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Do we need it? Yes. Is California the place to start? Hell, no. As Brad Plumer pointed out (here [1] and here [2]), Texas is carved out into something that helps the Republicans control the whole national House of Representatives. Meanwhile, in California, we’re supposed to go all impartial.


If redistricting is important–and it is–then let’s start in the places with the worst abuses. They’re not hard to find. At a minimum, start with Texas. Then we’ll talk.

Redistricting was intended as a way of adapting to changing numbers of voters. It has turned into a travesty of democracy where the voters no longer choose the politicians. The politicians now choose their voters. (Discussed also in an earlier post, Democracy Doesn’t Work [3].)

That obviously has to stop, but who should be drawing the new districts, if not the corrupt politicians who caused the problem?

Redistricting is a mapping problem that uses statistics. What you’re really trying to do is find the most compact regions that have approximately equal numbers of voters, with allowances made for geography, ease of access to polling places, and the like.

Retired judges (who were to be the experts in the California initiative Prop. 77) don’t necessarily know anything about mapping or statistics. I’m not sure why anyone would consider that districts drawn by one set of amateurs (judges) will be better than those drawn by another set (politicians).

Districts should be redrawn by mousy bureaucrats in the US Geological Survey, people who actually do this sort of thing for a living, people who know how to use GIS (geographical information systems). To make sure the scientists haven’t been suborned in some fashion, one could have three sets of redistricting maps: one by the USGS, one by left-leaning GIS experts (Harvard?), one by right-leaning GIS experts (Brigham Young?), and then let the retired judges choose between them.

Note that nobody will do it this way. It doesn’t allow enough wiggle room away from the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.

8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Redistricting"

#1 Comment By SeanH On 19 Nov, 2005 @ 01:44

As a curious outside, what is with the American devotion to the “original intent of the framers of the Constitution”? Why does what they wanted matter?

#2 Comment By SeanH On 19 Nov, 2005 @ 01:45

gah, above should read “outsider”. It’s early.

#3 Comment By quixote On 19 Nov, 2005 @ 13:44

SeanH: Good question. In my case, the comment was supposed to be a dig at that mindset, since it’s generally the very same people who say they want nothing but “original intent” who object to every move toward greater fairness. My theory is that all the talk about original intent is just a way to paper over a nasty agenda. People seem to feel that old paper, whether it’s old religious paper like bibles or other holy books, or old political paper like the Constitution, works best for that purpose.

#4 Comment By Democracy Lover On 29 Nov, 2005 @ 05:45

I’ve been saying something like this for a long time. Redistricting is a computer problem and “mousy bureaucrats in the US Geological Survey” are exactly the right types to do this.

While we’re at it, why are elections being “supervised” by partisan politicians – state Secretaries of State who are Bush campaign managers? Elections should be managed and run by apolitical bureaucrats.

#5 Comment By Don Carow On 21 Jan, 2007 @ 22:19

The way to avoid gerrymandering is to have a computer do the job of redistricting. The computer input data can be limited to the Census data, and the software shows exactly how and why the lines were drawn. Funny how the commissioners aren’t required to know geometry, much less calculus, when supposedly their job is to configure areas of equal population. Any commissioner knows that Orange County is more conservative than San Francisco County. How can a voter know that a commissioner didn’t take advantage of that fact and many other facts to gerrymander? A computer is a machine that follows a series of instructions. The series of instructions is called software. The sofware acts only on the data it reads as input. Unlike the thinking of a commissioner, the software and its input can be published for voters to see. Other computers can verify the exactness of results.
Politicians have strained to ignore that a computer can do the job. Ironically, the precision of gerrymandering today is made possible by gerrymandering software. Redistricting software is limited to curious academic research, even though gerrymandering sofware is more difficult to write since it must also include voter registration data. The difference is that gerrymandering software is profitable, since there is a strong demand for it from politicians. No bill in the legislature will end gerrymandering, only an initiative could do that.

#6 Comment By quixote On 22 Jan, 2007 @ 14:30

Yeah, it’s maddening to watch politicians make a big, self-serving deal out of the redistricting “problem,” while there’s software out there that could probably run on a high-end PDA that could solve the whole thing.

As you point out, they don’t want it solved.

This, motor voter initiatives, and an Oregon-style mail-in election system, are probably the most important initiatives we could be working on. If we could spring the democratic process loose from the Rove’s of the country, I bet all the supposedly bigger problems would suddenly become much easier to act on.

#7 Comment By Thuzar On 01 Aug, 2014 @ 10:16

Howdy would you mind sharing which blog pratfolm youre using? Im planning to start my own blog in the near future but Im having a tough time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design and style seems different then most blogs and Im looking for something unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

#8 Comment By quixote On 01 Aug, 2014 @ 10:49

You fell into spam and when I was checking, it looked like you might not be.

The site uses a self-hosted install of WordPress (i.e. from wordpress.org, not wordpress.com). The theme was initially “Summersun” but I’ve modified it so much over the years I’m not sure it’s fair to blame that designer 😀 .

There’s some info in the footer of the page about other scripts and things I use. If you have specific questions, send them via the “Contact” form and I’ll see if I can answer them. I’m just an amateur at this stuff.