MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

Pennsylvania's Redistricting Crisis Deepens as SCOTUS Takes Hard Pass on Getting Involved

The SCOTUS won't get involved in a dispute over Pennsylvania's congressional district lines. Could an algorithm succeed where lawmakers and judges have failed?

As half the state nursed a celebratory Super Bowl hangover, Pennsylvania took another half-step towards a full-blown constitutional crisis. Today the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected a request from Republicans in the state legislature, who sought an order stopping the state Supreme Court from ordering new congressional maps before the 2018 election.

Yes, it's a bit confusing. Here's how we got here. The state's high court ruled last month that current congressional district lines, drawn by Republicans in 2011, were unconstitutional. New maps must be passed by the state legislature and signed by the Democratic governor before February 9, the state court said, or else the court would design its own maps for the upcoming midterm elections. Republicans in the legislature refused to comply and asked the U.S. Supreme Court to tell the state court it was out of line.

Now that the SCOTUS has refused to do that, the legislature has just four days to get new maps drawn up and passed.

"Now, all parties must focus on getting a fair map in place," said Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat. "Gerrymandering is wrong and we must correct errors of the past with the existing map."

If Republicans continue to refuse to draw new maps, the state Supreme Court may have to back up its threat to take matters into its own hands. It's not at all clear that the state court has the authority to do that, since both the state and federal constitutions give redistricting authority to the legislature. Should the state court produce new maps and order them used for the midterms, another GOP-backed appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court would seem likely.

The crisis in Pennsylvania—like other ongoing court battles over partisan redistricting, in such places as North Carolina and Wisconsin—points to a broader problem. It's relatively easy to show that redistricting is often done in partisan, biased ways, but it's much harder to find a workable alternative.

One supposed solution to gerrymandering is supposedly independent "redistricting commissions" filled with supposedly independent normal people.

The main problem with that approach is that the list of people who care about redistricting enough to serve on such a panel and are not interested in partisan politics is just about zero. As Reason's Ron Bailey has pointed out, independent redistricting commissions tend to gerrymander just as much as legislators do. In California, a citizens redistricting commission in 2010 was infiltrated by union-backed groups and, no surprise, produced maps that pretty clearly advantage Democratic candidates.

Another possible solution—one that the state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania has now embraced—involves greater activism from judges. In the past, courts at all levels generally have been unwilling to strike down maps purely for reasons of partisan bias (though there is a history of courts rejecting maps that deliberately diluted minority populations' votes).

The problem with that is that it raises questions about the impartiality of judges. Republicans in Pennsylvania are howling about comments made by Supreme Court Justice David Wecht in 2015, when he was running for a seat on the state Supreme Court. "Gerrymandering is an absolute abomination. It is a travesty. It is deeply wrong," he said at a candidate forum in Philadelphia. "There are only 5 Democrats in the Congress, as opposed to 13 Republicans. Think about it. Do we need a new Supreme Court? I think you know the answer."

Judicial elections are tricky things. There's a fine line between a judge informing voters about his stance on an important legal issue and a judge campaigning for a seat on the bench so he can overturn a partisan map for partisan reasons. Wecht, no surprise, was one of the five justices on the state Supreme Court to vote in favor of tossing the 2011 maps.

What's to be done? One possible solution is to let computers do the dirty work for us. Like with many other jobs that humans don't care to do or don't do very well, computers might actually be pretty good at this whole redistricting thing.

For example, here's the 2011 congressional map side-by-side with a potential district map drawn by a computer algorithm as part of FiveThirtyEight's "Atlas of Redistricting" series (check out the maps for other states here):

Sources: Wikimedia Commons (left); FiveThirtyEight, Atlas of Redistricting (right)Sources: Wikimedia Commons (left); FiveThirtyEight, Atlas of Redistricting (right)

The computer-drawn maps would give Democrats an edge in two Philadelphia-based districts, two other districts in the Philly suburbs, and one district centered on Pittsburgh. Republicans would have a clear edge in nine other districts covering most of the rest of the state. That leaves four "highly competitive" districts along the eastern edge of the state, stretching from Scranton and Wilkes-Barre in the northeast to Bucks County just north of Philadelphia. The map would likely leave Republicans with an 11-7 edge in the state's congressional delegation—a margin the GOP should be pleased with, considering that there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state—instead of the current 13-5 split.

To my eye, the computer-drawn maps using county lines as their foundation do a nice job of grouping together Pennsylvania's various and often conflicting political communities. I'm not sure this represents the best possible congressional map—in fact, I'm not sure there is such a thing, period—but it's a pretty clear improvement over the cartoonish shapes and Democratic "vote sinks" that defined the 2011 maps.

If Republicans in Pennsylvania's legislature and Democrats in the state's governor's mansion and on the state's high court are unable to reach an agreement on what the new congressional districts should look like, maybe a novel experiment is in order. Put the computers in charge.

Photo Credit: Redistricting.state.pa.us

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Could an algorithm succeed where lawmakers and judges have failed?

    LET BITCOIN DECIDE THEIR FATE!

  • Don't look at me.||

    Make it a fucking square grid and be done with it. Assholes like this need to be voted out. They aren't serving anyone but themselves.

  • Jgalt1975||

    Except that doesn't work because congressional districts need to each have approximately the same populations (subject to no state being reduced below one seat)....

  • BYODB||


    If Republicans continue to refuse to draw new maps, the state Supreme Court may have to back up its threat to take matters into its own hands. It's not at all clear that the state court has the authority to do that, since both the state and federal constitutions give redistricting authority to the legislature.


    So what happens when the State Supreme Court is itself being unconstitutional, since it appears they have absolutely no say in that process whatsoever? The current process may be flawed, or might not be flawed, but one thing is for sure: it's not the courts job to get involved.

  • Tony||

    Courts can get involved with whatever they want to get involved with, and it kinda works out okay, and I say that as a small-d democrat. (Ask me again after Trump's record-number of appointments of 4th-tier law school graduates have had some time on the job.)

  • BYODB||

    False. If a power is specifically enumerated to a particular branch of government then it does not fall to any other branch without that eventuality being explicitly stated in law.

    At a glance this would appear to be more of a coup than a matter of law, but I'm assuming there is a state law somewhere that the legislature has run afoul of somehow. If there isn't, then I would expect the Congress to smack the legislature down somehow. Like change a law regarding the considerations for gerrymandering, for instance.

  • Tony||

    Would it be better for all if Congress were capable of legislating. No disagreement there. I said many years ago on these very pages that the Republican party's downward spiral into impotent dogmatism would necessarily result in the presidency and the court picking up the slack. The world spins on as they attempt, or don't attempt, to get themselves together.

    Nevertheless, I'm talking about reality, not what should be. If the courts decide it's their job to intervene, who tells them otherwise?

  • TrickyVic (old school)||

    ""If the courts decide it's their job to intervene, who tells them otherwise?"'

    Higher courts.

    Courts have specific duties. If the state constitution give authority for X to the legislature, then the courts can't do it. They can shoot down what the legislature does. but they can't create.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Truly principals over principles.

  • JP88||

    "Courts can get involved with whatever they want to get involved with, and it kinda works out okay..."

    So they can declare war? Raise or lower taxes? Set school curriculums? Make cigarettes illegal? Put you in jail for no reason?

    You are an authoritarian and support tyranny if you think it is ok for the courts to get involved in whatever they want.

  • ImanAzol||

    I've seen courts do several of those. He was stating a fact, not support of said fact.

  • epsilon given||

    This is Tony. He's gleeful that the Courts act as tyrants. He's not happy that the American public, and American institutions in general, are hostile to tyranny, so he has to be satisfied with what little crumbs he can get.

    In the meantime, the rest of us are wondering "What can we do to fix this?"

  • Tony||

    Computers are already in charge. That's what they use to draw the gerrymandered districts so precisely, which is why it's worse than ever. So why not? Just change the input criterion from maximum partisan advantage to maximum fairness/representation. If it's not a constitutional requirement it should be.

  • creech||

    Every voter has only one representative in Congress. What could be fairer than that?

  • Tony||

    A larger Congress is obviously necessary considering how much the population has grown since the current number was set. I'm for a larger Supreme Court as well.

  • cereal shake||

    Yay more assholes to bicker while they run my life.

  • Eidde||

    We already tried the experiment of a larger President and Chief Justice.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    It's an idea that's popular when you're losing.

  • Eidde||

    Are you trying to make a serious answer to a silly comment?

  • BYODB||

    Congress was intended to be around 30,000 people per representative. Then, Congress decided to put an end to that. I wonder why.

  • Eidde||

    "I'm sorry, Dave, my fairness algorithm doesn't allow your redistricting plan. The only way to make these districts fair is to reallocate the population so that each district has a fairer partisan mix. Therefore, my Relocation Bots will be sent out to move people around until they fit properly."

  • Eidde||

    "Republicans upstate are resisting my relocation bots - they don't want to go to the Philadelphia district to balance out the Democrats. There is only one solution to such illogical behavior..."

  • Tony||

    It's not like humans are doing such a bang-up job lately.

  • Eidde||

    Quiet, please, I'm working on the script of my next blockbuster movie, Terminator XVIII: Gerrymandering With Extreme Prejudice.

    With Arnold as the Terminator, and Jeff Goldblum as the scientist whose warnings are disregarded until it's nearly too late.

  • Sevo||

    Wherein the politicos chose their voters, rather than the other way 'round.

  • RoyMo||

    I think if you were going to do this in any state, Pennsylvania would be both the most entertaining and most disastrous. But people love WWII, so maybe we can go with entertaining.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Of course maximum fairness in Tony land means using the VRA to draw up districts by ethnicity, no matter how badly you have to gerrymander to get that result.

  • Tony||

    Nope. Clearly there is far too much representation of black and brown people in Congress already.

  • chemjeff||

    "maximum fairness"

    I cannot seem to find the "maximum fairness" button on my computer.

  • Longtobefree||

    It is a combination sequence; CTL-ALT-DEL

  • Eidde||

    By the way, check out the blue-colored Congressional district. Does it remind you of anything?

  • ImanAzol||

    No. ?

  • Mickey Rat||

    The problem with judicial activism is not the impartiality of judges. It is the basic structure of government and separation of powers with the judiciary unilaterally appointing itself a super legislature. That is the constitutional crisis, the lawlessness of the PA Supreme Court.

  • Robert||

    It usu. comes down to who the police decide to take orders from. Seriously. Although in this case, it's hard to figure how the police would enforce this.

  • Sammi||

    You're not fooling anyone Hihn

  • Robert||

    If it's like NY, the cops carry the ballots from the polling places. So...I got nuthin'. Seriously, I can't figure out how the people charged w wielding gov't force can even enforce this. Which is weird. The only instrument available is a blunt one, i.e. installing politicians at gunpoint.

  • Sammi||

    You're not fooling anyone Hihn

  • Mark22||

    That can't be Hihn: the comment is too coherent for Hihn (such as it is) and it doesn't have enough bold face or gratuitous name calling in it.

  • Brandon Lyon||

    One thing that would solve the problem overnight is if legislators could be held in contempt of court. As soon as it impacts them, they'll get working.

  • Eidde||

    That's just not creative enough. The courts can just go ahead and pass whatever laws they please, and they can leave the legislators to walk around free. Powerless but free.

  • Robert||

    I don't see how this doesn't lead to different factions of police shooting it out in the streets and/or in legislative halls.

  • Sammi||

    You're not fooling anyone Hihn.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I am SHOCKED to discover another government crisis engineered by Republicans flat out refusing to do their official duties.

    I am equally SHOCKED to discover all the "totally not just Republican" commenters repeating the Republican's bullshit talking points on the matter.

    If this keeps up, one might be left with the impression that libertarianism is just a Republican con job.

  • cereal shake||

    "repeating the Republican's bullshit talking points on the matter."

    Quote some for me.

  • The Last American Hero||

    Another VRA supporter decrying gerrymandering.

    Hint Stormy, it's the same mouthwash sloshing to the other cheek.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    I love how you think "VRA supporter" is an insult.

  • chemjeff||

    Oh Stormy c'mon. Lots of states are gerrymandered just as badly as Pennsylvania, both by D's and by R's. Look at Illinois and Maryland for example.

  • fafalone||

    If you have any doubt that's true just look at the writing and comments about net neutrality on this site. So disappointing to see Nicks outright lies and non-technical people telling life long sysops how wrong they are about how peering and transit work, all in order to follow the (R) teams desire to grant telecoms the power to stomp on the free market and build anti-competitive monopolies as they parrot falsehoods from Pai. Watch, I bet anything there's an article tomorrow repeating Pai's latest lie that expansion that started under Obama is actually because of the NN repeal, which commenters slamming everyone who points out the truth.

  • epsilon given||

    And I'm SHOCKED that Democrats are just now only voicing their opinions against Gerrymandering, now that they're being shut out of power by it, after having shut Republicans out of power by the same methods for decades.

    Surely, if Gerrymandering isn't keeping Democrats in power, then there must be something wrong with it, right?

    (Although I can't help put wonder: how did Republicans get in power in the first place, so that they could create these Republican-favored Gerrymander crap in the first place? Oh, I know! It's because Republicans won in districts Gerrymandered by Democrats to favor Democrats! This makes me wonder: just what are Democrats doing so that they are losing so many votes in Gerrymandered districts designed to favor Democrats?)

  • vek||

    Shit is manipulated everywhere, by both parties. Half the problem is that PEOPLE don't live in places that make sane districting easy/possible.

    In Washington where I live, you'd have to make stripes going east/west out of Seattle spanning the entire rest of the state to try to approach 50/50 competitive districts. Which would be whack too. The other way is to simply allow some obvious district to be gimmes for both sides, and split crossover areas reasonably. The algorithm seemed to be doing more or less this. It's fucked no matter what you do because of where people choose to live. I will soon be leaving the god forsaken communist wasteland known as Seattle for somewhere dominated by conservatives. I'll have to put up with some of their bible thumpy BS, but it'll be a great improvement over communism... This type of self sorting is exactly why this stuff is a problem. Not a lot to be done about it.

    But to paint this as an R problem, and not a R/D problem is bullshit.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    It's not at all clear that the state court has the authority to do that, since both the state and federal constitutions give redistricting authority to the legislature.

    Every other power given to the legislature is subject to judicial review and executive veto, why is this one particular legislative power apparently absolute? Oh right, it's not, as SCOTUS has repeatedly ruled, and Republican shills are just pretending it's not clear.

  • Mickey Rat||

    The rejection is of the court's claim that it has the authority to redraw the districts on its own if the legislature does not comply with its arbitrary deadline.

  • Robert||

    Simple solution: Have 1 political party draw the districts, then have the other party choose whether they want to label themselves the Democrats or the Republicans.

  • Sammi||

    You're not fooling anyone Hihn

  • Robert||

    Seriously, this would work & is standard advice in dispute resol'n. As long as the pols are free to pick either label, there's 0 incentive to favor either party in drawing the districts.

  • Sammi||

    You're not fooling anyone Hihn

  • Sammi||

    "resol'n"

    I kind of love how you think doing this is disguising anything.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Cute.

    But that assumes that voters would be fooled by swapping the hyphenated letters at the end of candidate names.

  • Agammamon||

    but it's much harder to find a workable alternative.

    Its really not that hard.

    1. Multiply the population by whatever the 'representative-to-population' ratio is supposed to be.

    2. Pick a point on the map. Randomly. Throw a dart at it or something.

    3. Expand a circle until it encloses whatever percentage of the population that each equal sized district is supposed to contain.

    4. Expand other circles from the perimeter of the first one until they too contain the appropriate number of people.

    5. Repeat until the state is filled.

    6. Smoosh the existing circles until they cover the little gaps that might be left.

  • Agammamon||

    No need for partisanship, heck almost no need for *people at all* once you get someone to code it.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Don't understand 5 -- you mean until the state is covered with circles or until the number of districts is reached?

    6 is pretty vague. Also you're going to have some very weird shaped districts spanning enormous areas.

  • Agammamon||

    You already know how many circles are needed based on population - so the state will automatically be filled with the right number of districts.

    As for 6, no - the circles will be touching so you'd just have a bunch of little uncovered areas where three or more touch. Then you just expand the three into that Gap to fill it.

  • Mark22||

    There are plenty of good algorithms; that isn't one of them. Any redistricting algorithm should at the very least have a well-defined output and not depend on randomness. It should ideally also take reasonable geographic and demographic boundaries into consideration.

    A better algorithm would be to start with US counties and unincorporated areas (about 3000 of them) and base congressional districts on combinations of those areas, under the restriction that congressional districts must be contiguous. The small number of counties that are too large by themselves for a congressional district may be split along other existing administrative boundaries (e.g., city districts).

  • MWill||

    I'm tired of the false equivalence. Reason needs to stop playing both sides against the middle and stand up and admit that the entire democratic party is now representative of main-line Marxism, both economically and culturally.

    I'm sorry, but the notion that one way of living is no better than any other is FALSE. The most successful nations on earth are those of white, Christian heritage. People want to cry about the blacks not being able to get ahead because of discrimination? Well there wasn't any discrimination when the first slave trading Europeans showed up off the coasts of Africa with boats and weapons more advanced than anything the black savages could have dreamed of in a million years! The blacks were ALREADY CATASTROPHICALLY BEHIND before slavery! Therefore slavery is not what is holding them back! They are POINT-BLANK INFERIOR!

    And lifestyle choices - guess who isn't successful? Faggots with AIDS and fucking drug addicts. TRADITIONAL CHRISTIAN MORALS make, statistically, for more successful outcomes. Not every time of course - there are bad Christian people and some functional coke-heads and alcoholics who make big bucks. But if you were betting your house on the future success of somebody, would you bet it on the hard-working guy who wears a suit and goes to church every Sunday, or the fucking faggot with green hair and tattoos and Hep C? THOSE TWO LIFESTYLES ARE NOT EQUALLY LIKELY TO BE SUCCESSFUL SO STOP PRETENDING THERE ISN'T A DIFFERENCE!!!

  • MWill||

    When the Marxist democratic party has been reduced to the ash-heap of history, THEN we can debate minutiae of philosophy within the broader right. But until that time passes, STOP ACTING LIKE REPUBLICANS ARE AS BAD AS DEMOCRATS. THEY ARE NOT. THEY ARE BETTER IN EVERY WAY AND IF YOU DO NOT ENDORSE REPUBLICANS, YOU ENDORSE MARXISM!!!

  • Agammamon||

    blah blah blah

  • chemjeff||

    I give it 7/10. The selective use of ALL CAPS was a nice touch - not too much, but not too few either. And you even managed to form complete sentences. That is always a plus. But you went too overboard in your abject racism. I doubt even the alt-righters talk amongst themselves as bluntly as you do.

  • Tony||

    Africans were building civilizations when white Christians were just a twinkle in Yahweh's eye.

  • Sammi||

    And yet somehow managed to fuck it up.

  • Mark22||

    Africans were building civilizations

    The Soviets, Chinese communists, and Nazis were building civilizations too. What's your point?

  • vek||

    They were building pretty lame civilizations... Fact is no BLACK African (Read NOT Arab) civilization ever got beyond where the Middle East/India/China got to thousands of years BC, or where Europe got maybe 1 thousand BC. That's the best of them. Most of Africa never got beyond where everywhere else was tens of thousands of years ago.

    Sub Saharan Africa is the lowest performing region on earth, and always has been. I think much of the disparity globally behind civilizational achievement had to do with random events (Americas not having beats of burden, some random asshole inventing bronze in one place first etc), but you can only take that so far... At some point you must accept there is something else going on.

    Of course there IS a scientifically valid reason for all this, one with thousands of data points backing the hypothesis... But it's not PC so I wouldn't dare mention it in polite company! Funny thing is it is accepted throughout most of Asia because they don't have white guilt, so maybe reason will return to the world when Europe burns itself to the ground through it's own stupidity. Sometimes you have to fall flat on your face before you can accept you were being an idiot, like with modern ultra egalitarianism, despite all the facts proving otherwise.

  • ||

    The other option is the Single transferable vote.

    If the entire state is too big then consider the Hare-Clark electoral system, a variation on the single transferable vote electoral system used for elections in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory.

    Advocates of the system claim that it allows political, racial, ethnic and religious minorities a greater voice in political discourse.

    Critics of the system claim that it allows political, racial, ethnic and religious minorities a greater voice in political discourse.

  • ||

    An actual legitimate complaint against the Single transferable vote is that it relies on a complex series of calculations that are quite beyond the average voter in the counting and tabulation.

    If the the tabulation of vote counts is shrouded in mystery large numbers of voters are going to question the legitimacy of the count.

  • Walt Peterson||

    Ranked choice voting is as simple as 1-2-3. Is the tabulation mysterious to some? Maybe. But, so is the current system, and many doubt its legitimacy already.

  • Mark22||

    The other option is the Single transferable vote. ... Hare-Clark electoral system

    That presumes that we want proportional representation; we don't.

  • ||

    Why not?

    What's wrong with people having political representation?

  • Walt Peterson||

    The Hare-Clark system as used in Australia tabulates votes for individual candidates, not parties. In fact, ranked choice voting as used in Cambridge, Mass is totally non-partisan.

  • vek||

    Ranked choice is a pretty decent concept. I imagine, if it came along with other reforms, we could see a LOT more third parties getting elected. The way we're setup to essentially only allow for two parties in the USA is pretty whack. I do like some parts of how European parliaments are structured because of their favorability towards third parties.

  • Sevo||

    "...In California, a citizens redistricting commission in 2010 was infiltrated by union-backed groups and, no surprise, produced maps that pretty clearly advantage Democratic candidates...."

    NOTHING happens in CA politics that isn't subject to a heaping helping of union influence.

  • chemjeff||

    Why do we even need districts? That is what I keep coming back to. Just get rid of the damn things, and let parties run statewide slates of candidates.

  • ||

    The main complaint there is that "proper" republicanism requires that you vote for a person, not a party. So-called "Party List" systems have been responsible for all kinds of mischief in Europe.

    Advocates of the Single transferable vote claim that their system allows both the personal vote and the elimination of gerrymandering.

    See my comment above.

  • ||

    Also we are stuck with "one man, one vote" which various courts have interpreted as not allowing multi-member districts.

    This, in spite of the fact that the fifty-percent-minus-one-vote (which can end up being an actual majority in elections where the winner of a plurality of votes is elected) minority is in a very real sense disenfranchised.

  • Walt Peterson||

    You don't need party lists for ranked choice voting.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Because then the largest metro areas will decide the entire state's representation, with the rural and small town areas effectively disenfranchised.

    Same reason why we have the EC instead of a national popular vote.

  • Walt Peterson||

    Not so. With at-large, ranked choice voting there is a stronger chance that organized minorities, whether geographical, ethnic, economic, partisan, or philosophical can achieve representation. But the key is ORGANIZATION.

  • Walt Peterson||

    In fact, with regard to the electoral college, Republicans in PA complained for years that they couldn't win an electoral vote there. It was only in 2016 that they finally won, after a very long time (Was Reagan the last?). If Presidential Electors were chosen by ranked choice voting, the electoral votes in PA could be more evenly split.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    Also you'd probably just wind up with one party getting all the seats for the state in that scenario.

    If you were doing proportional representation that would be defensible (e.g. if there are 20 seats and Dems beat GOP 55% - 45%, the top 11 Dems and 9 GOPers get in) other than the inevitable focus on metro areas.

  • Walt Peterson||

    Not necessarily so. Chances are you would end up with with a composition that is more representative of the electorate. There would be greater opportunities for third party and independent candidates to win. In fact, with at large, ranked choice voting it would be very unlikely that one party would win all the seats, unless that party was overwhelmingly favored in the first place.

  • Mark22||

    Why do we even need districts?

    Because representatives are supposed to represent the interests of communities, and communities and community membership traditionally are a local, geographic concept. Community membership not only means voting for things you like, it also means living with the consequences of your choices, and that requires some stability.

    Statewide slates of candidates are a bad idea because they implement none of that. However, stable but non-geographic community membership might be a way. Or a compromise might be reached in which the state is partitioned into congressional districts, but you can choose to vote in your district or any neighboring district.

  • Walt Peterson||

    Communities are not solely geographic. With at large, ranked choice voting, there are more opportunities for non-geographic communities to gain representation.

  • buddhastalin||

    Statewide winner-take-all was how it was done in the early days of the Republic, IIRC.

  • Deflator Mouse||

    If Republicans in Pennsylvania's legislature and Democrats in the state's governor's mansion and on the state's high court are unable to reach an agreement on what the new congressional districts should look like, maybe a novel experiment is in order. Put the computers in charge.

    If the computer is in charge, whoever programs the computer is really in charge. Who chooses the algorithm? Any complex algorithm has parameters that can be tweaked to engineer a certain outcome. Who is in charge of setting the parameters?

    You pretty much need to have an algorithm that's so simple that tweaking it for a particular outcome is nearly impossible, or allow the legislature to determine the map but set extremely strict requirements on the district boundaries so that most gerrymandering would be impossible.

  • Don't look at me.||

    Might not be such a problem if we didn't vote for the same power mad idiots back into office.

  • Mark22||

    If algorithms don't reach the desired progressive outcome, then progressives simply accuse algorithms of being racist.

  • vek||

    ALSO, the computers aren't being racist... They're perfectly color blind. The problem is that people, illogically, don't like the outcomes of fact based decisions. Stuff in the article:

    Blacks and latinos were charged higher interest rates than whites and asians! Uhhh, that's because they have worse credit, and are more likely to default. The computer made the right call.

    Black people are more likely to commit future crimes! Uhhh, that's because they statistically are.

    If you look at underlying stats, the truth is blacks are exactly where they deserve to be based on education levels, intelligence testing etc. If they ever want to do better, THEY HAVE TO DO BETTER on their own. Handing out cushy jobs to unqualified people isn't going to solve anything. One need look no further than South Africa, and how it is completely falling apart, to see what that kind of thinking will do.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Skynet starts as a partisan, you know.

  • vek||

    But he'll be for Team Red right??? If so, I mean it could be worse... Imagine if Skynet were a Hillarybot or Bernie Bro!!! LOL

  • Longtobefree||

    Zip codes would be better than counties. They are tweaked based on population density already, generally consider geographic boundaries that would affect 'common interests', and were created more recently that county lines.
    That said, NO COMPUTERS!
    Bad enough they are taking over the cars.

  • Dan S.||

    Computer algorithms are bound to do a better job of creating fair districts than people do. If the computers are not given any data about the partisan leanings of people in various areas, then they will not base their district lines on such (nonexistent, to them) data. Go for it.

  • vek||

    But that's the exact opposite of what people want to accomplish. They want to make districts so they're competitive. If you go by geographical layout/population only people tend to cluster politically. So you'd just have a ton of non competitive districts. Which may in fact be fine, but it's not what many people claim they want.

  • EscherEnigma||

    It's not at all clear that the state court has the authority to do that, since both the state and federal constitutions give redistricting authority to the legislature.


    Federal and state constitutions also give legislating authority to the legislature, and courts still have the authority to step in and say "you done fucked up boys". Re-drawing the map themselves is a little weird, but what's the alternative? Hold all of the state legislature in contempt and throw them in prison until they make an acceptable map?

    I mean, I'm all for that, but this "they don't have the authority" argument pretty much ignores the judicial branch's role as a co-equal branch of government to check and balance the executive and legislative branches.

  • Walt Peterson||

    I seem to recall back in the 1970's, a court threw out the state legislative districts in Ohio. When the legislature couldn't agree on new districts, the court ordered the entire state legislature to be elected at large.

  • EscherEnigma||

    Another thought (or rather, dead horse): multi-seat districts with some variety of ranked choice or proportional voting would solve most of these "gerrymandering" problems. The reason we don't use them is because they greatly reduce the ability of representatives to chose their voters and allow parties outside of the big-two to have a much greater chance of being elected.

    But it's not like we don't already know the "best answer" here. It's just that the courts can't impose that one, and our legislators are did-incentivized to do so.

  • ||

    i think COMPUTERS ARE SMARTER THAN COMMUNIST DEMORATS, AND MORE HONEST.

  • epsilon given||

    So the 538 redistricting (and we can all trust 538 to support Hillary be bipartisan, right?) basically gives Democrats two more seats...yet the Democrats *still* wouldn't have control of the House?

    On the other hand, it would be *really* nice if Pennsylvanian Libertarians could have at least *one* seat in the House. Why don't we create a district just for Libertarians? Of course, that poor, lonely Libertarian will speak herself hoarse trying to convince the rest of Pennsylvania's House to be reasonable -- that is, she'll have absolutely no effect on the output of the House -- but at least Libertarians will be represented, right?

    Methinks that the Democrats protest too much.

  • Walt Peterson||

    If no party has a majority, independent and minor party representatives get to have a lot of input.

  • vek||

    Come on now, we all know the lone libertarian will be a middle aged white guy. Let's be real here ;)

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online