OpinionMeister

Monday, February 07, 2005

Can Arnold Kill Gerrymandering

John Fund has an article in OpinionJournal about four revolutions in state government that Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing to the California legislature. Link.
One of them would allow merit pay for state teachers and tighten tenure laws. Another mirrors President Bush's Social Security plan by steering state employees into 401(k)-like personal pension plans. A third would allow the governor to make across-the-board budget cuts if the Legislature stalemates on passing a budget. The centerpiece is a measure that would do away with gerrymandering, the process by which politicians draw uncompetitive districts to ensure partisan advantage and, most of all, incumbents' survival.(...)

The governor's plan, sponsored by 2003 recall organizer Ted Costa and supply-side economist Arthur Laffer, is a response to the creation of new computer software that permits creative mapmakers to crunch census and political data to such a fine degree that lawmakers effectively select the voters they want, rather than citizens choosing their representatives. The governor's plan would create a commission made of retired judges to draw lines bases on objective standards, such as not dividing cities and counties unless necessary.

The judges would be selected by lot from a pool of 24 names submitted by state legislative leaders of both parties; only jurists who had never held political office would be eligible. Three judges--one Democrat, one Republican and one of either party--would be appointed to hold public hearings and propose a new set of lines that would take effect for the 2006 election, in which Mr. Schwarzenegger is expected to seek re-election. The panel's recommendations would have to be unanimous.

Naturally, one cannot expect a legislature to approve a plan that would make their races truly competitive. The other half of the project is a signature drive to get the measure on the next ballot. California has initiative and referendum. The alternatives are either the legislature passes some compromise that merely weakens, rather than kills, gerrymandering, or the voters kill it.

The plan is workable, but if Arnold had asked me, I would have structured it differently. The same computer software and databases that allow legislators to chose their voters, can be used by voters to make the process fairer. Have only two rules: (1) the smaller the variance in populations between districts, the better, and (2) the shorter the boundary around a district, the better. Allow any registered voter to submit an alteration to the boundary between his/her district and a neighboring district. A commission will be set up to check the submissions. If either (1) the plan reduces the population variance by 10% with no increase in boundary size, or (2) the plan reduces the boundary size by 10%, with no increase in population variance, then the plan is automatically accepted. The process would continue indefinitely until no further reductions are possible. Retired judges are better than legislators, but The People are even better than judges.

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