Rethinking redistricting

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There's an effort in Indiana to "rethink redistricting". Here are the principles they espouse for fair redistricting:

  • Keep communities of interest together
  • Create more compact and geographically uniform districts
  • Reduce voters' confusion about who represents them by following already existing political boundaries such as county and township lines
  • Not use any political data including incumbent addresses for partisan reasons
  • "Nest" two house districts under the existing lines of a senate district

The five principles are similar to ideas I espoused in a Tulsa Tribune "Point of View" piece on redistricting I wrote way back in 1991, "Those Districts Belong to Us." (A Tribune editorial ten days later marks the only time in history that a local daily newspaper editorial has said I "had it right.")

With the new influx and the scarcity of Democrats in the legislature, it ought to be possible to draw sensible new legislative lines. In 2001, Democrats would take a chunk of suburbia and combine it with a vast rural area. The idea was to maximize the number of rural, presumably Democrat voters and to divide up the presumably Republican suburbs and minimize their ability to elect their own. That's no longer necessary. If you have 70 seats, there's no point in drawing crazy lines to get your yield up to 80 or 90. The new districts ought to be more compact and more uniform. No more 60-mile long, 5 mile-wide gerrymanders (or Marymanders, either).

Take a look at this map of State House districts after the 2001 lines were drawn. Notice how many mostly rural districts extend a finger into the Oklahoma City and Tulsa metro areas -- 22, 25, 27, 28, 41, 47, 51, 55, 56, 57; 13,16, 36.

How Republicans in the legislature handle redistricting will be an early indication of their commitment to doing the right thing for the people of Oklahoma. Taking a fair approach to redistricting means preserving the right of voters to fire their representatives. It's a matter of accountability and fairness to the voters; fairness to the minority party is merely a side effect.

What I am NOT advocating is to create intentionally competitive districts. Nor should they be tweaked to maximize GOP seats. Lines ought to be drawn with regard to communities of interest, without regard to the party registration of the inhabitants.

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LD Jackson Author Profile Page said:

One only has to look at a map of Oklahoma showing the counties and one showing the districts to see the way they are drawn up makes no sense. All they have to do is insert a little common sense into the mix and things would sort themselves out. Reckon there is a chance they will do that?

Douglas Allen said:

There are a number of people who have proposed different ways of doing redistricting, but most of them fail, ultimately, because they involve some "judgment," which ends up being the camel's nose in the tent.

Perhaps a better solution, all in, is to move to a mathematical solution which removes all decision-making from the politicians, their assistants, and their consultants. Here is a link to an article (of which there are many) about a mathematical solution:

Here's a simplified version of the algorithm:

1. Start with the boundary outline of the state.

2. Let N=A+B where A and B are as nearly equal whole numbers as possible.
(For example, 7=4+3. More precisely, A = āŒˆN/2āŒ‰, B=āŒŠN/2āŒ‹.)

3. Among all possible dividing lines that split the state into two parts with population ratio A:B, choose the shortest.

4. We now have two hemi-states, each to contain a specified number (namely A and B) of districts. Handle them recursively via the same splitting procedure.

And here's the rationale:

"The advantage of having a purely mathematical definition of the district shapes is that there is absolutely no room whatsoever for bias or any freedom of choice at all by district drawers. That shuts the gerrymanderers down. Period."

Roy said:

Hmmmm. I dig the math. I especially relish the goal of "no room for...the district drawers". But further reflection suggested at least one means of the 'law of unintended consequences' to strike. Since the algorithm depends on population, what's to keep the 'powers that be' from doing stuff to make people move?

Douglas, thanks for stopping by, and thanks for that link. Very interesting approach, and generally I like the idea of computer generated maps. I have one major qualm with this particular method: I think it's important for a district lines to correspond (as closely as possible with equal-population districts) to communities of interest, and for that reason, redistricting ought to take jurisdictional, educational, and topographical boundaries into account. Rather than use arbitrary straight lines, you could have an algorithm follow county, municipal, school district, and (where fine precision is required) precinct boundaries. When even finer boundaries are needed to get closer to equal population, the algorithm could prefer major rivers, expressways, and major arterial streets. In fact, this is the approach Iowa used in their 2001 redistricting. Congressional districts embraced whole counties; legislative districts went down to municipal, township, and (within large cities) precinct boundaries.

But Iowa has an advantage that southern tier states don't have: Iowa isn't under the scrutiny of the Voting Rights Act. Many of the states with the worst gerrymanders are effectively required (under threat of lawsuit) to ensure no more than a 1 person variance between congressional districts. They are also required to create "majority-minority" districts, and often the only way to put enough members of a minority group to constitute a majority in a district is to connect geographically distant concentrations of minority groups with narrow strips of land. It's an absurd outcome, but it's linked to federal jurisprudence over redistricting plans, particularly in the years leading up to the 1990 census.

singleton Author Profile Page said:

I favor redistricting by computer, where the computer knows where people live, city or even neighborhood boundaries, major streets, rivers, and other geographical elements, but absolutely no knowledge of how they voted, and having the computer programmed to make districts as compact as possible

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 6, 2010 11:02 PM.

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