A Look At Alternatives to Partisan Gerrymandering

In my previous article, I explored the negative effects of gerrymandering and the need for redistricting reform. Gerrymandered districts can rob many voters of their representation and create “safe seats” for substandard Congressmen.

This article will explore possible solutions to the issue. These, in short, involve computer programs designing fair districts, bipartisan or neutral groups negotiating equitable redistricting, or the elimination of districts from the system altogether.

A strong case can be made for a computer algorithm to redraw district lines while following pre-set guidelines. The computer algorithm could be set to neatly separate majority and minority areas into separate districts, though this would ensure congressmen benefit from uncontestable seats as they often do now. It could also be set to create compact districts, ensuring that districts are shaped simply with equal populations and no regard for partisan alignment. Along the same lines, it could design compact districts while following county borders, preventing division of communities into separate districts. The algorithm could also be set to ensure as many competitive districts as possible, offering a real shake-up every two years. This would limit the ability of career politicians to win reelection multiple times, and would turn many red or blue states to a deep shade of purple.

The neutrality of an unfeeling computer is difficult to impeach: it harbors no partisan bias or ulterior motives of its own. However, the same cannot be said with certainty of the computer’s human programmers. The needs for compactness, competitiveness, and fair representation, while all compelling, are not always mutually attainable. The people responsible for deciding the algorithm’s guidelines would have to choose which to prioritize, and could align their choice with the interest of one party or the other.

The Ohio Legislature is considering a bill that would require a bipartisan supermajority to pass all redistricting legislation. The bill would require a significant number of minority votes in the State Legislature, and also limit the number of divided counties in order to prevent the division of local communities into separate districts.

While this bill prevents a partisan hijacking of congressional elections, it will most likely still create “safe seats” for congressmen of both parties, ensuring their indefinite reelection every two years. Furthermore, the bill still allows for a set number of counties to be divided, which would still allow for the “cracking” of major metropolitan counties into multiple districts.

A more far-reaching solution would be to eliminate congressional districts altogether. Most democracies among our allies in Europe use a proportional election system, which allows for more than two parties to seriously contend for seats. Adoption of a similar system in the US would eliminate the possibility of gerrymandering while allowing nearly all voters to be accurately and fairly represented. However, it could also empower the party elites to choose congressmen, since most proportional systems only allow the voter to choose a party, and the party to choose the representatives.

A happy medium between party control and single-member districts would be to allow voters to choose between candidates from a state-wide ballot. If the state has 10 congressional seats, then the top 10 candidates would win the seats. Large states (like CA and TX) would likely still be divided into a few large multi-member districts, but that would make gerrymandering much more difficult than it currently is. This system would also threaten the two-party system, allowing voters to choose other parties, like the Libertarian, Reform, or Green parties without necessarily wasting their votes. Democratic and Republican officials stand to lose influence if these other parties gain relevance, however.

With grandiose reforms beyond reach, the American people can still hope for new safeguards within the current framework. Empowering a fair and independent authority to redraw district boundaries will safeguard the democratic nature of the American republic for years to come.  Legislators should not be allowed to directly choose their own district boundaries: that is a dangerous conflict of interest.

The more Americans’ votes count, the less likely that Congress will continue to suck.

Nat Paul was born in Australia with dual citizenship and grew up travelling between there and the USA. At 19, he enlisted in the US Army Reserve. Nat believes that a career of service is an important prerequisite for political office. He graduated from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, with a degree in Political Science, a focus in International Affairs, and a minor in East Asia Studies.

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About Nat Paul

Behind Enemy Lines is a national Award-Winning radio show / podcast broadcasting live out of the belly of the Democratic beast - "The People's Republic of" New York City that airs on multiple radio stations as part of the Talk America Radio Network! The show is also available on multiple networks across the internet, with more being added regularly.

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