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by AshaSanaker | 3.1.18

What’s the story?

We here at Countable have been talking for a long time about the problem of partisan gerrymanders, where districts are drawn so as to guarantee that one political party dominates. Whether it’s Republicans in Pennsylvania or Democrats in Maryland, it subverts democracy.

And though it is a complicated problem, with a host of possible solutions, there is a time factor as well. Most states establish districts via the state legislature. The next round of redistricting will come after the 2020 census. Whichever party dominates over the next two election cycles, given the current system, will control redistricting through 2030.

We can either accept the system as it is, and know that any redistricting that happens after 2020 will be fatally flawed, or we can push for changes. Here are a host of possible fixes that could work to prevent partisan gerrymanders:

  • The efficiency gap, which quantifies “wasted votes”. It is part of a casecurrently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court over the district map in Wisconsin, which was shown to dramatically privilege Republicans. And lest you think it’s just Democrats whining about not winning, the plaintiffs have vocal GOP supporters in Congress.
  • Neutral commissions, or non-partisan commissions are already used in some states, as well as other countries. Some states also use bipartisan politician commissions. “Neutral”, “non-partisan”, and “bipartisan” being the important keywords.
  • Algorithms! Seriously, maybe humans are the problem, and the whole thing should be decided by computers. Mathematicians in the U.S. are being consulted on how math can be used to prevent partisan gerrymanders, and they already use algorithms for creating district maps in Mexico.
  • The Fair Representation Act proposes using a combination of ranked choice voting and electing multiple representatives per district so that no one party takes all the seats in any district, but only the amount that reflects their percentage of the population.
  • And today, we heard of another idea, called “I cut, you freeze” (though it really needs something better than that). Basically, parties take turns drawing up the district maps, but whichever party is not in charge gets to choose one district to freeze into place. Next time the roles would switch.

Any or all of these solutions could be adopted by states. There does not need to be one answer. But there should be an answer chosen in every state to ensure that our theoretically representative democracy is actually representative.

What do you think?