Monday, February 16, 2015

Gerrymandering

It has occurred to me once or twice since publishing my book – since declaring for all time that “it is done” – that I made a mistake not to include an essay on gerrymandering.  Gerrymandering, as we all know, is the practice of state legislatures to draw Congressional districts in such a way as to maximize their majority party’s hold on Congressional seats, and on state-level representation too.  Gerrymandered states look really really strange, carving out districts one voter at a time.  Jig-saw puzzle pieces look much more regular than gerrymandered districts do.

But on further reflection, perhaps I was not wrong not to include an essay on gerrymandering.  It is easy to say that gerrymandering bestows an unfair and perhaps illegal advantage on one major party over the other; it is easy to say and it is true.  And that unfair advantage could last a decade or two decades before the other party gets the opportunity to redraw the districts in their favor.

Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution declares that Congressional districting will be drawn up by each state legislature every ten years, every Census.  The reason that our Founding Fathers, in this case the members of the Convention that drew up our U.S. Constitution, did not foresee the possibility of gerrymandering is that they believed that the document that they were producing would inhibit the growth of factions, or political parties in today’s vernacular.  They were overly optimistic, as factions (or parties) sprang up nearly immediately during George Washington’s 1st term, into Federalists (the party of John Adams and Alexander Hamilton) and Democratic Republicans (sic) (Republicans for short) (the party of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison).  They were optimistic and they were wrong.  So we are left with Congressional districts in every state being drawn up by the majority party in each state’s legislatures.  Not a good thing (if you believe that gerrymandering will always advantage YOUR party, maybe you think it is a good thing).

So, why do I now believe that it was NOT a mistake for me NOT to include an essay on gerrymandering in my book?  Because gerrymandering is an artifact of Winner-Take-All voting.  Winner-Take-All voting gives the victory to the candidate with the most votes, a plurality of votes, even if he fails to win a majority of votes.  Thus, a candidate who wins 35% of the total vote, whose opponents win 33% and 32% of the vote, wins a Winner-Take-All election, even though he is far from achieving a majority of the votes cast.  My book’s essay on Instant Runoff Voting addresses that issue.  Substitute Instant Runoff Voting for Winner-Take-All voting and the problem of gerrymandering dies a slow death.

For those who insist on understanding WHY Instant Runoff Voting undercuts gerrymandering, consider.  The technique of gerrymandering is to draw districts of two kinds: you draw districts that are nearly 100% made up of registered voters of the OTHER – the minority – party, and you draw districts that are relatively safe (like 55% - 45%) for your own majority party.  That way you maximize the number of districts that your party will win, even if your party fails to win a majority of the state’s Congressional votes.  Once you add viable third- and fourth-party candidates to the mix with Instant Runoff Voting, even Nate Silver (the most eminent political statistician of our time) would not be able to draw a gerrymandered map that would guarantee majority party rule for a decade.  So, forget gerrymandering, invest your time on instituting Instant Runoff Voting!