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Monday, September 26, 2011

Take the Offensive Against Gerrymandering

I just sent an email under that header to both my state legislators, as follows:

I hope you will do more than simply oppose the politically motivated attempt to change the way Pennsylvania chooses its presidential Electors. Democrats should take this opportunity to push for reforms that could end gerrymandering altogether.

The key is to point to the hypocrisy of the rhetoric about "making every vote count." Right now, inasmuch as this is a "purple" state, every voter has a modest chance to affect the outcome by coming out and voting, no matter what part of PA te lives in. By contrast, if the Corbett/Pileggi "reform" is adopted, only voters in the "purple districts" — basically the Philly suburbs  — will still have any chance of affecting the outcome. Urban and rural voters alike will no longer have any motive for getting to the polls. That's because this legislation wouldn't abolish "winner-take-all" — it would only shift the operation of that principle from the state to district level.

The real alternative is proportional representation on the state level. This is the type of system whereby 10% of PA voters can choose 10% of the state's Electors, no matter how they're distributed throughout the state. Various forms of PR exist, such as cumulative voting and the ranked-list system; they're all described at the web site of the Center for Voting and Democracy.

Adopting PR for the Electoral College would make every vote count even more than it does now, since it would no longer be necessary for the election to look "close" to give each vote the sense that te has a significant chance of affecting the outcome. Further, there's no reason to limit this principle to presidential elections; we can advocate it for the state legislature as well, and roll it all up into one bill. (We could also include PA's congressional delegation, but this part would likely be struck down until US Code Title I is amended to no longer require single-seat districts.) Proposing to "amend" the present bill by substituting PR for single-Elector districts would put Pileggi & Co. on the defensive by showing that only our plan actually advances the goal that his only pretends to serve; at the same time, by applying PR to other state elections simultaneously, it would completely eliminate any possibility of gerrymandering, since districts themselves would become passe. And if any currently "red" states followed PA's example, that would tend to cancel out any loss of Democratic Electors owing to Pennsylvania.


Anonymous said...

very interesting idea. though i wonder if such methods might actually discriminate against the poor, who would probably find it all very confusing and "white".

mugwort said...

Gerrymandering is extremely unfair no matter what politics is involved. By definition its creating a district in such a way that one particular political party is given a significant unfair gain. It is called gerrymandering because one district supposedly resembled a salamander shape that was part of the redistricting by 1816 Mass. Gov. Eldrige Gerry. He carved the state in districts that was a benefit to his Democratic-Republican party.
For more info on contemporary Gerrymandering check out

stripey7 said...

I've never heard anyone call cumulative voting confusing, Anon. In fact its most prominent advocate ever was probably Lani Guinier, who proposed it specifically to help minorities achieve representation in proportion to their numbers. As for the party list system, that's essentially just like voting in a primary and general election at the same time.