Impartial Redistricting Isn’t Enough

As desirable as impartial redistricting is, it isn’t enough. It is an antidote to gerrymandering, but for real democracy, we need multiple choice ballots.

Originally published 2005

As author Steven Hill argues, while impartial redistricting is a step in the right direction, it won’t change the fundamental nature of the problem — single-seat, winner take-all districts that give incumbents and their parties lifetime job security.

Hill argues that what we really need is multiple-choice ballots. I can’t say I disagree, but that alternative represents a sea change in the American political system — one that will be opposed by all incumbent parties! A Voting Advice System can serve as an alternative, and be a vehicle that helps to make it happen, and act as a resource to help it run better when it exists.

In Schwarzenegger vs. Gerrymander, published in the 19 Feb 2005 edition of the N.Y. Times, author Steven Hill argues brilliantly that impartial redistricting will not fundamentally change the political landscape. As desirable as it is, it isn’t enough. It won’t change the fundamental nature of the problem — single-seat, winner take-all districts that give incumbents and their parties lifetime job security.

Some quotes from his article:

“several states already use independent commissions, and the results are not encouraging”

“As they have in many states, regional partisan leanings in California have become entrenched…, with the heavily populated coastal areas and cities dominated by Democrats and the more sparsely populated interior dominated by Republicans. It’s a statewide version of the national political map.”

“Not that there aren’t plenty of Democrats living in mostly Republican areas (and vice versa) – as well as independents and third-party supporters all over. It’s just that they are “orphaned voters” whose candidates almost never win.”

“It may well be that California’s electoral system, like the rest of America’s, has reached its endgame. Our current politics are as good as they are going to be as long as we continue to use an antiquated method (single-seat, winner-take-all) that is so ill suited for the new California and its wide range of attitudes, demographics and geographic regions.

“We can’t change where people choose to live, but we can begin using some type of proportional representation system. For example, California could use a system like that used in Peoria, Ill. for municipal elections. Instead of electing 40 state senators from 40 districts, voters in 10 districts could elect four senators each. Any candidate who won at least a quarter of the vote would earn a seat. These districts would be far more likely to be bipartisan, even electing some urban Republicans and rural Democrats.

Clearly, proportional representation is something we need. And it might be more productive to work for it directly. On the other hand, attempting to implement such major reforms may be an impossibly long task that will not come in time.

An alternative plan is to develop a Voting Advice System that lets people choose advisors they trust. Done right, that system can enable multi-party coalitions in cyberspace, making it possible for multiple ideological minorities, by working together, to successfully challenge dominant political parties. Such a system would also provide a way to validate the results of electronic voting.

There are two different strategies here, that share a common goal. One strategy is to convert our existing single-seat, single-winner political system into a multi-seat, multi-party system. The other is try to achieve the benefits of multi-party politics without necessarily having to change the existing system.

I’m not really sure which plan offers the better chance of success, so I suspect that we need to hedge our bets by moving forward on both fronts. What I am sure of is that corporate money currently dominates our single-seat, winner take all process. (As Steven wrote in his book, Fixing Elections, most of the money goes to incumbents, and 90% of incumbents are inevitably reelected, due to the saturation of their districts.)

The intrusion of corporate money into politics, in turn, has led to a series of manufactured health problems that stem from the diet, the environment, and a tendency to prescribe drugs that manage symptoms, rather than addressing the fundamental causes of the obesity, cancer, and coronary artery problems that are at epidemic levels in America. Those are the concerns that initially motivated my interest in the American political system.

But as bad as those problems are, even more serious problems loom on the horizon. Corporate interference in governance has produced an economic system in which corporate numbers look good on paper, but in which true underemployment is understated by 10’s of millions — an economy in which unconscionable compensation for top executives is awarded for rampant cost-cutting maneuvers which are destructive to the economy i n the long term, but which increase profits operations in the short term — operations like workforce off-shoring, layoffs, hiring freezes, off-shore consignment of intellectual property, market manipulations, ethically questionable tax dodges, and a process of “globalization” that appears to be working to the benefit of corporations far more than to the benefit of humanity.

The resulting economy is characterized by increasing concentrations of wealth, a disappearing middle class, more hours on the job, multiple jobs, and a generally lower quality of life. Meanwhile, the rich get richer.

Most importantly, this is all happening at a time when the human population keeps growing, and resource scarcities are inevitable within the next few decades. Water shortages are expected by 2020, for example, and oil shortages are expected a decade or two after that.

To me, things appear to be trending inevitably towards a global economy in which scarce resources are owned by a few, perched at the top of giant corporate pyramid, with everyone else toiling for scraps. The word for such an economy is feudalism, and I don’t see how it can be avoided, unless we can eliminate the undue influence that corporate money has on the American political process.

True multiparty politics would go a long way to ameliorate the problem, by balancing everyone’s concerns. At the very least, everyone’s concerns would be represented in the decision-making process. So I applaud Steven’s efforts to move our society in that direction, and I congratulate on the success he’s had implementing voting change in San Francisco. (I also thing it was inspired of him to use the term “ranked choice voting” for instant runoff voting. That will make “ranked choice” a familiar concept when it comes time to apply  it in multi-seat elections, where the term originated.)

On the other hand, it may be difficult to institute multi- party politics in the current political climate. So the voting-advice system recommended by the Citizens’ Advisory may be more likely to succeed. (I emphasize: may.) And in the happy event that a true multi-party system were implemented, the voting-advice system would still be a valuable addition to democracy, by making it easier (or possible, at times) to identify successful coalitions.

Copyright © 2005-2017, TreeLight PenWorks


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  1. Elimination of Gerrymandering | May 16, 2017 (11:43 pm)

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