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Gerrymandering by Computer 526

Posted by michael
from the logic-error-in-u.s.-democratic-process dept.
jefu writes "In the latest New Yorker there is an excellent article on redistricting and gerrymandering (more permanent URL). It discusses how recent gerrymandering is being done with the aid of computers. It also discusses how redistricting is polarizing voters and is making many seats in the House of Representatives 'safe seats' which effectively gives incumbents a permanent seat. It is not hard to see how this also tends to leave our 'elected' representatives in a position where voter input is less important to them than things like lobbying." Few articles about gerrymandering really get into how ugly and blatant it is.
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Gerrymandering by Computer

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  • Hmm (Score:2, Informative)

    by Evil Adrian (253301)
    Would have been nice to define a not-often-used word in the article so we all don't have to dig...

    To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections. (Link [reference.com].)

    Give me my karma, baby.
    • You get more Gerries for your mandering needs.

      I had my Gerry mandered once...when I was in the service. A shot cleared it up though.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Informative)

      by Zeinfeld (263942) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:58PM (#7643963) Homepage
      Would have been nice to define a not-often-used word in the article so we all don't have to dig...

      The term comes from an election (in Chicago?) where the mayor (Gerry) came up with a set of fixed boundaries, one of which was in the shape of a salamander (lizard). Hence gerymander.

      Any experienced pol will tall you that this type of trickery has a much bigger impact on an election than outright fixing of the polls. The way to cheat is by fixing the rules and by keeping opposing voters from the polls. During seggregation that is exactly how they stopped black people voting in Missisippi, any black man who dared to vote was liable to be lynched. The KKK and the police would man roadblocks to keep blacks from the polls and then there were the litteracy tests.

      One of the big impacts on the Florida outcome was the state law that prohibits someone who has ever been convicted of a fellony from ever voting. This is another holdover from seggragation, litteracy tests were struck down but not felony disenfranchisement even though the intent (and effect) was largely the same - disproportionately disenfranchise black voters.

      Click on my sig and you will see an article by a UK journalist who is one of the few who reported on this aspect of the Florida fix at the time the fix was in.

      The answer BTW is not to try to fix the system to make it harder to gerrymander, change the electoral system to Single Transferable Vote and multi-member constituencies. That way you also create a way for the minor parties to be represented. With the increasing corruption of the Republican party Democrats should seriously consider this even if only as a self-interested move.

      Regardless, there is a better way to get Tom DeLay and King George out of office. Get so many voters to the polls to vote against them that it does not matter how they try to rig the vote, they fail.

  • by tcopeland (32225) * <tom&thomasleecopeland,com> on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:37PM (#7643270) Homepage
    ...including nice charts and graphs can be found here on FraudFactor [fraudfactor.com].

    From the examples given in the FraudFactor article, both sides seem guilty of gerrymandering whenever possible.
    • More frequent now (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dachshund (300733) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:47PM (#7643382)
      From the examples given in the FraudFactor article, both sides seem guilty of gerrymandering whenever possible.

      Not quite "whenever possible". At very least, redistricting has been historically confined to census cycles, by a sort of gentleman's agreement between the parties. The reason it's been in the news so much lately is a couple of Republican-controlled state legislatures (Texas, most notably) have escalated the process and begun redistricting more frequently.

      No doubt the Democrats will follow suit as soon as they can. But the fact remains: this is a chain of events that didn't need to be set in motion.

      • by rjstanford (69735) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:23PM (#7643678) Homepage Journal
        The Texas one is just pathetic. Huge tall, skinny ones to pair (for example) 20% of liberal Austin with 20% of conservative San Antonio (larger) - so hey, each slice of SA overwhelms the Austin piece. There's even at least one disconnected part, with a gap of several hundred miles to find a smaller Democratic group to "pair" with.

        I feel bad for the voting public - I mean, you're setting it up so that the individual voters in the paired, "liberal" cities have little to no representation. Ignoring the overall effect, what is this doing to those people's rights?
        • by JayBlalock (635935)
          You know the REALLY sad thing? It wasn't even about Texas politics. It was about sending more Republicans to D.C.

          What staggered me was how many people bought the Republican line as to why the redistricting was necessary. It was so baldly, on-its-face unsupportable that the only explanation I can come up with is that no one believed they would lie in such an audacious manner.

          Their argument boiled down to: X percent (I think around 66%) of the population voted for Bush, a Republican. Yet there are mo

          • by Galvatron (115029) *
            Because as you say, two thirds of Texas is conservative. People are always willing to believe whatever will get their party into power. This is why Gerrymandering works, it relies on the fact that democracy is a dictatorship of the majority. Gerrymandering is simply a way to ensure that slim majorities will remain in power, without having to make concessions to minorities.

            This is the same reason why support for the Florida recounts was almost precisely divided along party lines. It's hardly a coinciden

      • "The reason it's been in the news so much lately is a couple of Republican-controlled state legislatures (Texas, most notably) have escalated the process and begun redistricting more frequently."

        This is a lie. Texas did not begin "redistricting more frequently." The Texas congressional Democrats blocked redistricting following the 2000 census, leading to court-ordered redistricting. However, the Texas Constitution specifies that redstricting must be done by congress. In calling a special session for the p

    • by pizzaman100 (588500) on Friday December 05, 2003 @07:03PM (#7643999) Journal
      One good way to minimize gerrymandering is to create compact districts [heartland.org]. This is a requirement that districts be roughly uniform in shape (like a hexagon or circle). This doesn't prevent all gerrymandering, but makes it much more difficult. Typically gerrymandered districst are easy to spot, because they come in odd shapes [tucsonweekly.com].
    • .....both sides seem guilty of gerrymandering whenever possible.

      . . . which, of course, does not make it okay.
  • by Stephen (20676) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:37PM (#7643276) Homepage
    It's crazy that in the US politicians are involved in drawing district boundaries at all. In the UK, we have an independent electoral commission who are in charge of this.
    • by squarooticus (5092) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:48PM (#7643398) Homepage
      What does "independent" mean, really?

      Are they "independent" like the NRA is to the RNC, or like the ACLU is to the DNC?

      The problem is that these commissions are made up of people who are inevitably partisan, so what you end up with is only the illusion of independence, when in fact the party with the most adherents on the commission effectively draws the district boundaries to the benefit of its members, while making it look all nice and non-partisan. Not good: I'd rather have the honest appearance of partisanship and public pressure resulting from bad press than a hidden agenda and no accountability masquerading as an "independent commission."

      In reality, there is no way to draw district boundaries in a "fair" way, because "fair" means different things to different people. The closest thing you can do is to permanently fix some method (algorithm) for drawing boundaries, which takes humans out of the loop forevermore; from that point forward, the rules of the game are at least known, so they don't change drastically every time a new party gets a 51% majority.
      • In Canada, as in the UK, the lines are drawn based on population, not politics. Each candidate has 100,000 or thereabouts, people in their riding.

        How much more fair do you want?

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Thanks for missing the entire point, Captain Obvious. The whole question is how you divide up the people into 100,000 groups.

          Now why don't you climb back on the short bus on your way back to retard school (or just regular schools in Canada).
          • by Hamster Lover (558288) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:39PM (#7643817) Journal
            First, the commissions are made up of three people:

            A judge, chosen by the Chief Justice of each Province or Territory, who acts as chairperson and two civil servants chosen by the Speaker of the House. In practice, many commission members, aside from the chairpersons, have been university professors or non-elected officials of legislative assemblies. N.B. Sitting members of Parliament, the Provincial Legislatures or the Senate are not permitted by law to be members.

            Second, the commissions hold hearings that the public is entitled and encouraged to attend. There is a specific Parliamentary committee that forwards complaints and suggestions to the commissions, but the commission is under no obligation to consider them. The commssions are required to draw boundaries based upon population density, mainly, but other factors are considered.

            After forty years of an independent commission, a certain amount of trial and error and fine tuning has resulted in a process that is indeed independent and effective. I cannot recall a single instance where boundary disputes were referred to a court for resolution.
        • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:23PM (#7643677)
          In Canada, as in the UK, the lines are drawn based on population, not politics. Each candidate has 100,000 or thereabouts, people in their riding.

          How much more fair do you want?

          The number of people per district isn't the issue, it's the composition of each district. For example, even when all districts have exact equal populations, you can rig the process. You adjust the boundaries of the districts so that most of the districts have a mild majority of voters aligned with your party, and the rest have almost 100% opposition voters. If done right, you could end up with most of the seats even if fewer people actually vote for your party.

          Example with 4 districts and 20 voters: (xxxoo xxxoo xxxoo ooooo). The party with 45% of the vote gets 75% of the seats.

          One symptom of this process is an increasing fractal dimension of the districts (the ratio of district boundary to its area). You get this when a district is drawn with an amoeba-like shape to try to select for neighborhoods with certain pockets of voters.

          • The number of people per district isn't the issue, it's the composition of each district. For example, even when all districts have exact equal populations, you can rig the process. You adjust the boundaries of the districts so that most of the districts have a mild majority of voters aligned with your party, and the rest have almost 100% opposition voters. If done right, you could end up with most of the seats even if fewer people actually vote for your party.

            The difference is that the the UK and presuma
          • Canadian voters are a lot less loyal to a particular party. The most recent election I voted in was a local election. In local elections, people don't run as a particular party. They all run as independants. The election before that was the Ontario election. This time the Liberal Party won the majority of the seats. The 2 previous elections before that, the PC Party won the majority of seats. The election before those, the NDP won the majority of seats.
      • by Stephen (20676) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:11PM (#7643577) Homepage
        The problem is that these commissions are made up of people who are inevitably partisan, so what you end up with is only the illusion of independence, when in fact the party with the most adherents on the commission effectively draws the district boundaries to the benefit of its members
        This is an argument I've heard before from Americans, but all I can say is, it's really not like that.

        Maybe it's that we don't assume that everyone is partisan. We have a long tradition of an independent civil service, which pretty much works most of the time. The members of the Electoral Commission are doing it as a career, they're not elected, or appointed by politicians. Keeping their jobs relies on them being non-partisan -- if they were elected or appointed they would have an incentive to be partisan.

        The Boundary Committee publishes draft proposals and consults widely before finalising them. Of course, political parties try and persuade it to draw the districts one way or another, but they seem to be immune to that sort of pressure. They base their decisions purely on which are the natural clumps into which the population falls.

        I don't hear people suggesting that the committee is biased. If this were widely believed, there would be an enormous scandal. The idea that there was any partisanship in the drawing of boundaries would in our eyes completely undermine the integrity of the election.

        By the way, here are their web pages: Electoral Commission [electoralc...ion.gov.uk], Boundary Committee [boundarycommittee.org.uk]

        • by mmcdouga (459816) <mmcdouga@noSPam.saul.cis.upenn.edu> on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:22PM (#7643666) Homepage
          This is an argument I've heard before from Americans, but all I can say is, it's really not like that.

          Maybe it's that we don't assume that everyone is partisan.


          I'm from Canada (where we also have non-partisan electoral commissions) and I live in the US (where everything is partisan). In my experience both sides are right. In America people are born and bred thinking that everyone is partisan and everyone actually is partisan. In Canada, where people are born and bred thinking civil servants should be non-partisan, there are actually non-partisan civil servants.

          It seems like Canada and the US each have a system that's suited to their respective culture. I think it will take a change in culture for the US to adopt the Canadian system (or vice-versa).

      • The problem is that these commissions are made up of people who are inevitably partisan, so what you end up with is only the illusion of independence, when in fact the party with the most adherents on the commission effectively draws the district boundaries to the benefit of its members, while making it look all nice and non-partisan.

        This appears to be a specifically US problem. Not only is there a two party system, but people from those parties closely involved in the managment of elections.

        In reality,
    • According the the articale (gasp) it seems Iowa agrees with you, as that's what they're doing. Four of five seats were reasonably competitive last election, so it seems to have worked out.

      Hopefully the courts will end up mandating such commissions...and they can really maintain their independence. I think they'll probably stay mostly independent, but it'll take a few more court cases.
    • by Hobbex (41473) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:25PM (#7643694)
      I remember watching the 2000 presidential debacle with some amusement, and most interesting of all was the partisan nature of EVERY aspect. It seemed that representatives from both parties were needed not only for political comments, but for everything from counting votes to doing statistical analysis. In the end, even the supreme court decide along party lines.

      I mentioned how absurd this is to my father, who is a civil servant here (Sweden) and a historian. His answer was that the concept of a politically indepedent civil servant in Europe is actually a remnant of the monarchic roots: civil servants in European monarchies were traditionally loyal to the king, not to the houses of parlament. Even though the monarchy is reduced to a symbolic role (more so here than in the UK), the tradition of indepedence from the political process lives on.

      America simply does not have this background: everything in American government is fundamentally political, so the concept of an _independent_ electoral commission is impossible.
  • Death to Democracy (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KD5YPT (714783) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:37PM (#7643280) Journal
    Here we have seen another step towards the death of democracy. Where those incumbents, who got elected by the people, no longer need to respond to people. Where the big money businesses can pay their way to get laws favorable to them pass. It will be the society of the rich people, for the rich people, by the rich people.
    • by Carnildo (712617)
      This sort of thing has been going on for at least a hundred and fifty years. The only thing "news" about it is that computers are being used to work out the districts, not working them out by hand. I don't see it doing any more to kill off democracy than it ever has.
      • This sort of thing has been going on for at least a hundred and fifty years. The only thing "news" about it is that computers are being used to work out the districts, not working them out by hand. I don't see it doing any more to kill off democracy than it ever has.

        Well, not quite. The thing that sparked the whole controversy lately is that the redistricting was done outside of the normal census period. Before, there was a sort of "gentlemen's agreement" that redistricting would only be done after the

    • due to gerrymandering there is a 98 retention rate for incumbants. virtually the only way to be removed as an incumbant is to become sexually involved with a (to be) murdered intern.

      but does it really matter? think about it for a second. if you could cast the deciding vote between democrat and republican in each and every local, state and federal election, is there a way that you could arrange your votes so as to effect a difference in your life? pathetic isn't it? if you are a white, middle class male

  • by That's Unpossible! (722232) * on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:38PM (#7643292)
    To me, the first problem with our government is that it's too large. The second, which is directly related to the first, is that it's filled with too many politicians. Our government tries to do too much, most of which it sucks at. These thoughts are the main reason I call myself a libertarian.

    As King Longshanks once said (in Braveheart at least), "The problem with Scotland... is that it's full of Scots!" The problem with U.S. politics is that it's filled with politicians.

    In the simplest way, how do we solve this problem (and thus issues with gerrymandering, lobbyists, the inability to elect anyone outside the two party system, etc.)? "Easy" ... just replace our representative democracy with a true democracy.

    But wait, I hear you say, that would be rule by "tyranny of the majority."

    Here is where my libertarian ideals come in to play. Of course this is all hypothetical, idealistic, unrealistic, and some might say, Unpossible... ahem.

    But what if we eliminated this looming threat of tyranny under this truly democratic system? How could this be done? Well think about where tyranny of the majority comes from primarily -- issues related to control of private citizens lives.

    Are you allowed to drink alcohol and smoke drugs? Look at porn? Own a weapon to protect your life and property? Practice atheism or a minority religion?

    These are examples of issues where the tyranny of the majority could have a negative effect. I think the central thing to all these issues is that they should not be controlled by the government in the first place. If we had an ammendment in the constitution that clarified the constitution, that the federal government shall not make laws that seek to control the behavior of a person not explicitly harming another person, then what is left for the tyranny of the majority to affect?

    Then when an issue comes up in front of our tiny, truly democratic government of the citizens of the United States, it's a referendum that we all vote equally on. If there are multiple choices, we use a smart voting style (approval, counting, etc), and not the insane methods used now to pick such unimportant things as our next President.

    This is just an idea that has been brewing in my head, can anyone see holes in it and offer constructive criticism?

    • by crimethinker (721591) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:46PM (#7643380)
      If we had an ammendment in the constitution that clarified the constitution, that the federal government shall not make laws that seek to control the behavior of a person not explicitly harming another person, then what is left for the tyranny of the majority to affect?

      Taxes.

      The unproductive majority will claim that the wealthier minority must pay for all the social programs. Social programs, are, of course, not in conflict with your proposed amendment, because they aren't trying to control anyone's behaviour (other than "donations" to those programs by the wealthy minority).

      Until the government restricts itself, or is restricted, to the specific powers granted it by We The People via the Constitution, we will always have a problem of tyranny - tyranny of the majority, tyranny of the lobbyists, or tyranny of one of the two major parties.

      -paul

      • Taxes.

        Sorry, I didn't try to cover every aspect of the new government in my post. ;-) I was hoping the 'libertarian' aspect would convey my feelings that the government needs to be shrunk down immensely.

        As a libertarian I don't believe in the federal government collecting taxes for entitlement programs or 95% of what they currently spend taxes on. The government needs money to run the legal system, to jail violent offenders, to run the military capable of protecting our country.
    • by LaCosaNostradamus (630659) <LaCosaNostradamus@@@mail...com> on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:08PM (#7643546) Journal
      I wish I could be constructive in my criticism, but it appears that my resulting decisions involve destruction instead. Permit me to explain.

      Our alleged Republic has a pretty good Constitution already. It's too bad that no one cares to obey it. With blatant violations against many items in the Bill of Rights (speech, search&seizure, rights retained by States and people, etc.) that people wholeheartedly support since each violation supports their own tyrannical pet peeve, the rights and responsibilities of liberty implied in that Constitution have been nickel-and-dimed away into insignificance.

      This is similar to the current depraved state of the Congress, which has been destroyed by each voter thinking that although the Congress as a whole is terrible, that their own rep is wonderful.

      Amending a document whose moral authority is lost, won't fix this problem. Either the population spontaneously starts to re-assert the primacy of Founder thinking as expressed in the Constitution, or the entire system is violently overthrown. I'm betting on the latter, and as the years pass and more and more people wipe their asses with that beloved document, then the more and more I come to hope and plan that the revolution happens.

      After all, violently asserting that the Constitution is dead, would only be placing a marker above its gravesite, making it obvious that it is dead (at least in spirit). The Republic was long ago transformed into an Empire, and empires are not ruled by the force of law and culture, but by force of arms ... as Afghanis and Iraqis are finding out on a daily basis.

      You are correct in identifying that democracy is tyranny of the majority. You are wrong in desiring to let it loose. The prior Republic form of government gave men hope that this demon could be tamed, as well as the tyranny of the minority, autocracy. Men of good character desire neither.
      • ok, as a total outsider, I'll have a go at this.

        A large number of countries have proportional representation.
        • advantage: this sort of gerrymandering is totally impossible - the one (person/party) with the most votes wins.
        • disadvantage: if corrupt politicians have the support of their party, they are a long way up their party's list and are almost guaranteed reelection
        • side-effect: coalitions become normal. What you have to have is some cutoff where parties getting less than (say) 5% are out of luck, o
    • "To me, the first problem with our government is that it's too large. The second, which is directly related to the first, is that it's filled with too many politicians. Our government tries to do too much, most of which it sucks at. These thoughts are the main reason I call myself a libertarian."

      In what way is our government too large? What would you get rid of? What would you do in the face of opposition to your preferences on how government should be downsized? How are these conflicts between competi

    • Practice atheism or a minority religion?

      And what is it that an atheist practices? Are they the same rituals as the aunicornists?
  • Ugly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ActionPlant (721843) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:38PM (#7643294) Homepage
    I know I posted on something similar maybe a week ago. What's ugly is that it was already seeming like our representatives (in general) cared very little for our wishes (consider the recent secret spending bill) and more for their pocketbooks. Obviously we can't expect everyone to be a martyr, but this is getting rediculous. We're a democracy in name only. We vote for appearances. Less and less of what we say we want is really heard.

    Who, then, is really running the country? And how did they really get in office?

    No, serious, I want to know. Because I'm starting to think that my voice really DOESN'T matter.

    Damon,
    • We're a democracy in name only.

      Democratic republic, actually.
      • Um, yeah. The point being though that we supposedly operate in a democratic fashion (the people electing the representatives to legalize and enforce our wishes).

        The problem is, our wishes at large seem to be held with very little regard anymore.

        Damon,
        • Re:Ugly (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Evil Adrian (253301) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:55PM (#7643457) Homepage
          Well, the problem with your logic is your misunderstanding of democracy. You believe that democracy means that elected officials are supposed to represent your opinion.

          That is not the case.

          The people you elect are elected to represent your best interests. To that effect, they may vote for things you (or the majority of people) don't like, but they are not there to represent your opinion, they're there to do what they think is best for the people they represent.

          If they were there to represent your opinions, then we wouldn't need representatives at all, and we'd have referendum votes all the time.
  • In the UK (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Space cowboy (13680) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:39PM (#7643301) Journal
    there was a case a few years ago where Dame Shirley Porter was convicted of ~40 million pounds worth of gerrymandering in a votes for homes scandal. Of course she's actually paid very very little of it back (less than a few hundred thousand pounds, if I remember the Private Eye story correctly)...

    What goes around, comes around, unless you can pay enough money to the right people....

    Simon
    • there was a case a few years ago where Dame Shirley Porter was convicted of ~40 million pounds worth of gerrymandering in a votes for homes scandal. Of course she's actually paid very very little of it back (less than a few hundred thousand pounds, if I remember the Private Eye story correctly)...

      Thats alright, they found $30 million worth of her cash stashed away a couple of weeks ago. It is currently impounded and about to be forfeited.

  • by _Sharp'r_ (649297) <sharper@@@booksunderreview...com> on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:40PM (#7643305) Homepage Journal
    A buddy of mine came up with an initiative in CA to eliminate the bias in redistricting by using a set of easily-understood rules that could be set into law and would ensure a balanced outcome based on geography and population levels, not political benefits.

    You can find the details at Fair Vote 2k2. [westmiller.com]

    He's still working on getting it passed into law by the voters in CA. It's tough when it doesn't really benefit the party in power to change the system to make it fair.
    • Lots of luck. Looks like it didn't make the ballot in 2K2. :-). Remember that Lani Guinier was denied a federal appointment for being a bit too innovative wrt electoral fairness [fair.org]. Not that the Democrats haven't pulled equally partisan shenanigans.
  • by mz001b (122709) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:40PM (#7643309)
    In Iowa, for example, voter party registrations are not allowed to be used in the redistricting, so it is non-partisian. Several states have initiatives to switch over to non-partisan redistricting.
    • I'd not heard this before. More states need to follow this example.

      Damon,
    • that's not quite enough. a correlation can usually be found between other factors, such as income, ethnicity, or how close the area is to certain types of business ... and party registration.

      they don't need to know who you plan to vote for to draw lines to their benefit.

      the system itself, of using districts to 'bottleneck' the voting process causes this flaw. you could have a dozen areas, and overal a balanced voting population, and still wind up with a slight discrepency that puts more than 50% of the vo
      • that's not quite enough. a correlation can usually be found between other factors, such as income, ethnicity, or how close the area is to certain types of business ... and party registration.

        You are right, but according to the article party registration does not correlate perfectly to votes. So, trying to use these other factors to gerrymander districts is much more unreliable.

        A telling statement in the article is that in the past excesive gerrymandering would be self defeating. The concept being that t
  • Nothing new (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hayzeus (596826) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:40PM (#7643319) Homepage
    Save for the fact that software is being used to help the process along. I find this less worrying than it appears -- ultimately the advantage gained by gerrymandering is slim and short term, since demographic change is inevitable, especially in a society as mobile as the US.
    • Re:Nothing new (Score:3, Informative)

      by IntlHarvester (11985)
      Generally, recent demographic change has made gerrymandering easier, not harder. There's a lot more income segregation in where people live than there used to be. That makes it easy to slice up suburban districts that include the 'right' kinds of voters.

      Also, in some cases the only way you could make a "fair" district is through gerrymandering. I live in a sensibly-shaped district, and my congresswoman generally wins with 90% of the vote.
  • Surprise... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rsborg (111459) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:41PM (#7643327) Homepage
    Yet another move by politicians to make voting less meaningful. Is it any wonder why our voting percentages are so low compared to other democracies?

    How much longer until our vote is purely symbolic and has nothing left to do with reality?

    Although in the article, they mainly focus on Texas, it's pretty clear that the whole system is being gamed and gamed hardest by the Republicans.

    How's the job market in Europe these days, I wonder...

    • : Although in the article, they mainly focus on
      : Texas, it's pretty clear that the whole system is
      : being gamed and gamed hardest by the Republicans.

      False.

      Gerrymandering is actually played hardest by professional racialists who do their best to construct minority districts in heterogeneous areas. This is historical fact: gerrymandering first existed for precisely this reason.

      More than highlighting a problem with a particular political party, though, this system indicates a problem with geographic repres
    • Although in the article, they mainly focus on Texas, it's pretty clear that the whole system is being gamed and gamed hardest by the Republicans.

      Typical liberal response. The truth, as shown in numerous links on this page, is that both parties Gerrymander as much as possible.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I believe this is one of many, why political positions shouldn't be a career. One of the founding fathers felt that one should get elected, do what's needed during the term, then go back to what one was doing before. No making a career out of it.
  • by gid13 (620803) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:42PM (#7643332)
    From the article: "He opposes abortion, fights for balanced budgets, and voted for the impeachment of President Clinton. His Web site features photographs of him carrying or firing guns. Through it all, though, Stenholm has remained a member of the Democratic Party"

    I wonder what you have to do to be conservative down there.

    Also this makes me think that gerrymandering isn't the only threat to democracy in the states. It seems Michael Moore's claim that the Democrats and the Republicans are the same isn't so far off.
  • related reading (Score:2, Interesting)


    Check out the book "How to Lie with Maps", by Mark Monmonier.

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0226 534219/102-3562028-6208164?v=glance [amazon.com]

    Why yes, I am a geographer...
  • The logical opposite of gerrymandering is automating the process to provide politically balanced districts, 50% left, 50% right. Leaving aside how "left" and "right" ought to be defined (and how "center" is accomodated), balanced districts would tend for shorttermism and inaction at the political level higher. If you don't expect to keep your job, you don't plan what you'll be doing after the next election.
    Solution? An independent commission. The nearer their decisions create equal political fury from bot
    • You seem to be confused about what is happening. In fact the redistricing *does* balance the districts.

      Image a state is 51% Republican and 49% Democrat (and lets assume nobody changes their vote). It is unlikely these are evenly distributed, for instances the cities may be 75% Democrat, while the suburbs 75% Republican. Now if somebody wanted to make Republicans take *all* the representative seats, they would want to slice the state up into whatever weird shapes are necessary so every slice had a piece of
    • The logical opposite of gerrymandering is automating the process to provide politically balanced districts,

      No, the logical opposite of gerrymandering would be to have districts that are drawn according to population density and geographical boundries with no consideration of the race, ecconomic status, or political affiliation of the voters in the districts. Any other method cannot help but fail to represent the true make up of the country.

      Any consioderation other than the number of people and where the
  • by mellon (7048) * on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:46PM (#7643372) Homepage
    ...and get our licks in in the primary. Really, to me, what this article says is that political parties really have become obsolete bodies whose only purpose is to disenfranchise the voters, and that we voters should simply ignore parties and vote pragmatically.

    I don't register with a party affiliation because I find both parties so distasteful. I think it would be very wise for us independents to figure out for what party our district has been gerrymandered and register in that party, and if we run, run in that party.

    It would be cool if the supremes solved this by ruling that all voters have to be able to vote in all primaries.
  • In NC there is (was?) a district that was artificially constructed to get a Minority (black) Majority district. It ran from one largely minority area, up a highway (no wider than a mile on either side of the highway), and connected with another minority area many many miles away.

    I think they threw it out.
  • Ugly and blatant, perhaps. But many minority representatives (both State and Federal) would not have been / would not be elected without redistricting.

    All sorts of interesting articles and view points available via Google [google.com].

    Here is an interesting page [state.wi.us] with a lot of resources on the subject.
  • by Shivetya (243324) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:51PM (#7643424) Homepage Journal
    We have all known this for some time. Look at some of the people up there. The Senate represents party intrest only and the House is purely special interest.

    If it wasn't for the need of Republicans to get seats in the House and Senate minorities would have been totally marginalized by Democrats. The Democrats speak a very good game of inclusion but they are in effect the party of exclusion. Gingrich and his cronies understood that and used it to their advantage.

    The best solution to this would be to give each state X number of seats and then award those to the top X number of vote getters statewide. This would still protect the original intent of the framers of our Consititution and allow for more diverse people in office. It might finally allow a green or gasp, a libertarian, into the so called hallowed grounds.

    People bitch and moan all the time about Presidential abuses but convienently ignore what goes on in the Senate (requirement of super majorities to vote is not in the Constitution - it is the exact fear the framers had - a government trapped by a militant minorty). Neither side will give up that power and hence they sell us out when making deals.

    Whine about Electronic voting, Bush, and Diebold all you want. You really don't have a choice in who is elected to the House of Representatives... and apparently don't care.
  • let a computer pick random groups of zip codes that are adjacent to each other and distibute the districts that way. Make sure each district is apporximately the same population size. Let a judge or other neutral party manage the process.

    Oh and don't let Diebold anywhere NEAR the computer.

    • There should be certain geometric shapes that are allowed, and districts can only be shaped like those functions.

      Examples:

      circle
      square,
      triangle where no angle 45 degrees
      quadrangle where no angle 75 degrees

      and that's it. Make it fit, with adjustments allowed for any coastal area that won't fit within a district.
  • first derivative (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Geno Z Heinlein (659438) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:53PM (#7643437)
    Hmmm... maybe there should be a law that requires election districts to have the minimum possible perimeter. :-)
    • Hmmm... maybe there should be a law that requires election districts to have the minimum possible perimeter. :-)

      I've wondered about a similar approach myself. The absolute minimum perimeter division into N zones may not be the best approach since the maps couldn't take into account things like rivers and highways that might be convenient to separate zones, nor would it factor in population density. However, it seems that it would be possible to specify rules that would lead to non-Gerrymanderable zones

  • The U.S. government is becoming more and more corrupt. What do you plan to do about it?
  • NC 12th district (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chiph (523845) on Friday December 05, 2003 @05:56PM (#7643469)
    If you want to see ugly, take a look at the North Carolina 12th district. It's been re-drawn more times than I can remember, and been ruled illegal almost as many.

    The NC Libertarian Party offered to redraw the districts as a disinterested 3rd party to the process (theirs would have mostly followed county lines), but the Democrats & Republicans would have none of that, and so we have our snake-like boundaries [state.nc.us]. A better view is available in this pdf [state.nc.us] (area in gray).

    Chip H.
  • by wayward_son (146338) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:04PM (#7643515)
    In Iowa, the State Constitution says that congressional districts can't cross county lines (unless more than one district can be formed from that county, although not an issue in Iowa)

    I believe something like this was discussed due to the controversy in Georgia. When the Democrats who controlled the legislature redrew the House districts, they drew them to give Democrats a blatantly unfair advantage. New districts were created that had a slight Democratic majority, while Republican incumbents ran against each other in extremely Republican districts. (Note: Georgia, like much of the South, tends to vote Democrat at a State level, Republican at a National level).

    50 State Constitutional amendments like this wouldn't prevent gerrymandering, but it would make it a lot more difficult.

  • by mveloso (325617) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:04PM (#7643516)
    The reason gerrymandering exists is simple: you need to split people up into relatively equal-numbered-sized chunks, so each representative represents a mostly equivalent number of people.

    Where those lines are drawn can be key to who gets elected.

    Let's use a simple example. If each representative represents 100 voters and you have 100 relatives that live in a 2-block square, the best district for you would be a shape specifying the exact size of that 2-block square where your relatives are. You can pretty much guarantee that all your relatives will vote for you, or at least most of your relatives won't vote for someone else. Thus you're a guaranteed winner.

    What's wrong with that? Are you not going to represent the will and desires of those 100 people?

    Any whining about gerrymandering is done by the people that lose out. In this case, it's the Democrats (usually) that are whining about gerrymandering, because they're starting to get voted out of office at the local level. In the past, the Republicans were whining about it because they were "drawn out" of the election process by the Dems.

    Really, it's just a game of tactical advantage played by people on all sides. Advantage today turns into disadvantages tomorrow. Whiners today turn into brutal gerrymanderers of tomorrow.

    That's how it is.

    And "independent" councils are nothing of the kind. Anyone involved in the political process is a political actor, and are by definition not independent. They live, work, and eat with everyone else...it's just that everyone agrees not to complain too loudly when the "independents" favor one part or another.
    • Unfortunately, a more accurate comparison would be that in an area to be divided into 3 districts, 102 people are your relatives and 198 are not. By placing 51 of your relatives into each of two districts, you get a 2-1 advantage in spite of being outnumbered nearly 2-1, which means that 1/3 of the people are not being represented.
    • by uptownguy (215934) <UptownGuyEmail@gmail.com> on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:30PM (#7643739)
      What's wrong with that?...

      Let me just throw out a quick observation. The fact that gerrymandering leads to "safe" districts means that more ideologically extreme candidates are viable -- a solidly democratic district is more likely to vote for an extreme liberal and a solidly republican district is more likely to vote for an extreme conservative. This leads to ideological gridlock -- We fill our legislatures with members less wiling to compromise on issues and the swings from left to right and back again grow sharper and sharper. Not really representative of the people's will. And not exactly a formula for long-term stability. THAT would be one potential objection. This really is a problem once you think about it.
  • gerrymander Audio pronunciation of gerrymandering ( P ) Pronunciation Key (jr-mndr, gr-)
    tr.v. gerrymandered, gerrymandering, gerrymanders

    To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections.

    n.

    1. The act, process, or an instance of gerrymandering.
    2. A district or configuration of districts differing widely in size or population because of gerrymandering.

    [After Gerry, Elbridge + (sala)mander(from the shape of an election district cre
  • by peacefinder (469349) <alan...dewitt@@@gmail...com> on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:09PM (#7643563) Journal
    It seems to me like gerrymandering could be cut to manageable proportions by mandating a few simple rules, enforced in order of priority:

    1) Districts must be contiguous.
    2) No party registration data may be used while assigning districts.
    3) Districts must encompass areas equivalent in population within 0.X%.
    4) Districts must have a ratio of perimeter to area of no more than Y.
    5) Redistricting may not move the geographical center of any district by more than Z miles per census cycle.

    We'd need to do a little study to find apprpriate values for X, Y, and Z, of course. But does it really need to be any harder than this? It is about fairness of representation... right?
  • First, what gerrymandering is (from the web):

    "Politicians could design their ridings (districts in the U.S.) to ensure that they would be re-elected. They could move areas that voted against them out of their ridings, or divide areas that supported their party into more, smaller ridings. The process is called gerrymandering, after Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry, who pioneered the technique in the early 19th century."

    In Canada, prior to 1951, Parliament was soley responsible for drawing the electora
  • Instead of letting the legislators have the power to district, which by some strange coincidence affects their (re-)electability, it would be nice to have districting done by a mathemetical grid of sufficiently small size laid over the state in question, and let a publicly-known algorithm functioning like a state (ha haa) machine and work its way across the grid map, apportioning areas. With sufficient trials, the program can run until it gets cohesive districts of roughly equal population. It's just computer time, so who cares about that?

    At least this forces the gerrymanderers to be smart enough to figure out how to exploit loopholes in the algorithm.
  • Colorado (Score:3, Informative)

    by wmspringer (569211) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:23PM (#7643672) Homepage Journal
    From the article:
    >While Texas was shifting its districts, the governing Republicans in Colorado did their own mid-cycle reapportionment, to solidify their hold
    >on the one House seat in the state that produced a close election in 2002. (Legal challenges to the new Texas and Colorado districts are
    >now pending.)

    Background for this: In 2002, there were 4 republican seats, 2 democratic seats, and 1 intensely competetive seat (the republican won by 121 votes) In 2003, in the last 3 days of the session, republicans pushed through a redistricting which would essentially have guaranteed that 5 seats will remain republican until the next redistricting. Challenges were immediately filed on both legal and constitutional grounds; the legal case (in federal court) has been on hold pending the outcome of the constitutional case.

    Before the Colorado Supreme Court, the democrats argued that the redistricting was unconstitutional; the republicans argued that not only did they have the right to redistrict, but AG Ken Salazar (the plantiff) didn't have the right to sue the state he works for. The court found 5-2 that the redistricting was unconstitutional and 7-0 that the AG has the duty to challenge laws he feels violate the Constitution.

    Because the ruling was based in the Colorado constitution, it may or may not affect rulings in other redistrictings.
  • by supabeast! (84658) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:30PM (#7643737)
    This is another great reason we need term limits for Congress. Those people are supposed to be running the country-not rearranging voting districts to ensure that they'll get relected so they can be there to waste more time redistricting the next time around.

    Think about it-how many problems could be solved if elected officials were more concerned with getting work done instead of getting re-elected! Do you really think that Fritz Hollings would have spent so much time passing bills for Disney if he hadn't needed their bribes, er, campaign donations, to get re-elected? Would we actually have a budget that could be passed if politicians worried about re-election weren't stuffing it with more pork than the country can afford?

    Let's all stop wasting time fighting all of the problems caused by these corrupt scum, and just get laws passed to keep them from coming back!
    • 535 politicians, all with lean and hungry looks, each scheming for some chance to advance up the ranks of the cursus honorem? No thanks.

    • by Foamy (29271) on Friday December 05, 2003 @07:10PM (#7644044)
      I was a supporter of term limits, in theory, until I moved to wonderfully wacky California. Here there are term limits for the State Legislature and guess what gets done. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

      It seems that terms limits had the unintended consequence that instead of "getting work done" the pols simply became gridlocked. Now instead of compromise, we just get a big "Stuff it up your A**" by both sides.

      The issue is best highlighted by a couple of recent examples. Dems voted overwhelmingly for Drivers' Licenses for undocumented workers and repubs against. Arnold says he doesn't like the law and the Dems fold like a card house and repeal the law that was signed into law weeks earlier. On the other side, the Repubs were hell bent on "cutting the waste" to balance the budget and were appalled at the idea of floating a 10 billion dollar bond that would balance the budget on paper, but would end up costing billions more in future debt payments. Arnie boy comes to town and proposes an even larger bond sale, 15 BiLLION, and the repubs can't sign on fast enough, while the Dems are now unsure about passing such a huge debt on to future generations.

      Now the point of those two examples is that these term limited pols flip-flopped like fish outta water when it suited their interests. Someone worried about their reelection might have considered the ramifications of making their previous stance so blatantly transparent. With term limits, you just do or oppose whatever the hell you want because you know it's not your neck on the chopping block if you screw up.
  • by toddmr (548952)
    An aspect that I haven't seen commented on here is Racial Gerrymandering. Even if you disallow using partisan information, you can achieve the same results if your state has a large percentage of African-American (AA) voters. And in the Southern states where the Voting Rights Act is in effect, there is somewhat of a loose requirement of not diluting AA vote strength. This will, in all instances, cause the creation of a number of majority AA districts, which always will elect a Democrat. And it makes the s
  • by DanMcS (68838) on Friday December 05, 2003 @06:58PM (#7643962)
    The sad thing is, it would really easy to get census data into a format where a couple easy rules would create good geographical regions. For instance:
    1) all districts must have X (X is state population/#districts) voters, +-5% (or some number, this rule actually already is used).
    2) Divide the state into 1 mile by 1 mile squares, each district consists of neighboring squares, and the total boundary between all the districts must be as short as possible while fulfilling 1.

    You'd probably end up with a bunch of basically square or circular districts.
  • by MBCook (132727) <foobarsoft@foobarsoft.com> on Friday December 05, 2003 @07:07PM (#7644028) Homepage
    This can be fixed, but it's not going to be easy. First off I'd like to say that the Senate, with their 6 year terms, was designed to be longstanding; and the House was designed to be the body that would represent the popular opinion more due to shorter terms and more seats.

    Of course, that's now backwards and the Senate represents the country better thanks to these stupid redistricting plans. In the last general election, less than 30 of the 530 seats changed (IIRC), but no matter what the number was it was pathetic compared to the way it used to be. Many seats were unopposed. Districts since the last census have been drawn largly like this: the Democrats negotiated so that their candidates got strong "safe" districts with little to no opposition. In exchange, the Republicans got everything else, so congress won't change much untill after the 2010 census.

    OK, so how do we fix this? The answer is to take the political parties out of it. Somewhere (Iowa?) a amendment or some such was passed so that when redistricting, the commite can only look at city boundries, population, voter turn out, and other such things to try to make the districts fair, they were NOT allowed to take political party registration and such into account. The result? In the last election almost every seat in that state was well contested and so the citizens there had a good democratic election working for them, while those of us in most of the country basically get force fed some candidate (who may be great, but may be terrible). What we need is to pass laws like this all over the country, so that none of these shenanigans go on.

    As we all know the current process works REALLY well. Let's take Texas for example. In Texas, the Democrats didn't like the Republican redistricting (which from what I've heard was unfair, and I'm a Republican, FYI) so they FLED THE STATE just to keep it from getting passed. TWICE. If we fix this process, there would be nothing for them to complain about, because things would be fair (or at least many MANY times closer to fair than they are now).

    Please, let's pass some reform!

  • Elegant solution (Score:5, Informative)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Friday December 05, 2003 @07:09PM (#7644036) Journal
    For presidential elections this isn't much use, but for congressional and state assembly elections it would be ideal and would help to negate some of the effects of gerrymanderring.

    Single Transferable Voting [wikipedia.org], aka Proportional Representation.

    This simulataneously removes the problem of voters voting against their consciences for fear of wasting their vote. In the PR system, no votes are wasted. It has been used in Ireland [aceproject.org] and other European countries for quite some time now, and the constitution is designed to allow for coalition governments. Just about all of the smaller parties have been players in coalition governments at one time or another.

  • by Gorimek (61128) on Friday December 05, 2003 @08:16PM (#7644419) Homepage
    In a system of proportional representation district size and shape does not affect the representation of the different parties. Each vote is mathematically worth exactly as much as any other.

    So the problem is solved by just not existing...

    Coming from such a country to the US, it's pretty bizarre how crappy and corrupt some of these things are done here.

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