Reform Redistricting, Dampen Toxic Politics

PowerPoint slide presented in Richmond Circuit Court Monday in a redistricting lawsuit pursued by OneVirginia2021

PowerPoint slide presented in Richmond Circuit Court Monday in a redistricting lawsuit pursued by OneVirginia2021. Image credit: Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Given a choice between a House District 72 configured as it is today or the community-based district like the alternative displayed above, who, besides the political party that drew the district to its advantage, would not prefer the latter?

Imagine a country where the voters selected their representatives, not one in which representatives selected their voters. Is there any doubt that elections would become more competitive? Is there any doubt that elected officials would be less ideological, more pragmatic and more inclined to work across party lines?

The United States is becoming more polarized, and that polarization is turning toxic. Two forces are driving this phenomenon. One is the rise of alternative media which allows people to seek news and commentary that confirms their partisan biases without fear of contradiction. The other is the proliferation of computer-aided redistricting which stifles the need for politicians to appeal to voters with different viewpoints.

Here in Virginia, state government can’t do anything about the media, which rightly enjoys freedom of the press. (Fortunately, media is less overtly partisan on a local level than it is in Washington, D.C.)

But we do have the power to change the way we do redistricting. We should do so quickly — before Richmond replicates the partisan hell that is the nation’s capital.

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6 responses to “Reform Redistricting, Dampen Toxic Politics

  1. What if we did away with districts entirely? What if all Virginia citizens, when they registered to vote, were randomly assigned to a House and Senate and Congressional district – and the only instruction to the computer program was to maintain the same number of people in every district? I might vote for one set of House candidates, my wife another, my next door neighbor yet another? There would still be 100 delegates and 40 senators making decisions in Richmond. Communication is mainly electronic these days. Seriously, as thought experiment, what the hell difference would it make? What is a community of interest?

    If community of interest is your goal, how about making the division based on age, where you went to college, income levels? Delegate Joe Jones, R-Redheads. Delegate Julie Washington, D-UVA. Senator John Miller, D-Poor People. Is that a bad idea? Less valuable than division based on geography? Why? Would it make for more or fewer competitive elections?

    It is all a social construct, we make it all up now, right? The goal is to make the districts equal in population, and contiguous, but why? Why is that system so wonderful? The complainers now say they want competitive elections, but is that really their goal? If so, term limits and contribution limits would be better tactics. In Great Britain, as I understand it, there may be little or no connection between and MP and his or her constituency.

    Am I being serious? Maybe. Think about it….

  2. Ha. You need to see the VP. The only decent reporting I see is Daily Press (a certain Ms. Porto shares a seat in the FOIA council), your blog, one of the Richmond papers …

    When I say decent I mean something that actually sticks to facts with some personal attachment, different views, or something other than click bait.

  3. Here’s the clause I’d add to the Virginia Constitution (in Section 6) to fix this problem:

    “Every electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory and shall be so constituted as to give, as nearly as is practicable, representation in proportion to the population of the district. The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.”

    That would solve the problem, wouldn’t it?

    • Nope, so long as the federal government mandates racial gerrymandering, it’s impossible to redistrict without more gerrymandering.

      And there are already a number of Virginia court cases with holdings quite comparable to the statements in your proposed constitutional amendment. They were made ineffective with the Voting Rights Act.

      I’m not arguing against the VRA per se. The South’s history with racial discrimination probably still needs some remedy today. But you cannot have a redistricting plan that considers factors other than contiguous and compact factors without gerrymandering.

  4. you’re kidding right?

    but I’m pretty sure you could give those instructions to a computer and it would generate just fine and I support that.

    I DO subscribe to communities of interest and point out that it’s deeply embedded in our governance structures. We have separate districts for the House of Delegates and Virginia Senate – would they run inside the congressional district boundaries? How about counties elected governance? No way they could align with the other Congressional and State boundaries, right?

    Even within counties – there are “split” precincts.. where you can have – in the same precinct – two different Congressional Districts …

    it’s amazing the registrar’s and SBE can keep it all straight!

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