Thursday, August 16, 2007

Possibility of Losing Congressional Clout May Carry Silver Lining

An AP story in this morning's USA Today highlights Missouri's impending loss of a congressional seat but also mentions that, given current trends, New York stands to lose two.

This is obviously bad news in terms of New York's clout in the House of Representatives, yet it also presents a ripe opportunity for redistricting reform.

In addition to considering how populations have shifted within the state, those charged with drawing the lines must figure out how to carve 27 districts out of a state that previously had 29. As in the past (New York has lost at least one seat in each of the last six census counts), this means that we will have to go through another round of political wrangling to decide whose districts will be eliminated and how that territory will be divided up. Inevitably, partisan and incumbent motives will take precedence over fairness and representation of real communities.

That is, unless we get serious about redistricting reform. Proposals like Governor Spitzer's independent commission plan would take the redistricting pen out of the hands self- and party-interested politicians.

New York deserves a redistricting process that suppresses politics and power in favor of the values of redistricting reform: counting the population and redrawing the district lines in a way that is equitable, fair, and sensitive to diversity. We should not let another census go by before we fundamentally improve the way districts are drawn in our state.


Anonymous said...

Census projections also indicate that NY's population loss is all in upstate, generally Republican, areas. Shouldn't the districts follow the people and lead to the elimination of upstate districts, which might just happen to have GOP incumbents?

A commission might want to spread the loss among the two parties, jeopardizing downstate areas with increasing population bases.

Anonymous said...

I laughed when I read this piece of nonsense. Anyone who thinks that a computer model or some so-called bipartisan commission will create non-political congressional districts is naive.

A so-called bipartisan computer redistricting model will magically retain McHugh and Walsh upstate seats by generating weirdly vast gerrymandered districts with absolutely no connection to the electorate. The reason will be to ensure the disenfranchisement of downstate citizens, i.e., to dilute Hispanic votes and the potential for more Hispanic political clout in NY.

Don in Silicon Valley said...

The way to avoid gerrymandering is to have a computer do the job of redistricting. The computer input data can be limited to the Census data, and the software shows exactly how and why the lines were drawn. Funny how the commissioners aren't required to know geometry, much less calculus, when supposedly their job is to configure areas of equal population. Any commissioner knows that Orange County is more conservative than San Francisco County. How can a voter know that a commissioner didn't take advantage of that fact and many other facts to gerrymander? Even dissecting the brain of the commissioner won't reveal his thinking. A computer is a machine that follows a series of instructions. The series of instructions is called software. The sofware acts only on the data it reads as input. Unlike the thinking of a commissioner, the software and its input can be published for voters to see. Other computers can verify the exactness of results.
Politicians have strained to ignore that a computer can do the job. Ironically, the precision of gerrymandering today is made possible by gerrymandering software. Redistricting software is limited to curious academic research, even though gerrymandering sofware is more difficult to write since it must also include voter registration data. The difference is that gerrymandering software is profitable, since there is a strong demand for it from politicians. Software that is published in FORTRAN or BASIC doesn't have as much profit potential as proprietary software.