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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Redistricting Just Doesn't Add Up"

That was the title of an article by municipal reform activist Brett Mandel, published in the latest Public Record. In it, he complains of how the process is fundamentally about "dividing, not uniting" people, and is inherently "disrespectful" because "inevitably one must choose to split some neighborhood, fragment some population, or carve up some community."

This looked to me like a good opportunity to point out an alternative. Here's what I wrote:

Dear editor,

Brett Mandel is more right than he seems to know when he says this. And that's because he isn't right when he says, "One has to draw the lines somewhere." Or at least he doesn't have to be right.

There's an alternative to single-seat, first-past-the-post elections. Already in use in many jurisdictions, it's called cumulative voting. A body such as a city council is elected on an at-large basis, but voters have the option of casting more than one vote for a candidate. For instance, suppose we were to have 17 members of Philadelphia City Council, all elected at-large. Each voter would have 17 votes to cast, but te wouldn't have to divide these votes between 17 different candidates. Te could give all 17 votes to one candidate, 10 to one and 7 for another, or however te liked.

A minority — be it political, ethnic, or of any other sort — that knew it represented, say, about 3/17 of the electorate, could choose to give all its votes to just 3 candidates. The members of this group would still be able to cast just as many votes as anyone else, and could thereby guarantee that they'd get as much representation as any other part of the population, instead of being diluted into invisibility.

Another advantage to this procedure is that it would render partisan primaries clearly unnecessary. No one would be pressured to pigeonhole themselves ahead of the general election, and the annual cost of elections to the public would be cut in half.


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