The Redistricting Game

June 21st, 2007 at 5:13 pm by David Farrar

In NZ electoral boundaries are set by the Representation Commission which mainly comprises of neutral civil servants, namely:

A District Court Judge as Chair
The Chief Electoral Officer
The Government Statistician
The Surveyor General
The Chairperson of the Local Government Commission (not strictly neutral but non voting)

Plus there are two political appointments by Parliament to represent the Government and the Opposition. Some criticise those roles, but I think it gives a dynamic to the deliberations which is useful, and they are clearly a minority.

It’s a system which works very well.

The is an example of a system which does not. This is not because they deliberately designed it that way, but is a consequence of being a Federal Government. The Census determines how many House Reps each State gets, and it is totally up to each state as to how they draw the boundaries. You can not pass a Federal Law appointing a panel of Judges to do it.

Now sadly in many States, they have it done by the State Legislature or a panel of State Reps. And for many decades they have gerrymandered the boundaries to the advantage of either the incumbent Federal MPs or the party which controls the State House. This is why generally 80% or so of House seats are not competitive (in NZ only 35% would be truly non competitive).

One can’t just blame the politicians for this. The Governator in California proposed that a panel of judges get to do the redistricting, but this was rejected massively by the voters. There was a very effective attack campaign against the proposal showing three senile Judges trying to draw boundaries and not even realising they were working on a map of Texas not California.

Anyway the House gerrymander is one of the bigger flaws in the US political system (which does have many positives). Now someone has put together an online Redistricting Game which allows you to try out your own gerrymanders. It’s great fun and almost addictive. I’ve managed to turn a Democratic seat into a Republican seat at both the basic and advanced levels, and also managed to create an entirely new seat with a Republican majority but also a 65% Cuban-American population so that it complies with the Voting Rights Act. One of the few restrictions on redistricting gerrymanders is the requirement an ethnic minority can’t be discriminated against by (for example) creating three seats where they are say a 25% minority in each seat, when a more logical seat would have them in a majority.

Hat Tip: No Right Turn


8 Responses to “The Redistricting Game”

  1. Graeme Edgeler () says:

    Agree on the addictive – I saw the link last night – and then ended up going to bed two hours later than I intended and not getting enough sleep before an early start this morning…

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  2. David Farrar () says:

    Yeah. It’s a nice intellectual challenge to actually find a way to do the gerrymander :-)

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  3. tim barclay () says:

    I would have a whole series of rurual seats of 5,000 people each and one seat in south Auckland of 150,000.

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  4. Selma Bouvier () says:

    Interesting post David but you are not strictly correct in saying this …You can not pass a Federal Law appointing a panel of Judges to do it…

    When districts dont comply with the voting rights Act a federal judge can order a redrawing of boundaries.

    A site with maps of all districts

    A particuarly blatant eaxample is Texas 15th District which is shown here
    Note the scale at the bottom!!
    Most states do it but Texas is amoung the most extreme , done by the Republicans of course who redrew the boundaries a second time after a census

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  5. andrei () says:

    in NZ only 35% would be truly non competitive.

    What difference does it make if they are competive and/or not if the incumbant or the incumbants main opposition have high spots on the party list.


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  6. kiwi in america () says:

    You missed the blatant Democrat redistricting in California, Illinois, New York and Massachusetts.

    David is right – the partisan redistricting is the result of a strictly federal system. Personally I prefer the NZ Boundaries Commission approach but there are many advantages of the wider American political system over the NZ system that more than compensate for the boundary drawing problems.

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  7. Selma Bouvier () says:

    KIA nothing could be more blatant that what happened in texas,most states only do it once every 10 years, after the census when the total number of districts can change.
    Texas under the cheats did it again in 2002.
    Delay who was behind it all , lost his job, and the Democrats won his seat !!
    By the way give an example of blatant gerrymandering in illinois texas or NY. You have the maps

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  8. DS () says:

    KIA, the gerrymandering in California, New York, and Illinois is of the bipartisan protect-the-incumbent variety, not of the partisan variety. A Democratic partisan gerrymander of New York would easily eliminate (via “cracking”) the two downstate congressional districts still in Republican hands, while if the Democrats really got to work on turning Illinois partisan, their lead in districts would be much larger than the current 10-9.

    Massachusetts is an oddity: the Democrats hold all ten congressional seats (plus everything else in the state above the level of district attorney). What is going on there is less an example of Democratic gerrymandering (otherwise you’d be seeing “packed” Republican seats), but rather extreme Republican weakness in the state. You’d have to engage in a pretty dramatic gerrymander to actually give the Republicans a single congressional seat in Massachusetts.

    The only truly nasty partisan Democratic gerrymander at the moment is Maryland. That, however, pales into insignificance with the monstrosities that are the pro-Republican boundary maps of Ohio, Michigan, Texas, Florida (Florida’s maps really have to be seen to be believed), and Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania, however, backfired on the Republicans in 2006: Operation Ratfuck (yes, the Republicans really did call it that) saw the GOP get too greedy and spread itself too thinly. The Democrats ended up gaining four seats in the state because of it.

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