Redistricting update

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In Wednesday’s post about a new redistricting algorithm, I focused on the technical specifics of the proposed method, and the pros and cons that made it different from previous proposals.

I deliberately avoided delving into all the standing arguments about how best to draw districts, largely because I’ve discussed them in tedious detail before. But judging by the comments and e-mails I’ve received, a quick overview would be useful.

The complicating factor is that there are situations where gerrymandering produces a better result than a purely nonpartisan approach. That’s because redistricting involves several legitimate but competing principles:

1. District boundaries should make geographic sense.

2. District boundaries should be nonpartisan.

3. The makeup of Congress should reflect the makeup of the citizenry. If a given group makes up 15 percent of the citizens, it should probably have about 15 percent of the Congressional seats.

4. Districts should be socially coherent, so that their representative can truly represent them. A suburban neighborhood on the edge of the city, for instance, is better grouped with a suburban district with similar demographics than an urban district with which it has nothing in common.

The problem is that #4 is highly subjective, and it’s hard to get #3 if you want both #2 and #1. For instance, assuming minorities are somewhat evenly spread through the population, a totally nonpartisan approach would create zero districts where blacks, say, are a majority — greatly reducing the political power of black voters.

(continued over at Midtopia)