Election Redistricting Problems

Recent events have made me ponder about problems with election districts.

The Texas debacle over redistricting that Democrats say unfairly favors Republicans.

The Georgia vs Ashcroft case arguing over the propriety of intentionally drawing primarily black districts for the purpose of essentially “giving” that minority a legislative seat.

Is there any way to fairly draw districts without causing too much strife?

I have an idea about how to resolve these kinds of disputes:

How about basing election districts off the results of a computer program that draws appropriate sized election districts in a completely random manner, in order to avoid charges of unfairness or bias?

Multi-member districts elected by proportional representation.

In the US case these would probably need to be state wide in some cases or city/multi-county in others.

Result- no political input into boundaries that would have any real effect.

Also has the benefit of having congressmen of differing parties representing each area.

Districting software already exists. The results generated therefrom are almost always ignored because they are unlikely to generate guaranteed party districts. One example of a situation that got to be very bad is Indianapolis. Indianapolis/Marion County council districts were borderline gerrymanders to begin with. A scheduled redistricting attempt was even worse and was vetoed by the mayor. The matter ended up going through the state courts, where a principle of strict adherence to the letter of state law was applied, which ended up producing districts of similar shape and rough symmetry.

But that had to go all the way to the top court in the state, and one political party is trying to file an appeal at the Federal level. The Republicans are filing an appeal on the basis that the court-mandated districts have insufficient “set-aside” districts gerrymandered to guarantee Black seats on the council.

(The court-mandated districting is predicted to end up with more Democrat seats than are now had.)

I agree up to a point. While multi-seat PR removes the winner takes all problem, it does not eliminate the problem of gerrymandering. Ireland operates multi-seat PR. Constituencies can be three, four or five seats and must be drawn so that each seat represents a number of people between defined upper and lower limits. Generally, however, it is considered that having a large number of three-seat constituencies is to the advantage of the larger parties (smaller parties can’t get the relatively high proportion of the vote required to make up a quota). Also, it’s possible to cut candidates off from key areas of support. This means that the drawing of constituencies is still a politically-charged issue. Ireland’s solution is the Constituency Commission, who are an independent body chaired by a judge who sit after every census of population to decide on constituency boundaries. IMO, it’s been pretty effective in taking political bias out of the process.

I believe this is a “sleeper issue” which will come to life some time in the next decade as more and more Americans realize that they will never cast a meaningful legislative or Congressional vote again. The greatest evil in gerrymandering isn’t when one party manipulates the process to its advantage, as in Texas, but when the two parties agree on maps designed to protect incumbents of both parties by placing them in districts which they can’t lose unless they’re filmed in bed humping a dead armadillo.

The solution is no mystery–as manwithaplan describes, it has been implemented in some states and (I believe) most European countries. Take the redistricting process out of the hands of politicians and set up some sort of independent redistricting commission. Unfortunately, getting politicians to give up a part of their power is about as easy as getting CEO’s to give up their stock options. There may be hope, however, in the states which allow citizen initiatives.

The Republicans advocation of special “black districts” just to guarrantee black seats seems fishy to me.

Blacks tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic, so it seems to me that by making a limited number of Special Black Districts the overall number of winning Democratic candidates will drop.

Actually the Democrat-controlled Texas legislature actually pretty much ignored the duty of re-districting after the 2000 census. They were supposed to re-district the state in 2001 but they never got around to it or couldn’t agree or some other SNAFU. It ended up in a Federal court’s hands and the current Texas districts were drawn up by the courts. I’m not sure Texas is typical, but it seems that re-districting is a major PITA and some legislatures might be more than happy to let someone else take it off their hands.


As a Californian, I would suggest that having judges draw the maps (as they did in my state in 1991) is better than having the legislature drawing the maps (as happened in 1981 and 2001).

The suggestion of multi-seat PR has this as a problem: how will the multiple seats be set up? For instatnce, how will the 5 boroughs of New York be organized for this?

I still see a problem with that. Who will appoint the redistricting commission? My guess is that whomever does will choose people of their political affiliation. So either you have polititions or those they have appointed doing it.

Maybe make it a bipartisan commission?

Why district at all? Why not determine each state’s delegation to the House of Representatives by proportion of the vote in the entire state? Then there can be no gerrymandering. Easy too, just get a federal law passed.

In my State a fairly farsighted Governor talked the legislature into a system where the non- partisan, civil service Legislative Services Bureau puts together three congressional district maps of the state based on computer programing of populations. The maps are given to the legislature one at a time beginning with the maps with the most compact congressional district. The legislature votes the maps up or down but cannot change them. If the legislature votes them all down then the LSB draws up three more and we do it again. There is provision for the courts to do it but the last two times out the legislature bought one of the first three submissions.

This system is way too reasonable and civil to even be considered in Texas, or apparently Colorado.

For those arguing for “at large” congresspersons, consider how hard it is to get the ear of a Representative who represents a congressional district of some one-half million people. How on earth does anyone make their views known to a Representative who has the whole damn state as his constituency? The “at large” system nearly guarantees a congress responsive only to big money.

Not so simple possibly. Isn’t this power reserved to the states?

The Texas legislature in didn’t ‘ignore’ the duty of redistricting after the 2000 Census. They gave the job
to a redistricting board, and a GOP dominated one at that.


Basically, the Republicans in Texas are looking for a second redistricting in as many years.

For more details about the 2001 redistricting than anyone could possibly want are in the links below.


I don’t know enough about the minutiae (or even the basics;)) of American politics to answer this but one thing is clear - unless you increase the size of Congress, multi-seat PR means bigger constituencies (districts?). In the case of some of the less populous states, it may mean state-wide districts. Of course, this may not be desirable or practical.

Strangely appropriate username, COI.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In Ireland, the legislation which governs the establishment of the constituency commission provides for a strictly ex-officio membership. The only appointee is the Chair, who is appointed by the Chief Justice, not the politicians. For the record the other members are the Ombudsman, the Clerks of the Dail and Seanad (Ireland’s lower and upper houses) and the Secretary General of the Department of the Environment and Local Government. These are all permanent officials who remain in their posts regardless of the political hue of the Government - they are genuinely independent.

Given the fact that so many posts at all levels of administration in the US are either directly elected or political appointees, I can understand how this might pose a problem on the other side of the pond.

You would think so, but there is actually a federal statute regulating the issue:

2 U.S.C. § 2c.

When someone is representing half a million people there is not enough time for every constituent seeking the attention of a delegate. Big money is another problem. I think we should eliminate it but whether it stays or goes doesn’t change the fact that some interests, special or general, will be more important to a given politician than others. One way or another a representative hasn’t enough time for everyone and must prioritize. The issue a voter wants to bring up might not be a priority for the legislator that lives right next door to someone but it might be for another on the other side of the state. A proportional system frees the voter from their district. It can give them real choice in who will represent them and not just the lesser of 2 Joes from their district.

Do any states have laws prohibiting the use of polling and voter registration data in the process of redrawing districts? Why not size districts on census figures alone, and make it a crime to use party affiliation or other, similar measures during the redistricting process.

I think that’d be a good start, rather than throwing out two centuries of experience under the present (pretty successful) system of government.

Plus, you’d probably get a decent at throwing hack politicians like Tom DeLay in jail. Which is good.

Anyone interested in proportional representation, and other alternative-voting-system reforms such as instant runoff voting and ballot fusion, should check out the Center for Voting and Democracy at www.fairvote.org .

Not more than a month ago I posted a GD thread on this subject: “Should the U.S. adopt alternative, pro-multipartisan electoral systems?” I haven’t figured out how to embed an intra-board link in a post, but you can find it by a word search. If you’re interested.