Bob's Links and Rants

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Tuesday, July 01, 2003

All redistricting, all the time. The NY Times reports that Texas isn't the only state where partisan redistricting has become an all-the-time thing, not just a once-a-decade embarrassment for anyone who cares about democracy. In 2002 Michigan lost two fine representatives, Lynn Rivers and David Bonior, due to Republican-designed redistricting.

I've just done a quick search through the Constitution and its amendments, and as far as I can tell there is nothing there that requires members of the House of Representatives to represent specific districts. Article I, Section 4 states "The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations, except as to the places of choosing Senators." (The method of choosing senators was changed by the 17th amendment.) But as far as I know, there are no states which have more than one representative which use any method other than geographical districts for selecting their representatives (I think Vermont did, but they've only got one rep. now). If there were any interest in improving our democracy, I would think that some states would be looking for better ways to select their representatives than by having the party in power create some mind-warping jigsaw puzzle. This method results in a large minority of the population being poorly represented in Congress--imagine being a liberal in Tom DeLay's district: who ya gonna call? Michigan has 15 seats in the House--having all 15 seats be at-large would almost guarantee that everyone in the state would have several representatives for whom they voted. With preferential voting, it could be even better. Perhaps give every person 15 votes to cast anywhere on the ballot, including multiple votes for the same candidate. This would practically guarantee that every sizeable minority would get at least one representative in the delegation.

So why don't we have something like this? My guess is the blame goes to the highly undemocratic two-party system, which benefits by denying minorities the opportunity to come together in any way unless they are lucky enough to compose the majority of one particular jigsaw piece. In a fifteen-seat at-large election, minor parties would have an excellent shot at getting a representative or two, even if their members were spread evenly throughout the state.

Sorry, I haven't researched this very much--just a quick rant based on the NY Times article. If anyone knows of any errors in what I said, or can shed further light on the subject, I'll be happy to post it. I just find it depressing that there is so much rhetoric about how wonderful our democracy is, and so little debate on the many simple ways in which it could be vastly improved.