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On gerrymandering and local politics

by Greg Krehbiel on 1 February 2018

I’m sure you’ve seen some of the ridiculous districts our politicians have carved out of the landscape so they can retain power. The current system is absurd and needs to be fixed.

Which raises a few questions in my mind, the first of which is why do districts have to be based on geography?

While it’s true that I have some things in common with my neighbors, when it comes to government policies and programs, I probably have more in common with people who are my ideological rather than my physical neighbors.

There is, as a friend reminded me last night, a cultural good in encouraging people to have some connection to a place. It’s a good thing to have roots, and to have an interest in the welfare of a particular location.

Still, the question of representation can be approached a few different ways. There is the geographical angle, but there’s also the question of common interests, or common views.

For example, all the people who make their living off the Chesapeake Bay have a common interest that transcends where they live. Same with everyone who has adopted a child, or all lawyers, or … you get the point.

IOW, there are lots of different ways to divide people, and I’m not convinced geography is the best way to do it.

What do you think?

But if districts are going to be based on geography, I think drawing the districts has to be taken out of human hands. I would only trust a “bi-partisan” or independent committee a little more than I trust what we have now.

It should be done by computer, with a few simple rules. E.g., (off the top of my head) you pick how many people should be in each district, and then you draw rectangles to include that number of people. For an oddly shaped state like Maryland the rectangles would have to be able to cross state lines, of course, but they would only include the people in Maryland. That may or may not work, but you get the idea. No more crazy districts that are drawn only to benefit a political party.

2018-02-01  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 8

  1. Craig
    1 February 2018 @ 2:32 pm

    I completely agree! I am surprised that the Supreme Court did not clamp down on gerrymandering back in its liberal heyday. I’d rather see a legislative solution, but the courts should limit the worst abuses of gerrymandering in the meantime, which would be an easy application of its “one person, one vote” principle set in Baker v Carr.

    There have been some interesting proposed amendments, which would bering a constitutional solution. We can solve gerrymandering without a constitutional amendment, so I won’t bother referencing any specific proposals.

  2. Ken Crawford
    2 February 2018 @ 7:30 pm

    I don’t think the rectangle idea is a good one. Geography is more complicated than that. Rivers and ridge lines divide people and should be respected when thinking about how to geographically carve up our districts.

    As for ideology vs. geography, the two models for how to vote for city council are instructive. One model is to create districts. The other model is to have X number of seats up for election and the top X vote getters get those spots.

    It would seem to me that a good system of checks and balances would have a bit of both, some geographically chosen representatives and some total ideology based. Perhaps it is time for a 3rd house in Congress where there are 400 seats with 50 up for election every year. The ballot can have an infinite number of candidates (OK, perhaps some preliminary culling system is needed) and the top 50 vote getters get in.

  3. William
    3 February 2018 @ 12:15 am

    Interesting Ken. Anything that could break-up this hyper-partisanship we now experience would be welcomed, IMO. Some questions…what would be the name of the third house of Congress? Assuming the current incumbents in the two house system wouldn’t want to share their power, how would you suppose this third house gets in power? It’s already cumbersome to get things done in a two house system…what would you propose to keep the third house from adding more complexity and time to decision-making?

  4. Ken Crawford
    3 February 2018 @ 10:40 am

    William, the only thing that would allow a 3rd house in Congress to exist (which of course requires a constitutional amendment) would be for there to be massive public unrest on the level of the Vietnam War era AND for most legislators who oppose such an idea to consistently loose re-election. Even then it would take a decade for the turnover needed to happen and for the constitutional amendment process to complete.

    I agree a 3rd house would just slow things down even further if it just became a 3rd body that had to approve all legislation. Greg would probably be in favor of that. 🙂 A way to mitigate that would be to divide up some duties (like right now the House is in charge of the budget) so that they would be the responsibility of only 2 of the 3 houses. Another option would be that all legislation only needs approval of 2 of the 3 houses as long as one of them is this new one.

    As for name, perhaps we borrow from our British forefathers and call it the House of Commons?

  5. RR
    3 February 2018 @ 4:05 pm


    Gerrymandering is a problem. I would like some sort of rule requiring Congressional districts to be composed as much as possible of coherent groups of existing counties and cities instead of having districts that say snake down interstates or unnaturally cut up numerous counties simply to draw districts that benefit one party or the other.

    Another way to do representation is by having party lists the way they do in Germany. For instance, this would have voters vote once for their district representative, and once for the party of their choice, for that party’s list. There would be a certain number of representatives chosen at-large from the party’s list of 100 seats. So for instance, from the party vote, if 45% of voters all across the nation voted Republican, 45% Democrat, 5% Green, 5% Libertarian, then the Republicans would get 45 at large representatives, the Democrats 45, 5 for the Greens and 5 for the Libertarians. These are all just numbers by way of example.

    I’m not sure if I have described this system well. The benefit would be for small parties and for people living in a state and district that does not reflect his or her politics, for instance a Republican voter living in a heavily Democratic district in Maryland. Those type of voters could at least influence the outcome of the 100 at-large seats.

  6. William
    4 February 2018 @ 1:36 am

    Ken, agreed…it’s a “nifty” idea, but heaven and earth might pass away before the US would see a 3rd house in Congress. 😉 Yet, I like the concept. Since we’re living in the land of make-believe for a moment, I’d propose to make the 3rd house “superior” to the other two. Not sure how that would happen or could work. But, that might be just enough incentive to make the other two give up their partisan dysfunction.

  7. Joe Arrigoni
    4 February 2018 @ 10:53 am

    Hi Greg,

    Our local NPR station had this on a while ago. I thought of it when I read your post.

  8. Greg Krehbiel GregK
    4 February 2018 @ 11:04 am

    Good link, Joe. Thanks.

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