Fixing the Poison of American Politics - Cleaning Up Redistricting

I'm writing this the night before Election Day in the United States. Once the votes are tallied, a sizable percentage of the population will be convinced that the country is doomed.

Cards on the table, I'm definitely a partisan. Though a fairly liberal Republican in my 20s and early 30s, I've transitioned to liberal Democrat. That probably puts me in a minority of people who voted for both Bush and Obama. Basically, as I've grown older I've come to the conclusion that not everybody gets an equal shot and some people have horrible luck - whether in their parents, their genetics, their choice in careers, or what have you. And I believe that the government has a role to play in smoothing out the extremes of wealth and poverty.

With that in mind, I suspect people of any ideology will agree that American politics are in a very sorry state. If you ask me for my opinion as to why, I think the biggest answer is that politicians get to pick their voters. This is probably most evident in the House of Representatives, where most members come from very ideologically homogeneous districts. Below is a classic diagram of how gerrymandering works:


While the diagram above is greatly simplified, it showcases how the power to draw districts is the power to pick the optimal voters for a given political party. I don't necessarily believe that the "Perfect Representation from the Washington Post's WonkBlog above is even optimal - districts shouldn't be solely dedicated towards party parity but rather should best represent their communities. 

The danger with any of the divisions above is once a district is constructed as "safe" for a given party, the representative of that district has no incentive for ideological compromise. Indeed, compromise, even in the effort to "get something done" can be toxic, exposing the representative to the threat of a primary. This has been especially evident in the GOP over the past several years, but I doubt it would be very different if redistricting tended to favor Democrats. 

I don't think it is accident that it is the Senate, even with its longer terms, that has changed majority parties more times in recent history. Take a look at the changes in party control since the late 1970s:

CongressYearsHouseSenate
95th1977-1979DemocratDemocrat
96th1979-1981DemocratDemocrat
97th1981-1983DemocratRepublican
98th1983-1985DemocratRepublican
99th1985-1987DemocratRepublican
100th1987-1989DemocratDemocrat
101st1989-1991DemocratDemocrat
102nd1991-1993DemocratDemocrat
103rd1993-1995DemocratDemocrat
104th1995-1997RepublicanRepublican
105th1997-1999RepublicanRepublican
106th1999-2001RepublicanRepublican
107th2001-2003RepublicanRepublican, Democrat
108th2003-2005RepublicanRepublican
110th2005-2007RepublicanRepublican
111th2007-2009DemocratDemocrat
112th2009-2011DemocratDemocrat
113th2011-2013RepublicanDemocrat
114th2013-2015RepublicanDemocrat
115th2015-2017RepublicanRepublican

In this timeframe, the House changed majority party three times while the Senate did seven times (including a change in the middle of the 107th Congress and then another at the tart of the 108th). I don't think that is an accident when you consider the fact that a Senator has no option for redistricting - he or she always represents his or her entire state. His or her voters are fixed.

What would I recommend? I think redistricting needs to be removed from politicians. I think it's time to turn this over to our computer overlords.

Would this fix everything? Clearly not. The Senate has been getting rather toxic as well what with Supreme Court nomination fights getting more and more bitter to the point where the current Senate refuses to even consider President Obama's nominee and has suggested if they keep their majority they would not allow a President Hillary Clinton to ever fill a seat. But I do think increasing competitiveness in the House of Representatives would be an important start.

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