CA prop 11, ‘Redistricting’ is one of the 12 state propositions in this election cycle. This proposition is also known as the ‘Voters FIRST Act’.
I support it. Please vote yes on 11.
I’ve written a fair amount about redistricting approaches so I’ll reference some of these posts in my explanation for why I support prop 11.
Currently the legislature is responsible for drawing districts in which those same legislatures are elected. This creates a clear conflict of interest. This conflict currently occurs in that:
- legislators want to protect their own seats
- legislators want to maximize the seats that their party gets
In CA I would describe the current status quo as a ‘bipartisan gerrymander’ in that the problem is more characterized by seats being protected then by a power grab where one party has a disproportionate number of seats and controls the redistricting system to maximize the number of seats controlled by that party. (I may be wrong in this regard; If you have evidence to the contrary please leave a comment.)
The result of this gerrymandered system is that rather than having voters selecting their representative we frequently have representatives choosing their voters via partisan or bi-partisan gerrymandering.
- An introduction to gerrymandering
- Gerrymandered districts yield a highly predictable outcome for who will be elected. Prop 11 claims that 99% of incumbent politicians were elected in recent elections
- An excellent tool for understanding how redistricting can be used to control who will be elected see the Redistricting Game
My ideal solution
In my view the problem of redistricting is best handled in two ways.
1. Use a multi-winner election method with larger (or state-wide) districts. Election methods that do this are known as proportional representation systems.
2. Where districts are used have the method of creating the districts be automated by software without any human input once the algorithm is determined. This is called algorithmic redistricting.
- single member districts vs proportional representation
- An algorithmic redistricting proposal called the shortest splitline method
- several posts about algorithmic redistricting
Prop 11 – an ‘independent commission’ solution
Prop 11 proposes having an independent commission which is responsible for doing the redistricting. This is a considerable improvement over having the state legislators do it. Much of the proposition details how this commission is selected.
What I like:
- The power to create and shape districts is taken out of the hands of people who have a direct stake in the outcome.
- Prop 11 only addresses districts for CA legislators. It does not address districts for US House seats. This is important since other states (Texas notoriously) are known to gerrymander in favor of having more Republican US House members and some people opposed previous CA redistricting reform since they considered this to be ‘disarming’ relative to TX behavior. It is my view that national redistricting reform is needed to address how US house districts are selected.
What I dislike:
- The independent commission that is created is designed to have a precise balance of Republicans, Democrats, and independents on it. I find it extremely distasteful to enshrine into law an assumption that there are two major parties and that the parties have an approximately equal power balance. This does not necessarily reflect future reality even if it closely resembles the current reality. (And it does not even represent the current reality in CA. The Pew Center reports that currently 39% of CA voters identify themselves as Democrats compared to 28% as republicans. (Pew Research citation) That is a 3:2 ratio not a 1:1 ratio.
Prop 11 is not perfect. It’s not how I would design a solution. But, on balance, it is a clear improvement over the current perverse system. I recommend voting yes on prop 11.
“My ideal solution”
“1. Use a multi-winner election method…”
“2. Where districts are used have the method of creating the districts be automated by software without any human input…”
Brilliant! Nice analysis – thanks!
You claim that Texas is notoriously known for gerrymandering in favor of having more Republicans. I guess your historical perspective only goes back to 2003. What about in 1991 in Texas?
Texas used to be solidly Democratic, until in the 80’s and 90’s Republicans overtook Democrats in sheer numbers of voters. In 1991, the voters in Texas were split nearly 50-50, but the Democrats still controlled both branches of the legislature and eked out the governor’s chair. How fair was the Democrat’s Congressional plan? Of 30 seats, the plan was drawn to elect 22 Democrats and 8 Republicans (although the final tally was 21-9 because one Democrat, Albert Bustamante, lost because he was embroiled in FBI corruption charges). So with just over 50% of the voters, Democrats passed a plan designed for some 73% of the seats. This was accomplished with some rather creative gerrymandering to elect many more Democrats than proportionality might warrant.
In 2003, Republicans were much stronger in voting base than the Democrats in 1991, about 56% of the voters. Of the then 32 available seats, the plan was intended to elect 22 Republicans, or about 69% of the seats (the eventual count was 21-11 due to a hard-fought campaign by Chet Edwards to hold his seat).
So it seems the 1991 Democrats were overreaching more that the 2003 Republicans in Texas in order to gerrymander in their favor. It’s just that in 2003 the Republicans were flipping from long-time Democrat dominance, so a number of Democratic incumbents were actually targeted for defeat.
Here’s some interesting information about algorithmic redistricting. The current Texas Congressional delegation is tilted 20-12 in favor of the Republicans. There was much hoopla in 2003 about the Republican’s gerrymandering of the district lines, and they DID manipulate the lines in their favor.
But there are now 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats and of the 12 Democrats, 3 are Anglo, 3 are African-American, and 6 are Latino.
However, using the districts resulting from the “shortest-splitline” algorithm, I have compiled statistics and find that:
21 districts are Republican (18 strongly so)
2 districts are politically competitive
1 district is Anglo-Democratic
3 districts are ethnically mixed Democratic and
5 districts are Latino-Democratic.
So by the “neutral” algorithmic approach, Republicans should be doing better than they are at present. If we divvy up the two competitive seats among the parties, we might expect a 22-10 margin. What one must understand is that African-American districts and Latino districts must often be deliberately gerrymandered into existence – which is one reason geometric algorithms will never pass muster from a voting rights perspective.
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