Friday, June 11, 2004This is the last one, I swear.
What I wrote yesterday should not be taken as asserting that there is nothing wrong with the re-districting process. Gerrymandering is rife, and it does pose serious dangers for democracy. The good news is that there are still 100 swing districts out there, but the bad news is that there are 335 seats that are locked in for one party or another. Except for some urban districts which are 90% Democratic, each of the safe seats contains substantial numbers of voters who have been effectively disenfranchised. The average safe seat is reducing between twenty and forty percent of its voters to political nullity. So why vote?
Furthermore, there is no obstacle to a continued decline in the number of swing districts. This creates an aggregate unresponsiveness- incumbents are increasingly insulated from political challenge (and their constituents). It also makes for permanent political stalemate.
So what are we do to? The easiest thing would be for the parties to call a truce and return to a maximization strategy (where they draw lots of marginal seats) rather than a risk-minimization strategy (reducing the number of competitive seats). I'm not so hopeful. Some states have shifted responsibilities to judicial commissions, but I am skeptical they'll be able to remain independent from partisan control. Another possibility is that the Supreme Court could demand a standard of competitiveness for state plans, that the districts in each state should reflect as closely as possible the statewide demographic balance. This would make it almost impossible to elect a racial minority, however.
A final possibility would be to change to a system of proportional representation for electing Representatives. Citizens would vote by party, and whatever percentage that party receives in a state would be the share of the House seats in that state. This would eliminate the need for re-districting, guarantee minority representation, and likely enhance turnout.
There are several problems here as well. First, it would strengthen party organizations, which would make me happy but upset others. Voters would lose the ability to vote for individual candidates, being forced to cast ballots for parties instead. Second, the connection between localities and the central government would be severed- the state would be the only unit of political analysis. Finally, it would aid in the development of minor parties, which as I have said elsewhere would be incompatible with the Constitution. The last objection might be met by establishing a threshold of say 15-20% before a party would be eligible for representation.
The fact remains that this system is broken, and there are just no easy solutions to it. If you have any better ideas, let me know.