Let the People Gerrymander Themselves

Related Post Roulette

62 Responses

  1. Oscar Gordon says:

    An interesting idea, but the one issue I can think of is that people like knowing who their rep is. If I have an issue, I want a single person I can contact and say, “I voted for you, you represent me, you need to listen to me and respond.”Report

  2. J_A says:

    I like your at-large proposal very much

    But if we decide we are going with geographical representation, I would suggest that districts should basically represent people similarly situated, and face similar issues: urban communities, suburban communities, exurban communities, rural communities. Each group have similar interests, and the interests of the different groups are not aligned. It makes sense that we have -subject to quasi-equal population representation- urban, suburban, exurban, and rural districts.

    These days, its fairly easy to create an algorithm to draw these kind of districts. I would suggest to use population density by census tract

    1- Start with the most dense census tract in the state. That’s the seed tract for District 1.
    2- Add to District 1 the next most dense census tract that is contiguous to the seed tract.
    3- Repeat with the following most dense tract(s) contiguous to District 1 until you reach the population limit for a congressional district.
    4- Start District 2 with the most dense tract not already included in District 1. Repeat steps 2/3 until completing District 2.
    5- Repeat for Districts 3 through N-1.
    6- All the tracts not included up to District N-1 will be the most rural parts of the state and will become district N. It will likely be the largest district in the state
    7- If District N is geographically too dispersed, then start adding the least dense tracts of District N-1 (or N-1 and N-2) that are contiguous to District N until you reach twice the population level of a District, then allocate this enlarged District N into two (or three) Districts. Reallocate tracts among the other districts, from lest to more dense, following the contiguous least dense tract rule, until all districts have essentially the same population again.

    This method ignores political partisanship or race, and just puts together people that share the same day to day interests.Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to J_A says:

      Colorado’s US House districts largely follow the guidelines in your first paragraph: one district for the rural Eastern Plains, one for the rural Western Slope and San Luis Valley, one for Colorado Springs and its surroundings, one for Denver and a portion of the mostly closely linked suburbs, two for the rest of the Denver suburbs (east and west, basically), one for the northern Front Range communities and the mountain towns. Three are safe Republican seats, three are safe Democratic seats, one is competitive (the eastern Denver suburbs). The competitive district has been held by Republican Mike Coffman since it was created. Coffman has done everything possible except change his voting history — learned Spanish and runs occasional Spanish-first town hall meetings, constituent services second to none. But having a bog-standard Republican voting record finally caught up with him and the district flipped this year.

      Colorado will almost certainly get an eighth seat after the 2020 census. The two big rural districts, Denver, and Colorado Springs will stay largely the same. How the rest of the Front Range gets chopped up could change quite a bit.

      I’d have to see simulations on the algorithm. To keep people happy it might need to include something to keep city/county splitting small.Report

  3. dragonfrog says:

    This would surely solve the problem of gerrymandering, but I suspect at a cost of causing significant other problems.

    My home town used to use at large elections for city council, and it favoured the corrupt and sleazy – the closer to their home neighborhood they got, the fewer votes they got because they were dealing with people who were onto them. But they also could afford lots of ads, so they got enough low information votes around the city to land a seat.

    Also the ballot was so full of names it was hard to be informed. You just can’t research that many people.

    I’d go with dual member proportional rep instead.

    Each district is doubled in size, each party can field at most two candidates per district, limiting the research burden and distant sleazebag advantage.

    One seat in each district, the ‘local’ seat, goes to the candidate with the most votes. Then all votes across districts are added up per party, and additional ‘proportional’ seats awarded to make the seat totals match the popular vote as closely as possible.

    Those seats are awarded by ranking each party’s candidates who didn’t win a local seat according to how many votes they did get, and running down the list until all that party’s proportional seats are awarded.

    That way you get PR and also a guarantee that only candidates who have a good degree of popularity with voters in their home district, who have a better chance of knowing them for who they are, get seats.

    Gerrymandering could still serve a purpose in setting up safe seats for an influential incumbent party hack, but to the extent that they got a lower turnout than a younger and more inspiring candidate would have, they risk costing the party a proportional seat – so really taking advantage of gerrymandering would be a losing tactic.Report

  4. Jesse says:

    At the very least, mixed member proportional voting where you’d just have overhang regional seats to make up for any difference between the actual percentages and the number of seats.

    Or if we want to get more complicated, PLACE voting gives you proportional representation and district representation – https://medium.com/@jameson.quinn/place-voting-the-elevator-pitch-abbdbeb08ecfReport

    • James K in reply to Jesse says:


      Personally, I’d suggest just to straight Proportional Representation for the House.Report

      • Jesse in reply to James K says:

        I’m fine with straight PR, but people have weird attachments to have a direct representative for their area.Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to Jesse says:

          Not weird at all.

          How cool would it be for Nancy Pelosi to pick all the democrats on the democratic slates for each state?

          There’s no AOC replacing what’s his face in that world.Report

          • Jesse in reply to Marchmaine says:

            I mean, with PR, the DSA could run a slate of their own and so on and so forth. If anything, with PR, there’d be far more AOC’s. Also, it seems like AOC and her are getting along fine. It’s the moderates who are whining.

            Also, with PR, there are a myraid of ways to let people choose who will actually be elected, respective of who the party puts at #1 and more importantly, the DCCC Chair Ben Ray Luján would likely be picking the slate, not Pelosi, even if she is still the Wicked Witch of the Left to most of the right.Report

            • pillsy in reply to Jesse says:

              Yeah, “Screw you guys we’re not voting for you!” has a lot more teeth as an effective threat in a proportional system.

              There are still flaws and catches and drawbacks, but it doesn’t just transfer ultimate power to party leaders.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to Jesse says:

              True, if DSA wants to go all in and leave the Democratic party… sure, I’m all for the fragmentation.

              Still, I can’t see, given the blue sky of options, why we wouldn’t prefer to elect representatives directly plus allow for voting at the party level to smooth out the differences, split the vote, and or allow for secondary parties to gain traction at a lower risk to the electorate.

              Don’t get me wrong, I think we need to fragment the parties to save the parties, and I’m in favor of various things that would do that. But, pure PR has some significant drawbacks of making the parties more rigid and rewarding hacks/loyalty over other things.Report

              • Jesse in reply to Marchmaine says:

                MMPR which you’re asking for is much better than what we currently have and like I said, I’ll happily take it to appease people who have a weird need to say “x person is their Congressperson.”

                But, 90% of any group of politicians are going to be hacks driven by loyalty and need to help out their local area, for the most part.

                Which is actually a good thing – we need more party hacks who will vote for whatever the smarter policy people have drawn up instead of 30 different people pulling a party 9 different ways because of petty personal feuds or weird policy differences.

                When everybody thinks they’re the true leader of the party, you get…well, the modern Republican House Caucus.

                If you really care that much about an immigration or tax bill, instead of torpedoing a whole party, cross the floor, or change your party label for the next election.Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to James K says:

        We might need to change somethings to make straight Proportional Representation work for the House. There are states with very few Representatives, so its going to get weird results. Some states only have one representative. The House needs to be increased in size or we need to get rid of the idea of representation based on state populations.Report

  5. Jaybird says:

    I still think that they should base representation on some number of people who deserve some amount of representation.

    Like, we say “No representative can reasonably represent more than X people!” and then figure out what X ought to be.

    Gerrymandering that results in fractal districts offends me. I imagine that gerrymandering will still happen if we moved Maryland from 8 districts to 23 districts, but it’d be tougher to gerrymander and, more importantly, the number of gerrymandered people would be smaller and this smaller number of people would have more proportional access to their representative.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

      Baby steps… take your Wyoming proposal as the new baseline number (555k +/-). But, all the additional reps get added as “at large” … So… All the existing incumbents are still incumbents in their districts, big states get more reps, and we add a second vote for “Party” to smooth out the allocation.

      1. Districts are algorithmically determined by one of these methods
      2. One vote for rep in district.
      3. One vote for a party
      4. Approx 135 new “at large” seats are distributed by population.

      Minimal disruption, maximal opportunity for rebalancing.

      Don’t complain to me when the parties change their messaging in unforeseen ways.

      {edit, I should add that I didn’t calculate where all the seats should go, assuming – perhaps naively – that some number would go to just about every state… but not Wyoming. Fuck Wyoming.}Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

        When I think “No representative can reasonably represent more than X people!”, X is smaller than 555,000 by an order of magnitude.Report

        • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

          Sure, and I think devolving more power to regional and state level governing bodies is better than 3200 centralized congressional members trying to govern the nation.

          But I’d take 570 centralized congressional members with some PR as an incremental improvement that, if you squint just right, seems almost plausible and sellable.Report

          • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

            I wish Federalism For Real This Time was on the table…Report

            • Jesse in reply to Jaybird says:

              As long as Federalism for Real involves abortion banning, the ripping away of LGBT rights, massive cuts to the social welfare state, restrictive voter ID laws and other lowering of civil rights, and such being passed on a local and state level, nah. States lines shouldn’t determine what basic rights and what basic parts of the welfare state you have access too.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jesse says:

                Yeah, better to have Trump decide that for us.Report

              • Jesse in reply to Jaybird says:

                The only thing worse than national level Republicans are state level Republican’s in red states. Also, Trump will be horrible for a maximum of four to eight years. Oklahoma or Wyoming will be voting 65% for the right leaning party when I’m on my death bed.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Jesse says:

                And the only thing you can really do with people like that is force them to live according to how you know they ought to.

                Send more Californians.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                The other 35% also have rights under the (federal) Constitution, so you can’t just write them off.

                And it not like it doesn’t cut multiple ways. Does federalism mean that it’s OK for states to ban guns entirely? The Supreme Court didn’t think so. For that matter, it’s not even clear whether federalism is going to allow Colorado to compel cake-bakeage.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                so you can’t just write them off.

                What if I describe them using emotional language? Perhaps even emotional language laden with negative moral judgment?Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                That may work in a campaign ad but will do little to convince people who live in the rest of the country to ignore them, nor will it do much to convince them not petition the federal government for redress of their grievances.

                And even in heavily monochromatic states they may have a congresscritter of the opposite party.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Can you give us an example of conservatives being forced to live how others think they ought to?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Is “Federalism” a conservative position? How about “Small Government”?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                I don’t understand the response.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                “Yeah, you don’t get to live with Federalism. Small government either, for that matter.”

                Or are you asking for specifically stuff like “you *MUST* do this thing” rather than “yeah, this isn’t an option for you”?Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Wouldn’t the “you must do this thing” be a more straightforward meaning of the phrase?

                What are liberals forcing conservatives to do, that they would prefer not to?Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Moving from “you can’t do that” to “you must do this”, would “bake the cake” count? How about “Nuns need to pay for Birth Control too”?Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hey, “bake the cake” is my example of how conservatives don’t want federalism either!Report

              • Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                What’s the Federal position on it?Report

              • pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                It has yet to be determined.

                But the court case is all about the cake-bakers objecting to state law requiring them to bake a cake they don’t want to bake, on the grounds that they believe the federal Constitution prohibits it.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:


                Except “bake the cake!” has come from a couple states, not the Feds, so “Federalism yay!”

                And the nuns weren’t even being asked to pay for birth control (at least not after they complained), just to submit a form saying they wouldn’t because “sincere religious belief” so someone else could.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Road Scholar says:

                Does the Individual Mandate count?Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

                Much better example. Of course these same people are generally ok with telling the insurance companies that they have to sell you an affordable policy and cover the hugely expensive condition you just discovered you have…Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Road Scholar says:

                I was asked for an example! I gave one! What do you want from me?

                Edit: I admit, I do see “well, yes, technically that was making people do something but it was for their own good” as an argument that I’ll have to deal with tomorrow.

                As if that’s what we were arguing about when I was originally asked to provide an example.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh, no! I totally agree that it’s a fine example. And I’m not trying to minimize it on the grounds of being for their own good or anything. Just pointing out that everyone does it.

                I mean… everyone, whether they really consciously contemplate it or not, has a personal conception of the “good life” that they wish to live. And a prerequisite for living that life is inhabiting a society that, at minimum allows, and ideally supports your preferences. And that is going to entail telling other people what they must or must not do. It’s inescapable; even libertarians do it by insisting on a kind of free-for-all society that many people find repugnant.

                So yeah, liberals do it. Conservatives do it. Everybody does it. Even above-it-all libertarians.Report

              • KenB in reply to Road Scholar says:

                If you’re going to go with the argument that preventing people from coercing others is itself coercion, then OK — there’s a sense in which it’s true. But then you need to be consistent with it and not just selectively deploy it against libertarians. Under this view it doesn’t make sense to make freedom-based arguments for anything — e.g. the debate about the availability of birth control would just be a competition between those who want to coerce women into not using it vs those want to coerce religious conservatives into not coercing women into not using it, and this outlook suggests that there’s no natural reason to prefer one sort of coercion over the other. Are you ready to bite that bullet?Report

              • pillsy in reply to KenB says:

                Yeah but in the case of federalism, a lot of what people are demanding as “federalism” is exactly the ability/power/right to coerce others. Leaving libertarians aside [1], a huge number of federalist demands boil down to, “We don’t want the federal government to interfere or prohibit laws that we pass to constrain and coerce other members of our local administrative unit.”

                [1] Though libertarians often have conceptions of property and contract rights which IMO go far beyond “leaving other people alone”.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to pillsy says:

                This is where y’all go unhinged when any talk of federalism comes up… how is all this coercion talk different for being regional rather than central? If I take your concerns to heart, it seems twice as logical to prevent excessive centralization.

                Build the California/Portland liberaltopia… I’m all for it, good luck and godspeed. I look forward to the lessons learned.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Well, to be fair, federalism got a bad rap due to the causes for which it was originally deployed. You know, slavery and then later, the Jim Crow stuff. And now you see liberals championing it for stuff like legal weed. Which is why I said earlier that practically nobody really holds it as a bedrock principle, but rather deploys it as an argument when convenient and tosses it aside when it’s not. It’s much like cries of “judicial activism” that are raised whenever a SCOTUS decision goes the “wrong” way.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Road Scholar says:

                Sure, that’s why its unhinged… we all know we’ve evolved to prefer our slavery to be global, neo-liberally economic, and invisibly distant. A return to 1850 would be wildly inefficient, by comparison.

                Kidding aside, this is precisely the weird sort of liberal constitutional fundamentalism I don’t quite understand… it doesn’t have to be Articles of Confederation or Bust. Every discussion of decentralization doesn’t put us in 1850 any more than any discussion of democratic voting reforms puts us in 1789 (or worse, 1793).Report

              • pillsy in reply to Marchmaine says:

                States’ rights was being invoked to defend Jim Crow within my parents lifetime, and is still being used as a way of expressing resentment over its demise to this day.

                As for voting rights, federalism the pretext for the awful Shelby County decision. This doesn’t put is back in 1789. but it puts us uncomfortably close to 1963.Report

              • pillsy in reply to Marchmaine says:

                It’s not different, so there’s no particular reason to support one over the other, except as an ad hoc strategy to gain procedural advantage.

                Which is fine so far as it goes, I suppose, but there really isn’t any compelling reason to believe that federalism is somehow pro-freedom or anti-coercion.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to KenB says:

                Under this view it doesn’t make sense to make freedom-based arguments for anything…

                Oh, you can make the argument. Just don’t stand there with a dumb look on your face or get all pissed off when jumping up and down about “coercion” doesn’t win the debate. Libertarians hold Freedom as the highest political value and often act as if it were the only valid political value. But there are others: safety, economic security, equality, maintenance of established hierarchy, compliance with community/religious norms. We all hold some combination of these values to various degrees and orderings of priority.

                So, am I ready to bite that bullet? Well I’m ready to acknowledge the reality that there is no objective moral framework apart from a pragmatic liberal reasoning of constructing a society that most members can endorse most of the time.Report

              • JoeSal in reply to Road Scholar says:

                It is either freedom or perpetual war. I would ask that liberals not have that same dumb look on there face after being gut shot on the front lines because they couldn’t give other people freedom or opt out of their ‘social norms’.

                Liberals haven’t figured out that they have no more of a claim on social objectivity than anyone else.

                ‘Constructing’ a society means someone is picking winners and losers. That is the flaw in ‘ pragmatic moral reasoning’. War begins on attempted ‘construction’. So liberalism in this premise is a vial, violent type of ideology.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to JoeSal says:

                It is either freedom or perpetual war. I would ask that liberals not have that same dumb look on there face after being gut shot on the front lines because they couldn’t give other people freedom or opt out of their ‘social norms’.

                Shooting people when you don’t get your way sounds mighty coercive to me.

                Liberals haven’t figured out that they have no more of a claim on social objectivity than anyone else.

                I’m actually disputing the existence of social objectivity. At this point I might stake a claim on superior reading comprehension though.

                ‘Constructing’ a society means someone is picking winners and losers.

                No. Constructing a society is an organic process that we all participate in individually and collectively. Ultimately we’re all going to be both winners and losers in some regard. Accepting that is the difference between being a decent human being or some asshole that starts shooting people when he doesn’t get his way.

                That is the flaw in ‘ pragmatic moral reasoning’. War begins on attempted ‘construction’. So liberalism in this premise is a vial, violent type of ideology.

                Dude, you’re the one threatening war…Report

              • JoeSal in reply to Road Scholar says:

                Yeah, reading comprehension. I didn’t say I would shoot, and didn’t threaten war. War is what happens when one faction attempts to ‘construct’ society.

                There is a problem in the assumption that a society should rise (organically or inorganically) above the sovereignty of any individual.

                Individuals should be able to negotiate how they win and lose, not be forced by ‘social constructs’ of any particular faction.Report

              • Chip Daniels in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sure, that counts as liberals forcing conservatives to do something they prefer not to.

                It just seems to me that once we actually start drawing up a list of:
                Things They Force Us To Do, and;
                Things They Prevent Us From Doing;

                a few things will become clear.

                That is, the stuff liberals are forced to do/ prevented from doing by conservatives, and things conservatives are forced to do/ prevented from doing by liberals will be remarkably different in terms of importance to liberty.Report

              • JoeSal in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                Why not just take ‘rule by force’ off the table and see who complains first?

                Without forced taxation there will become two very different baskets of social goods.

                (Not sure if federalism is even an important issue at that point)Report

              • pillsy in reply to JoeSal says:

                People will start complaining in such a massive rush that picking out the person who complained first will be an academic exercise, and possibly an impossible one.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                It just seems to me that once we actually start drawing up a list of:
                Things They Force Us To Do, and;
                Things They Prevent Us From Doing;

                a few things will become clear.

                I admit. I put a lot of things under the umbrella of “telling other people how to live”.

                Prohibition of Alcohol? “Telling other people how to live.”

                You might say “that wasn’t telling people that they had to do something! That was telling people that they couldn’t do something! Completely different!”

                And then I’d bring up marijuana or something and we’d get into the weeds.

                Hey, throwing people in jail for marijuana isn’t telling people how to live. It’s telling them that they can do stuff but *NOT* smoke weed. Completely different!

                It is known.Report

              • Road Scholar in reply to Jaybird says:

                Neither is anything like a principled position, just a rhetorical argument to deploy when convenient. To be fair, liberals deploy federalism selectively as well but we don’t yell about it being a sacred principle.Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jesse says:

                This isn’t a partisan issue. Almost nobody, left or right, wants Federalism For Real. Not that there aren’t a few principled federalists. By my count there are 37 of them.Report

              • Jaybird in reply to CJColucci says:

                Maybe if we rebrand it as “soft multiculturalism”?Report

              • CJColucci in reply to Jaybird says:

                Not likely to help. Much of opportunistic federalism involves pure pocketbook issues. Many a big business prefers to deal with a single bureaucracy and a single set of regulations than with fifty, so we see such intrusions on traditional state authority as the Class Action Fairness Act and federal laws preventing states from applying their product liability laws to firearms. Almost everyone cares far more about the substance of the laws than about the “appropriate” level of government to make them, and will push for what they want at whatever level of government is most likely to give it to them. Principle be damned. When anyone outside of the ivory tower talks federalism, he could be sincere, but that’s not the way to bet.Report

  6. Aaron David says:

    I really don’t have a problem with G’mandering. It is a political issue and whoever had the last whip hand is going to move the lines around to please themselves. And yes, some of those lines are going to look a little snakey. But, in my eyes at least, that reflects the reality of politics in the US: it is very snakey. Underhanded. The ProPublica article on California confirmed what I remember from being a resident. And I firmly believe that judges should have zero say in this, as it is firmly the purview of the legislative branches. So, I feel the current system, Texas and Maryland included, is the best overall.

    If one did try to change this, it should be done more on known physical boundaries or recognized legal lines such as counties or cities or boroughs. And to do that you would need to remove all other g’mandering, such as minority-majority districts. The exact number of peeps in a district wouldn’t matter so much as a pre-existing, and thus politically immovable, line.Report

    • Jesse in reply to Aaron David says:

      “I really don’t have a problem with G’mandering. It is a political issue and whoever had the last whip hand is going to move the lines around to please themselves. ”

      Person has ingrown distrust that government can never work and accurately represent the people is OK with system that continues cycle that allows politicians to ignore the populace and stop the government from working because of lack of trust in system.

      Totally surprising that we have a nihilistic political culture in the US that we do, as opposed to other countries, that unshockingly go, “actually no, we shouldn’t let politicians choose their constituents.”Report

  7. Patrick says:

    I’m more of a radical.

    Party-preference representation for the state’s net House membership.

    California has 53 members. You vote for a party, not a candidate, and the party gets a proportionate share of the total seats, with a required minimal representation percentage to get any seat at all.

    This would:

    a) Entirely eliminate House gerrymandering
    b0) Provide an avenue for minor parties to gain officeholders but
    b1) Also strengthen individual parties’ coalitions and
    b2) Bend minor parties towards governance rather than ideology, because legislative prowess now matters more
    c) Remove the incentive for the federal government to favor individual congressional districts as horse-trading chips (lower the incentive for pork)


    d) avoiding the populism weakness in pure parliamentary models since you still have the SenateReport