Monday, 27 October 2003

Texas and Colorado redistricting thoughts

Greg Wythe ( notes a Washington Post account looking at the Texas and Colorado redistricting plans; notably, it quotes a lot of political scientists, instead of the legal scholars that generally appear in these accounts.

Notable quote from the article:

Whatever the answers, Thomas E. Mann, a senior scholar at the Brookings Institution, said that the Texas and Colorado experiments in multiple redistricting could have profound political consequences.

“If this is sustained, what we will have is a form of arms race where there is no restraint on keeping the game going on throughout a decade,” Mann said. “You ask, who wins in this process? This is a process designed not for citizens or voters but for politicians. It will lead politicians to say there are no limits. I think it threatens the legitimacy of democracy.”

I think this is the natural consequence of the Supreme Court’s muddled post-Baker jurisprudence: insistence on exact population equality between districts, despite the huge known sampling error of the Census making that equality essentially meaningless; a ridiculous level of deference to partisan gerrymanders coupled with the unclear dictates of the Voting Rights Act and vague, O‘Connoresque prohibitions against racial gerrymanders—which, due to bloc voting by African-Americans, are virtually indistinguishable from partisan gerrymanders; widespread abandonment of any conception of geographic compactness or geographic logic as desirable features for districts; naked partisanship by the federal judiciary; and a general failure to incorporate anything that political scientists who do applied and theoretical research in the field contribute. No wonder it’s a giant playground for political opportunists from both parties.

I still think the only viable way to eliminate this mischief is to incorporate an element of proportional representation into the system—even two or three seats in a state the size of Texas, elected by “top up” proportional representation, would be enough to both undermine the possible benefits of partisan gerrymanders and ensure that incumbent-protection gerrymanders don’t lead to a sclerotic delegation.