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OP-ED | Redrawing the Lines on Redistricting

by Heath W. Fahle | Jan 20, 2012 10:08am
(9) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

The public policy challenges posed by an economy in the midst of a structural evolution are numerous. Addressing them requires elected leaders that effectively represent the interests of their constituents. Though choosing elected officials is ultimately the responsibility of the voting public, the practice of politicians choosing their constituents through redistricting often has undue influence in the process and leaves us with a political dialogue ill-suited to addressing the big issues.

Connecticut’s recently concluded redistricting process, which redrew General Assembly and U.S. House districts, started with the great hope of overhauling the state’s obviously gerrymandered Congressional districts. Republicans on the bipartisan Redistricting Commission proposed big changes to the current map, moving Bridgeport into the Third District, expanding the Second District closer to New Haven, and realigning greater Hartford suburbs into more sensible districts.

Democrats, however, are content to hold all five Congressional Districts exactly as they are – with five Democratic members of Congress. They made very minor changes to the status quo in order to balance the district populations. When the state Supreme Court instructed Special Master Nathan Persily to confine his changes to only those absolutely necessary, they effectively chose the Democratic map. Future attempts to undo gerrymandered maps will be hampered by the poor precedent set in this case.

Though ten years will now pass before the issue is re-opened, the redistricting process should be evaluated during this time and reforms should be adopted to reduce the impact of gerrymandering and increase the competitiveness of legislative elections in Connecticut. One proposal for closer examination should be the “Rethinking Redistricting” plan proposed by former Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita in September 2010

The plan was based on five principles: keeping communities of interest together, creating more compact and geographically uniform districts, reduce voters’ confusion about who represents them by following existing political boundaries, not use political data, including incumbent addresses, for partisan reasons, and “nesting” house districts into senate districts.

In sum, the concepts represent an entirely practical approach to the redistricting process. Rather than protecting incumbents or catering to other narrow political interests, like candidates for higher office sitting on the commission that redraws the districts, this approach would depoliticize the process and make it much more accessible for citizens.

One particularly intriguing principle is the concept of nesting, in which State House Districts would be drawn as subsections of a State Senate district, and if one were so inclined, State Senate districts would be drawn as subsections of Congressional districts.Twelve other states require nesting in some form and Connecticut should carefully consider whether it would produce more sensible maps in our state as well.

If there is a peril in modern politics, it is that some issues seem to exist in a vacuum, an impression particularly vivid in the context of redistricting. What does it matter, most members of the public likely wonder as they read about the political catfights surrounding redistricting. But meeting the challenges of an evolving economy requires a robust politics that gives voice to all views and then synthesizes them into effective public policy decisions. Protecting incumbents and gerrymandered maps inhibit this process and make it harder for us as a society to accomplish our collective goals.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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(9) Comments

posted by: Jonathan Kantrowitz | January 20, 2012  11:13am

Nesting only works if the number of state house seats is evenly divisible by the number of state senate seats, and if the number of state senate seats is evenly divisible by the number of US house seats and then the whole thing falls apart if we lose a US house seat.

Right now the count is 36 senate and 151 house. The closest that would work is 35 senate (7 in each congressional district) and 140 house (4 in each state senate district) but many oxes will be gored (incumbents losing seats) if these changes are implemented.

posted by: Heath | January 20, 2012  7:17pm

Heath

Hi Jonathan,

On nesting, you are right - we’d have to change the number of seats in the House and Senate. The nice thing is that the Connecticut State Constitution is quite amenable to doing this as it specifies ranges for both the senate (between 30 and 50 seats) and the house (between 125 and 225 seats).

You are right about the oxes, too, but I think we could use a little shaking up of the system in Hartford.

posted by: Jay | January 20, 2012  8:14pm

I am sorry, this process will never be depoliticized.  Gerrymander comes from the former Governor of MA Elbrige Gerry.  Federal laws mandate that states redraw the lines every 10 years. This is for federal as well as state offices.  The Republicans have been fighting changes all along this entire process.  And they forget, they are not in power.  Now, if the roles were reversed. Does anyone think for one moment that Mr. Fable would be arguing for depoliticizing the process??  I doubt it.  The other issue is that federal laws requires districts to be drawn to be compact.  This means that districts like the famed I95 district in North Carolina are not appropriate.  These districts in the new scheme are compact.  They are not so adversely drawn to as to overly advantage any particular group.  See Shaw v. Reno. Nesting, is full of bunk as the link above describes.  Nesting does not take into account the shifts in population.  As some seats are required to be based upon population and some based on geography (such as senate seats) this is a problem.  The practical implication will always remain.  Those in power will use it to their advantage, and those out of power will say its unfair.  That is why there are federal laws that keep the egregiousness in check.

posted by: Heath | January 22, 2012  11:05am

Heath

Jay said:

I am sorry, this process will never be depoliticized.  Gerrymander comes from the former Governor of MA Elbrige Gerry.  Federal laws mandate that states redraw the lines every 10 years. This is for federal as well as state offices.  The Republicans have been fighting changes all along this entire process.  And they forget, they are not in power.  Now, if the roles were reversed. Does anyone think for one moment that Mr. Fable would be arguing for depoliticizing the process??  I doubt it.  The other issue is that federal laws requires districts to be drawn to be compact.  This means that districts like the famed I95 district in North Carolina are not appropriate.  These districts in the new scheme are compact.  They are not so adversely drawn to as to overly advantage any particular group.  See Shaw v. Reno. Nesting, is full of bunk as the link above describes.  Nesting does not take into account the shifts in population.  As some seats are required to be based upon population and some based on geography (such as senate seats) this is a problem.  The practical implication will always remain.  Those in power will use it to their advantage, and those out of power will say its unfair.  That is why there are federal laws that keep the egregiousness in check.

It’s hard to believe that you could put so many incorrect statements into a single comment.

I’ll try to address each one:
1. I’m not arguing for a depoliticization of the process as it is inherently political. I am arguing for the consistent application of a set of principles to the process and the ones outlined in “Rethinking Redistricting” appear quite reasonable in my view.

2. I’m for making decisions grounded in clearly stated principles. I haven’t done the research to assess the possible political implications of these reforms because that isn’t my concern.

3. On nesting, I disagree completely with you. The principle could be implemented with respect to population by drawing Congressional district lines first, then an equal number of Senate districts with equal populations (it would mean changing the number of Senate seats as described in earlier comments), and then drawing state house districts in the same fashion.

posted by: ... | January 23, 2012  10:18am

...

It seems as though over the course of several redistricting, we can never get it right the first time. Perhaps we’re following that lovely quote by Einstein that: “attempting to do the same thing each time with a different result is insanity” (or something of that sort).

Maybe instead of trying to play games about this being a bi-partisan process, make it more partisan. By that I mean, allow the commissions to present two plans from each party to the general public, and make it an issue that all citizens of any or no party can vote on.

We always say redistricting affects all of us quite literally, yet we give the power of such a drastic change to a commission that is a fraction of a fraction of those who represent us.

posted by: ... | January 23, 2012  10:26am

...

Sorry to double post. But to revise my previous post. Allow for 3 map options. One designed by each party and their hired specialist, and the third a designated ‘non-partisan’ consulting group (chosen by non-elected state department) that presents their own independent map (or as close to a compromise between the two party plans as possible).

posted by: Aldon_Hynes | January 23, 2012  11:54am

Aldon_Hynes

Personally, would be very interested in seeing Connecticut include nesting as part of its redistricting, and the idea of seven senate seats per congressional district and four assembly districts per state senate district sounds good.

Another benefit of this is that it would lay the ground work towards moving to other forms of elections, such as proportional representation using a mechanism like a single transferable vote.

posted by: Aldon_Hynes | January 23, 2012  12:01pm

Aldon_Hynes

Since jonessAC12 doubled posted, I figure I will too, partly to respond to his comments.

I like the idea of allowing everyone to vote on redistricting plans.  Yet his proposal seems to reinforce a two party system.  Shouldn’t other parties, like Greens, Working Family Party, the Independent Party, and others be able to submit ideas?

Instead, I would like to see Connecticut head the direction that other states have in redistricting, where redistricting tools are made available online to anyone who wants to submit a plan.  In addition, these tools can allow for people to work together on plans and build plans getting more support from a wide range of voters.  I tested one system like this, but couldn’t get it configured in time for Connecticut’s redistricting, and I looked at a few similar competing systems, including some that were sponsored by various states.

posted by: ... | January 23, 2012  12:39pm

...

I’m not totally dismissive of other parties Aldon Hynes, however I do believe these parties need to have appropriate representation in the CT Legislature, as these proposed maps are a legislative duty to work on following each census.

However, your proposal is also definitely viable and appealing as well. There was a brief period of public availability to the courts, but otherwise not much involvement was possible.