Bloc the Vote II: Geographic representation makes no sense
Q: Why do we elect representatives based on geography?
A: Only because we always have.
It’s hard to overstate how much of an advantage the status quo is given in our minds. Something you never would have thought of yourself becomes the only way things could be when that’s the way it has always been.
Things get worse when the creators of the status quo have their words etched in granite at their memorials around the country.
Such is the case with representative governments based on geography.
But we can manipulate things a bit to make considering alternatives easier. Let’s travel to the planet Zorp where 100 million Zoprians are to be represented by 100 representatives. They look like this.
They have selectively read about what we say about democracy—that it represents all people. So, they would understandably be confused and upset if nearly all their representatives happened to be the pictured beige Zorpians who account for only 53 million and also happen to be the rich ones who had previously enslaved the other 47 million. If they think the results of their elections do not reflect the advertised ideals of democracy as described by JFK, you can expect a date with a particularly slimy tentacle in a dark alley.
How would you solve this problem?
Each of the 100 representatives needs to represent the thoughts, feelings, and desires of one million Zorpians. This is an impossibility.
There are, however, things that might make representing one million Zorpians easier or more difficult.
If the one million people to be represented are diverse in their thoughts, feelings, and desires, it will be difficult for anyone to represent them.
If, on the other hand, the one million people to be represented all have similar thoughts feelings and desires, then the problem becomes much easier. You could ask those one million to simply elect their representative or to document their views and get someone smart and trustworthy to act as their agent in advancing their views.
Let’s formalize this into a claim:
Claim: Populations should be segmented into relatively more homogenous groups before conducting elections. Avoid segmenting them into relatively diverse groups.
So, our sub-problem is how to segment 100 million people into 100 internally homogenous groups. There are at least two ways to do this:
The bad way:
Perform a cluster analysis to group like people together according to various attributes. These may include such things as
- Income ranges
- Ethnicity or race
- Population density of the area the people live in
To do this, however, we have to make inferences about how much these attributes matter. Does a poor Kerblatz-gendered Zorpian have more in common with a rich Kerblatz-gendered one or with a poor Xolatz-gendered Zorpian?
One way to answer such questions would be to perform ideological tests on Zorpians across each category. The results can then be used as inputs to the cluster analysis.
How, though, do you create the ideological test not knowing beforehand what issues are important to Zorpians today let alone next year? Perhaps an independent committee would be responsible, but how would the committee be formed? Another vote?
The good way:
Instead of administering an ideological test, let Zorpians self-sort into ideological pools (hereafter “parties”). Each of the 100 million could vote among, say, 10 parties. (A party becomes eligible by getting a sufficient number of signatures.) If the Whigizorps get 8 million votes, they would get eight representatives. A follow-up election among those same 8 million who voted for the Whigizorps could determine which eight within the party would hold those seats.
This solution would allow minorities as small as one million to gain representation. Of course, one representative probably can’t do much alone, but at least that group’s wishes will be reflected in votes presented before the body.
Perhaps your solution differs in detail from mine. I am doubtful, however, that if you took this problem seriously that you would simply segment the population geographically into 1-million-element clusters and call it an ideal democracy. Not unless you wanted to get familiar with a certain tentacle. There is little reason to privilege geographic segmentation over income segmentation or anything else. You are who you are politically because you think Obama was born in Kenya, not because you live in Tuscon.
Yes, I hear your objections. There is indeed governance that is inherently geographic. The people in my geographic area are the only people who care about the provision of a fire department here. Likewise with road maintenance. I have two defenses.
1. The issues that capture public attention rarely are centered around geography. Obamacare, Food Stamps, and defense are national policy. There isn’t an Idahoan position on the merits of these issues.
And even if there is, my suggested system would still allow for geographic parties. All Idahoans could join together to vote for their own party. The only difference is that if some of them disagree, they could vote for some other party rather than be stuck with what the rest of Idaho believes.
2. The system I am proposing is for how to segment a given population, which would probably be geographically defined (e.g. the planet Zorp or the country America). My city can still have a city government, and people outside of the city would not be invited to vote, so the people affected by a geographically-defined issue would still retain control over that issue.
At some point, geographic segmentation probably made more sense than today. For most of history, people have had far more in common with their neighbors than with any other readily available grouping (e.g. people of your same age). When most of the world’s constitutions were written, it probably made sense that populations should be divided into states with each given representation so that the interests of each state could be heard. And the enabling information technologies needed to allow other kinds of segmentation did not exist.
But now, that is just silly. I have more in common with the spambots reading this than I do with my state-mates. Dramatic contrasts exist within states. Manhattanites are nothing like upstate New Yorkers, but they are all doomed to share Chuck Schumer. Within Manhattan, there is tremendous diversity, but it is reduced to lines drawn on a map. It is an impossibility to draw lines so that you end up with relatively homogenous groups that a single representative can effectively represent.
Image credit: voodoo of Deviantart.com and Wikimedia Commons