Sunday, November 6, 2011
By Bill Kraus
What the responses to my last blog post about de-partisanizing redistricting reminded me of is how far below the radar this whole subject is.
This is not what you would call a high-profile item. A good half of the people who contacted me or who didn’t respond to my contact urging them to join a movement to turn the every decade legislative district map-making over to people who don’t have a dog in the fight seemed wary of my motives.
What had been made clear is that the present system puts competitiveness into the criteria mix. Negatively. As long as the map-making is in the hands of the legislators who occupy these districts, they will favor making fewer districts and the elections for those districts less competitive. So far so good.
The next assumption among the doubters was that the Iowa system, which I admire, tries to make more districts and elections more competitive. This may or may not be the result of disinterested redistricting, but it is not the objective of it. The genius of the Iowa system is that it simply takes competitiveness out of the list of criteria.
The criteria that remain and which I like are:
1. Where counties or major municipalities have the population to be about one Assembly seat or two or three or more, districts should be drawn within those bounds to yield that number.
2. No counties or municipalities should be divided among districts unless that is necessary to assure approximately one person one vote. And then the districts should be defensible, have natural boundaries like rivers or city thoroughfares or media markets, other political boundaries like school districts, or ethnic conclaves.
3. No wards should be cut.
4. Districts should be as compact as possible. No long fingers or squiggles. Square is a good shape.
5. Population equality is a goal not an absolute. Over the course of the 10 years these districts are in effect a lot of population shifts are going to happen. So getting close to population is good, getting too perfect is probably impossible and not necessary.
6. If within these rules, incumbents can be placed in one district and putting two incumbents into one district can be avoided, that’s okay. Contorting districts to make sure there are no incumbent vs. incumbent contests isn’t justifiable.
No red and blue criteria are recommended.
The idea is to make defensible, almost-population-equal districts and let the voting chips fall where they may.
It seems to me that maps drawn by a dispassionate public agency which has a few geography majors on staff can do this without setting off an epidemic of paranoia: the incumbents’ occupational disease.
And, if what they come up with is at or near what has happened in Iowa, for example, the incumbents will vote for it overwhelmingly, there will be fewer gerrymanders, and more voters votes will count right through the November elections.
How scary is that?
The opportunity to put this idea on everybody’s short agenda at this moment in time and space arrives because there are going to be eight or nine elections in a wholly unanticipated summer season this year. It is my hope that everyone who runs in these elections will be asked to support this un-radical, unthreatening, voter-power enhancing idea.
I would think that none of them would say no thanks, that they prefer gerrymandering.
This is the last chance to make this good thing happen until 2021.
Let’s do it.
Follow Bill Kraus on: