Friday, July 20, 2007



I haven't posted much about politics in a while, largely due to fatigue with the whole thing, but an article on metafilter this morning about gerrymandering impels me to point something out that I've mentioned to a few folks in the past, but for which I haven't had a good visual aid before now.

The mefi post is about a "shortest-splitline algorithm for drawing N congressional districts", which can be found here. Here's a quote from the site, that explains what the related ballot initiative is about.
The advantage of having our simple splitting algorithm draw the congressional districts is obvious. There is one and only one drawing possible given the number of districts wanted, the map of the state, and the distribution of people inside it. Which of those people are Liberal, Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Black, White, Christian, Jewish, polka-dotted, or whatever has absolutely zero effect on the district shapes that come out. So you know the maps are going to be completely unbiased. Get politicians to draw the maps and you know that not only are they going to be completely biased, they are also going to be a heck of a lot more complicated-shaped and they are going to use up a lot of your taxpayer money figuring out how to best-rob you of your vote. Which do you prefer? It has been over 200 years. Isn't it time to make gerrymandering a thing of the past?
I suppose there may be some places in the States where this isn't much of an issue. Texas isn't one of them. Remember when the Democratic state legislators all fled the state a few years ago, and state lawmen were sent to drag them back to the voting chambers? It was because they were trying to avoid this.
Texas's 32 congressional districts (side-by-side comparative chart from the Associated Press as printed in the Houston Chronicle 9 Oct. 2003) showing district shapes before and after the extraordinary redistricting in 2003. (jpg) (And here [png] is a closeup on what they did to Austin to split up those annoying Austin voters.) The gerrymandering was not inconsiderable before the redistricting, e.g. check district 4 near Dallas. But, after it – after it – aaah, for total statewide brazenness Texas really takes the cake. Check district 19 (Lubbock in the north West) and the whole East half of the state is made of those long thin districts. And for extra amazement check those closeups on Houston, and Tom DeLay's personal district 22. Yup, definitely Texas is an unbelievable new champion. (Check the 127-page Texas Court decision declaring this totally legal. Before re-gerrying: Texas had 17 Democrat and 15 Republican congress. After, it was 11-to-21 the other way. Christian Science Monitor editorial on this.)
As the site states, Texas was far from perfect and unbiased before, but now? Yeesh. My congressional district, which used to map pretty closely to Travis county, now begins not far from my house and ends, hundreds of miles away, at the Mexican border. Pretty much insuring that any Democratic votes from Austin, one of the few strongly left-leaning areas in the state, will be diluted with Republican votes from the more right-leaning rural areas to the south.

And who do we have to thank for this? Why, Tom Delay, of course...

Okay, I'm too fatigued to talk about politics again. Back to cartoons, superheroes, and muppets.

Isn't Doggett still your rep? The eastern and western districts certainly overwhelmed much of the Austin Democratic vote by splitting them between conservative rural areas, but that lightning strike south to the border was designed to run Doggett out of office on the theory that Hispanic voters wouldn't vote for a white liberal. That plan backfired, as did the scheme to knock off Chet Edwards by moving conservative College Station into his district. I'm still amused by the fact that the Republicans literally handed BCS to the only Democrat that could possibly win there...

But as to your larger issue, yes, I agree completely. I've been saying that if the Republicans are smart they'd set up a bi- or non-partisan standing redistricting committee, because with demographic shifts, they've got maybe 10 years left as the clear majority party, max. But they won't. And when the Dems retake Austin, they'll exact retribution in the same manner. And so the cycle renews itself.

But I really like this algorithm. Sweet and simple. No wonder it'll never be adopted.
Yep, I think you're right, and that this is a pendulum that's just going to keep on swinging (but perhaps more like Poe's "Pit and the..." than a ticking clock). But adopt it? Hell no, they won't. It'd make too much sense.
Tom Delay - the gift that keeps on giving. Gosh, if he had an army of all those terminated foetuses, what might he have accomplished today?

Oy vey!
The gerrymandering switched me from Doggett's district to McCaul's. Which makes sense, what with Mr. McCaul living in Harris County, and all, and us being out in the sticks of, uh, central Austin.

In my perfect world, all the states would work like Iowa (I think it is), which may use algorithms like this, but in any case has a nonpartisan redistricting commission that draws basically rectangular districts. They have some of the liveliest incumbent turnover (uprooting members of both parties) in the country.

But yeah, that all makes too much sense.
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