Surprising Non-Democratic Examples of Redistricting

I wanted to present some simple cases of theoretical redistricting, to find out how undemocratic the results can be. The assumptions are that every voter is in one or the other of two political parties, red (R) or blue (B), and that red completely controls the state redistricting process. Later we will consider independents or different voting methods to try to resolve the lack of democracy in the results. By democratic results, I would mean that the resulting representation in the House would be the same ratio of voters into R and B parties. We start with a situation of many districts in the state.

The first case would be the most democratic one conceivable. Suppose that R and B voters are distributed uniformly throughout the state, but that there are more R voters. Suppose that the redistricting is done without any bias, say by a computer placing random rectangles in the state. Then each rectangle would contain the same percentage excess of R voters over B voters. Hence, only R representatives would be elected in every district across the state. Conclusion: a state with no socio-economic clumping and the most perfectly fair and unbiased districting ends up with the most undemocratic distribution of representatives, all from the dominant party.

The key to the most successful and undemocratic redistricting is not to protect the dominant state candidates’ (R say) district advantage, but the existence of local socio-economic clumping of the opposition B party. Let’s make this easy by a simple example, where the state is equally divided between R and B voters, with 50 districts in the state. Say that in 10 B districts containing 20% of the states’ voters, where B party members live in socio-economic clumped districts, that 100% of the district members are B partiers. That uses up 40% of the B voters and 0% of the R voters. In the remaining 40 districts, assuming uniform distributions of the remaining 60% of B voters and 100% of R voters, of which there are equal numbers to start, the Rs will have a 10:6 or 5:3 advantage, or 5 out of every 8 votes, or a 62.5% to 37.5% percent advantage. They will consistently win every election in the remaining 40 districts. So a state with 40% of one party clumping will split 4 districts for Red to every 1 district for Blue. It might not even appear that the boundaries will be jiggled around, or that the clumped population is disenfranchised. This is a highly undemocratic result from a state with equal red and blue voters. It shows that clumped one party districts have to be broken up in a fair amount to allow democratic representation.

I live in a part of Orange County where the opposition party regularly achieves two to one votes in Congressional House elections. Yet I have come to consider myself a sacrificial bunt in a district where the opposition party is clustered, and my party’s voters can be spread around more districts to dominate the state’s House agenda. I can’t influence my own House member, and since House forms on the web are prejudiced to members from their own district, I can’t influence my own party’s House members either. I do write to my states’ congressional Senators and some on my blog, though.

The corrections to these undemocratic examples are a growth of independents, or of a third centrist party. Also cross party voting in primaries can lead to more centrist candidates. Finally, selecting the top two candidates out of both primaries put together can lead to more centrist candidates.

According to NBC news, the middle now accounts for 51% of voters, more partisan Democrats are 21%, and more partisan Republicans are 28%.
The simple math models of course ignore personalities, general issues, local issues, funding, tennis shoes on the ground, voter restrictions, turnout rates, the draw of other issues or candidates on the ballot, and whether it is a midterm or presidential election year. Even in the first case with a red party excess and uniformity, if the excess is not too large, the blue party can get members elected based on many of the factors above. If the red party excess is too large, blue party residents can always adopt the sacrificial bunt rationalization, that they are holding excess red party members, allowing more blue party House members to be elected in other states. Not very comforting, but the national strategy of parties in presidential elections is to produce as close a balance as possible, without breaking their own parties’ support.

The NY Times has an article on states that are nearly balanced, but redistricted by one party, which has resulted in essentially a three to one split in representatives favoring that party, similar to the second mathematical case presented above. Redistricting was said to have changed 25 house seats. 40 members of the House departed, partly to redistricting. In California, redistricting changed the 7th , 26th, and 52nd districts to Democratic.

One website suggested that the packing was due to the voting rights act, although that may now be moot. I am in a district “packed” by suburban high cost housing, on the other end.

About Dennis SILVERMAN

I am a retired Professor of Physics and Astronomy at U C Irvine. For a decade I have been active in learning about energy and the environment, and in lecturing and attending classes at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UC Irvine.
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