Friday, February 26, 2010

Boundaries I. Gerrymanders, and California's mess.

This is the first in a series on the issue of political, administrative, and electoral district boundaries. How many wars and lesser fights involve boundary disputes? How little “science” or even conventional wisdom seems to go into boundary creation? It may seem dry, but then what is football but a kind of fast moving boundary dispute.
I received a call today from a Democratic Party fund-raising group which was soliciting money to influence selected state legislature races, with the pitch that, this being a census year, the state legislatures would be responsible for redrawing congressional district lines. In an effort to control the governance within the national boundary of the U.S. the group hoped to elect enough state legislators to gerrymander congressional electoral districts to make sure that Democratic voters have a disproportional influence, or as they put it, to prevent the Republican Party from doing the same thing for their voters.
Gerrymandering, which has been practiced as an exact science by the California legislature, typically means that when setting up electoral districts, the party in control (here in California the Democrats) divides up the map so that the maximum number of districts have just an adequate safety margin of Democratic voters, while the Republicans are in a minority in the majority of districts, but are carefully concentrated in a few districts as an overwhelming majority. This can be done even while meeting one man, one vote requirements.
The result voids the very reason for electoral democracy - namely that the people, through representative elections can change the rules by which their society is governed. The rule creates representatives from the majority party who are reasonably sure they are going to be re-elected but most appeal to a wide range of voters, and it creates representatives from the minority party who, while they may be disgruntled that they can’t get their laws through, know that they personally are absolutely certain of retaining the honors and benefits of office, and need to only appeal to their partisan political base.
In California, where the voters have imposed the requirement that two thirds of the legislature must pass the budget or raise taxes, the party gerrymander system is particularly devastating because the Democrats, couldn’t gerrymander so blatantly as to prevent a bit more than a third of the seats being held by Republicans, and the Republicans who are elected have no motivation for finding any common ground. As a result, the state has been completely unable to cope with the economic downturn through adjustment of its budget and taxes to the current situation.
More in future blogs

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