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


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