Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The U.S. could be free of gerrymandering. Here’s how other countries do redistricting.

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Bernard Grofman and German Feierherd report in the Washington Post:

This year, on the first day of its term, the Supreme Court will consider the much-anticipated Gill v. Whitford. That case brings up the hot-button question of whether a state legislature may draw electoral districts that favor one party over another. Gerrymandering, as it’s called, is clearly prohibited if it’s done to dilute the votes of racial groups. But when it comes to partisan gerrymandering, the Supreme Court, while willing to hear some challenges, has so far been unwilling to declare such a plan to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. A decision on Gill affirming the lower court — or setting a new standard and remanding the case for further review by the lower court — has the potential to change that.

Before the Supreme Court weighs in, let’s look at how other countries redistrict. How does redistricting differ in the United States from elsewhere? Are there lessons for Americans in these varying experiences and procedures?

According to the Supreme Court, the Constitution requires that population must be equalized across districts. The idea is that if one Arizonan lives in a district with 1 million other voters while another Arizonan lives in a district with only 200,000 other voters, then the second one’s vote is more influential in choosing a member of Congress. Of course, populations shift, growing or shrinking over time.

To prevent those shifts from leaving unbalanced districts, state legislatures must redraw their electoral districts every 10 years, once the Census Bureau releases its new population data. Redistricting regularly leads to heated political and legal fights as legislators scramble to gain advantage for their political parties.

Although the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution and the 1965 Voting Rights Act ban race-based gerrymandering — gerrymandering that reduces the power of one racial group’s votes, it has so far been unwilling to stop gerrymandering that twists districts to favor one party or another.

Academic experts say the 2010 redistricting round was the most extreme in the nation’s history. That’s because of two factors: a stark partisan imbalance in control of state legislatures and governorships; and new computer technology that makes it possible to draw extremely fine-tuned partisan borders.

The power of state legislatures to engage in blatant partisan gerrymandering may change once the Supreme Court decides Gill, a case in which a federal-district court in Wisconsin overturned that state’s congressional redistricting plan, deciding that a partisan gerrymander was banned on the ground of the Constitution’s equal protection clause and, critically, on grounds of First Amendment political speech rights.

What does redistricting look like elsewhere in the world?

Redistricting looks quite different elsewhere, for several reasons.

1. Larger districts send more than one representative to the legislature

Most democracies outside the English-speaking world elect more than one representative per district. When the number of seats per district can be adjusted, the principle of “one person, one vote” can often be achieved without redrawing boundaries lines at all. You simply add a seat to a district that has grown, and subtract that seat from the ones that shrink. That vastly reduces the possibility of reshaping outcomes by manipulating boundaries.

2. Politically neutral bodies draw districts

In most other long-term democracies, a politically neutral body draws new districts — perhaps a quasi-judicial body or nonpartisan administrative board or commission. The redistricting bodies of some countries, such as New Zealand, include representatives of the major parties.

But the more common pattern is to explicitly exclude anyone with partisan connections, as is true in Canada and India. In Britain, the ‘redistribution of parliamentary constituencies is carried out by a nonpartisan Boundary Commission. Parties can object to the commission’s redistricting recommendations, but it’s purely a consultation; their overall influence is limited. In some long-term democracies, such as Britain, legislatures must approve the new electoral maps that have been drawn by independent bodies, but this is typically a formality.

3. District boundaries are harder to manipulate . . .

Continue reading.

The poblem is that the United States is victim to a very strong “not invented here” syndrome, reluctant to learn from the experience of other countries: United States exceptionalism to a fault.

There are some very good explanatory videos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2017 at 1:51 pm

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