April 7, 2009

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There will be gubernatorial elections in 38 states in 2009 and 2010. This is causing great happiness or sorrow among hard core party members, depending on the situation.

Why the big fuss?

In 2010, states will redraw district lines as a result of the census. Some states will lose members of the US House of Representatives, other will gain members, and some will simply redraw lines to balance the number of residents in each district.

Sounds incredibly straightforward and boring, huh?

Unfortunately, there is a lot of politics inside the art of redrawing the lines. If the governor is from the same party as the party that controls the state legislature, they can basically redraw the lines in any manner they see fit, and there’s not much the minority party can do.

The key is to consolidate the constituents of your opponent into as few districts as possibly. Let’s take an example state that has 100 voters and 10 congressional districts. 60 are party A, 40 are party B. If the voters are equally dispersed among the districts, party A would win 6-4 in every district and thus all of the states representatives in the US House would be from party A.

Let’s mix those voters up bit.

District 1: 10 A, 0 B
District 2: 10 A, 0 B
District 3: 10 A, 0 B
District 4: 6 A, 4 B
District 5: 4 A, 6 B
District 6: 4 A, 6 B
District 7: 4 A, 6 B
District 8: 4 A, 6 B
District 9: 4 A, 6 B
District 10: 4 A, 6 B

By pushing half of the party A voters into districts 1-3, party B created a situation where they hold an advantage in 6 of the 10 districts!

Obviously, in the real word, it isn’t quite that blatant. But politicians do draw some funny looking districts in an attempt to minimize the impact of the opponents.  The name Gerrymander is in “honor” of Elbridge Gerry who served as governor of Massachusetts from 1810-1812.  Some of the districts drawn during his tenure resembled a salamander.  Gerry + salamander = gerrymander.

I loathe this practice nearly as much as I hate filibusters. I don’t know if there is a perfect solution, but I would propose creating a bipartisan commission to draw the boundaries – half of the members would be from each party. They would be forced to agree on a compromise (which, in theory, should be a map that is fair to both parties).

And if they refuse to agree? They would not be allowed to hold the next scheduled house race until the situation was resolved. A situation could be created where a state did not have representation for a period of time. Can you imagine the impact if a state like Texas or California was unable to seat representatives? My hope would be that the fear of backlash from voters would be enough to force a compromise.

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