. If gross partisan gerrymandering was eliminated it would cut both ways.

  • EscherEnigma||

    I have to confess, it seems rather curious as to why this is suddenly such a horrible thing [...]


    It's us damn millennials. Once we became adults and started looking at our political system we all went "you fuckers did what?!"

  • p3orion||

    I recall that back in the '90s, Mel Watt's 12th district was drawn to include a stretch of a single lane of Interstate 85, to connect Charlotte with Greensboro.

  • TourGuideFromTheFuture||

    See, children, back in the early 21st century, humans were still very primitive. They had begun to make a certain amount of technological progress, but they were still very much stymied by superstition and arcane, psychologically distressing systems for interacting with each other.

    I know, I know: it seems silly, from our perspective, how they're using the fundamental building blocks of the modern world. But, look at them: despite all the tools at their disposal to try to actually solve their problems, all they could do was bicker and argue about district lines on maps and how votes were supposed to come out, because they literally couldn't think of anything else to do, as if they hadn't yet even discovered electricity, germ theory, a good half of their entire planet, and still thought violence and slavery were the best way to mobilize resources to solve problems. In a way, its like they were still trapped in ways of thinking dominated by their ancestors from millennia ago.

    Anyway, it's kind of sad, but, before we move on: Look! Over there! Someone's throwing a man in a cage for using a plan to make himself feel good!

  • H. Farnham||

    Heinlein did it better.

    Still... very enjoyable, thanks.

  • Brandybuck||

    It's 2018. We have the technology. We don't need politicians setting their own districts any more. We can have software do it. Open source software that everyone can see. The districts can be fair and impartial. It's not like it's rocket science.

  • Rhywun||

    Nobody wants fair and impartial districts.

  • mpercy||

    exactly!

  • Rich||

    OT: Sessions announces DOJ probe of missing FBI text messages

    The FBI told lawmakers in a Sunday letter that the bureau did not have a record of messages exchanged over a roughly five-month period between Strzok and Page, citing problems with the bureau's issued mobile phones over "rollouts, provisioning, and software upgrades."

    Oh, FFS!

  • widget||

    I have no solution to this problem but one obvious thing that should not be done is to split school districts in separate voting districts, IMHO. But that's what PA does. As a curiosity, PA has a government jurisdiction called a township.

    A Pennsylvania township or township under Pennsylvania laws is one class of the three types of municipalities codified, in Pennsylvania—smaller municipal class legal entities providing local self-government functions in the majority of land areas in the more rural regions. Townships act as the lowest level municipal corporations of governance of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, a U.S. state of the United States of America.

    The Philadelphia suburbs were rural 100 years ago, not so much since about 1960.

  • Rhywun||

    Most of the older states have those. In NY, every county is divided into towns, except for the 5 counties that make up NYC.

  • creech||

    Why not split school districts or boros or townships or cities? There's an apparent advantage when you have two congressmen to solicit when the school board needs a grant or the boro needs sewers or whatever. From the point of view of "free shit" it helps to have two reps pandering to you instead of one: more committees, more contacts, more pork.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Pennsylvania has four types of "municipal" governments, in order from lowest population density to highest: townships, boroughs, towns, and cities.

  • Azathoth!!||

    So, what did the PA districts look like when Dems had control?

    Gerrymandered to fuck and back?

    Ah.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    Crazy small-government solution:

    Don't let the government draw districts at all. Just say Pennsylvania has 18 congressional districts, and when people register to vote, they can choose which district they want to be in.

  • Incomprehensible Bitching||

    Anarchy like that solves nothing, wrecker!

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I mostly want to see this just because I'm curious what the equilibrium would end up being. Would districts still be mostly geographic? Would they segregate by party?

  • crufus||

    Interesting idea. How about if each voter was randomly assigned to a district?

  • EscherEnigma||

    So long as each "district" ends up with close-enough population totals, that'd probably be acceptable.

  • Drave Robber||

    Name that District contest winner: 'Goofy kicking Donald Duck'

    Looks more like Korean peninsula peeing on Japan to me.

  • SchillMcGuffin||

    I live in that particularly egregious Montgomery County district the piece mentions. Years ago I lived in the 13th, but at one point its surprisingly honorable Democratic Representative ran kind of an insurgent campaign for the Senate, and when the districts were redrawn, his was effectively broken up (at Republican direction, but with the Democrats not expending any effort to protect their "loose cannon"). My part got attached to a sizeable piece of western Philadelphia, which effectively locked it in as the deepest of blue -- The usual gerrymandering process is to draw up a few districts with nearly 100% registration for your opponent, and then more districts that are more balanced, but seem to have a reliable margin in favor of your party.

    So I was thrilled when, some time later, they redrew the districts again, and I got to be in the "cartoonish" serpentine 7th district, since it made my vote at least somewhat more likely to matter than if I'd remained annexed to Philadelphia.

  • Lester224||

    Voter efficiency metrics based on past electoral results can create fairer more representative districts. Vague guidelines won't do it. There are plenty of published articles on such metrics. Basically, given reasonably compact contiguous districts, you draw lines so that, based on recent results, you minimize "wasted" votes (votes given to candidates that are already winning by big margins and votes cast in districts where the choice of the voter didn't win) of both parties. Using such efficiency gap metrics you can avoid districts that are "packed" (lots of voters of one party jammed in to avoid their impact on other districts) or "cracked" (voters of one part spread out purposefully into so many districts that they cannot have any impact).

    Drawing up fairer districts is not an insurmountable problem. And yes, votes in previous elections are a decent guideline for voting in future elections.

  • LynchPin1477||

    But what if a district is just naturally uncompetitive because most of the people living in it share the same ideology, even without gerrymandering? I understand the appeal of competitive elections but shouldn't the goal be fairly representing the population of an logically defined community?

  • Lester224||

    Some compact districts like urban centers will still be uncompetitive, but this sort of algorithm can correct those which are unnaturally skewed by partisans. For example, an urban center could be "cracked" to distribute it's voters into minorities within neighboring suburban districts.

  • LynchPin1477||

    That doesn't answer my second question.

  • Mark22||

    You're arguing for a system that attempts to impose strict majoritarianism. That's not acceptable. The US has a pluralistic, representative form of government.

  • EscherEnigma||

    I understand the appeal of competitive elections but shouldn't the goal be fairly representing the population of an logically defined community?


    Well, you can always go to multi-seat districts with proportional voting.

  • Mark22||

    Voter efficiency metrics are corrupt and unfair because they bias districts based on desired election outcomes.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Why does anyone care about Gerrymandering? Congress keeps ceding power to the executive, so it seems congressional districts are just a fun topic, like arguing about D&D.

  • LynchPin1477||

    Gerrymandering is as good an example as any of the cynical nature of politics, but it's got to be somewhere around #37 of problems I care about. It's a symptom of the inescapable politics of, well, politics. It's not a cause of anything, other than giving the party in power during a redistricting year the upper hand.

  • Finrod||

    Here's my anti-gerrymandering amendment. It won't completely eliminate gerrymandering (because that would be highly impractical if not impossible), but it will get rid of all the egregious abuses:

    No Congressional District shall be drawn that does not contain 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.

    This combined with blowing up the 435 cap on the House and setting maximum district size at 50,000 (as the First Congress intended) would make the House much more representative.

  • Mark22||

    Are you crazy? Do you realize how expensive it would be for lobbyists to buy off 3300 Representatives? /Sarc

  • ||

    A computer-generated map that is compact & contiguous exists. https://imgur.com/a/VDcWx.jpg

  • ||

  • madam margaret||

    lol…they should follow watershed boundaries

  • Dhecker||

    Why not have the Libertarian Party and other parties that have never been represented in Congress join in the fun?

  • BambiB||

    Why not just come up with a rule that requires straight edges and state boundaries as the only allowable district borders with an aspect ratio no greater than 3:1?

  • Faber||

    Sheesh, that route line used as an example is almost my morning commute.

  • davidtracy||

    In August 2016, in Illinois, a proposal to amend the constitution to reform the way districts are drawn was shot down by the Illinois Supreme Court. Officially, the court said that the amendment proposal did not fit the narrow legal window for citizen initiatives to change the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

    But the challenge was brought by the lead attorney for the People's Map, a group of prominent racial and ethnic minority businessmen. Translation: the proposal was shot down because it did not allow for racial gerrymandering.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    Let the party that has the lesser representation set the districts. Negative feedback cycle.

  • Mark22||

    Just be done with it and give rules.

    For example, "every district must be simply connected with a ratio of the square of the circumference to the area no greater than 8"

    Or even "districts are determined by the following clustering procedure among households weighted by number of household members and constrained by rivers and watersheds ..."

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