What’s a district for?

I talk about redistricting with a lot of people. I hear a variety of goals for what people want to achieve with redistricting. We know it is possible to arrive at partisan and racial gerrymandering with redistricting. What else might we want out of redistricting?

  • Competitive elections: as many districts as possible should be close to 50%/50% split between The Two Parties.
  • Proportional representation: Overall, across a state or nationally, the legislative body elected should reflect the party, ideology, race, or ethnicity of the populace. For example, a population that is 20% green Martians should elect a legislature with 20% of the representatives being green Martians.
  • Compactness: districts should be geometrically nice, like soap bubbles.
  • Follow existing boundaries: Counties and cities should be divided as little as possible.
  • Regional identity: If a group of people in an area identify as a region, this should be observed.
  • Fair Algorithm: Design a process to follow that can’t be subverted.

I think it’s obvious we can’t get all of those things at the same time. I think I hear the most desire for competitive elections and proportional representation the most, and I think districts aren’t the right solution for those things.

Ohio just amended its constitution to change how state legislature districts are drawn ( http://blog.bdistricting.com/2015/12/ohio-bipartisan-redistricting.html ). Compared to the US Constitution, state constitutions are being amended all the time. I want to see a state change the whole way its smaller legislative body is elected to be an at-large, non-districted proportional representation system using Single Transferrable Vote (or another proportional representation election method). Single Transferrable Vote and related methods take in votes where people rank the candidates (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.). In short, try to give everyone their first-choice representative. If your first-choice candidate didn’t get enough support to qualify for a seat, maybe your second choice will. If your first choice was wildly popular, you’re part of a large faction and you might get both your first and second choice. If electing 20 seats, any group that can get together 1/20th of the vote should be able to get someone elected. A major party might run a slate of candidates and get 8 out of 20.

That’s great, but what’s a district for? A district is inherently geographical. It isn’t ideological. It isn’t racial. It can be those things if you make it that way, but a district is just a line on the map (with some people inside). To me, a district should balance the three factors of regional identity, following existing boundaries, and compactness. I don’t think there’s a hard priority to those three issues. Existing boundaries make a district easier to administer. Regional identity is important. Either of these might not divide conveniently into the right size chunks. If you can’t get those two things, draw the line compactly, if for no other reason than that it’s the opposite of the far-reaching, gerrymandering tendrils of some mapping horrors out there.

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