Thursday, October 31, 2013

Gerrymandering - Myths vs Facts

The talking points of the left is that the only reason why Michigan has a Republican majority is due to gerrymandered districts. That's not true. "But 50some odd percent voted for democrats for congress or state rep in 2012!!!" So what. That happens when Detroit votes 97%, Flint 89%, and Ann Arbor/Ypsi around 80 some odd percent.  A major reason why you see that is self-packing and guidelines (in Michigan) against splitting municipalities (less so federally since they have to have equal population total). Another reason is due to federal requirements of Voting Rights Act districts.  Voting Rights Act districts generally require two districts with black voting age majorities. That is why the 14th district is shaped as it is, taking Southfield, Oak Park, Lathrup Village, and Royal Oak Township, and curling up to get Pontiac.

A large number of democrats are in a few select areas. Detroit is 95-98% democrat and has around a 250-300K vote spread. You have two districts based there that have to satisfy the VRA requirements.

MI-01 - There's not a lot that can be done with Benishek's district.

MI-02 - Ottawa County is such a red county that will trump neighboring Muskegon every time. Self packing on the part of both parties. Kentwood and Wyoming added are minor tweaks, but MI-03 leaned R anyway barring a disaster.

MI-03 - Amash's district added Calhoun County. Less safe than it was. Self-packing again. Dems in Grand Rapids proper, Albion, and Battle Creek. R's in suburbs and rural areas there.

MI-04 - Tweaked a little to add Frankenmuth, but mostly reclaimed old territory with Clinton and Shiawassee Counties. 

MI-05 - Kildee's district covers all of Genesee County (self-packing) and isn't cracked there. It goes up to take the Eastern part of Saginaw County. You can argue that part, but now has all of Bay County and a couple of rural counties. Tuscola County was split. If there's a gerrymander part there, it's to put Frankenmuth with Camp's district. Minor tweak at best.

MI-06 - Actually a quite competitive district on paper despite self-packing in Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor.  Van Buren County is competitive as well.

MI-07 - Fairly populist. Walberg lost Calhoun County and picked up Monroe County. Partisanwise, there isn't a lot of difference, although it's a better matchup for Walberg who isn't liked in Calhoun County.

MI-08 - Only competitive because of Lansing area. Livingston and North Oakland are blood red. North Oakland would have flipped the old 9th as well despite Pontiac. Pick your poison.

MI-09 - Levin's district is relatively compact. Southern Macomb and SE Oakland. It moved to the right actually from the old district, but I don't see it flipping barring a major surprise. GOP could have possibly have gotten greedier there, although it would put more districts at risk.

MI-10 - Thumb and North Macomb. The thumb had to go somewhere. North Macomb leans R to begin with. Probably safer than it had to be. The GOP could have been greedier and tried to crack Levin's district.

MI-11 - I'll admit. This district is ugly, and was made for a guy that didn't even get to run thanks to petition fraud by his staffers. Part of its ugliness was due to VRA requirements with the 14th.

MI-12 - Dingell's district dropped Monroe to take almost all of Downriver again,  and kept Eastern Washtenaw. It's more realistic looking than the old district.

MI-13 - Not that bad for a VRA district.

MI-14 - Very ugly due to VRA requirements.

I post this due to Phil Power's talking points rant with little original thought in the Argus.

The practice of gerrymandering — drawing congressional and legislative districts to favor one political party or the other — is at the core of our deeply dysfunctional and hyperpartisan political system that produced the shutdown and nearly resulted in default.
Virtually all the “tea party”-backed, hard-right congressional representatives who provoked the recent crisis are from districts so heavily gerrymandered Republican that they’re in virtually no danger of voter backlash in a general election. If an incumbent’s seat is gerrymandered safe, there’s no political downside to adopting whatever radical ideology is fashionable at the moment.

Phil is assuming (and we all know what three words are in the word ass-u-me) that the problem isn't the spending and that all that opposed it are tea party. That's the narrative he's set for this rant when frankly it's the elitism of Phil's DC's counterparts in the national political class that caused the damn problem in the first place for being out of touch with real people.

Indeed, it could be a political plus, if it inoculates an incumbent against a primary challenge from someone even further right. Gerrymandering is an ancient and widespread institution, long used by politicians to protect incumbent politicians of both political parties.
These days, it has been coupled with its enabling cousin, the partisan primary election, to contort our politics into hyperpartisan gridlock. Primaries provide the political leverage in a gerrymandered district so that the only election that counts is the primary.
What's wrong with primaries? The reps jobs is to vote their districts and defend their votes in the primary. One can agree or disagree. That's the voter's decision. Most primary challenges also fail, although some of the arrogant ones get the defeat they deserve. Joe Schwarz got what he deserved due to his arrogance against the little people, and Phil Power, Susan Demas, and the rest of the media elite are still mad about it. Fred Upton's ideology isn't tons different than Schwarz, but he survived, despite very conservative Allegan County. He's not as arrogant as Schwarz who always needed to bash conservatives in the press.

Most experts agree there are very few truly competitive congressional districts in America, perhaps as few as 40 out of a total of 435. According to U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the longest-serving member of Congress in history, gerrymandering represents a big part of what happened in Washington over the past few weeks.

I don't put much faith in the so called "political experts" (Esp DC) in either party these days. If it's from the same study I've seen, it's bullshit. I'm not arguing that gerrymander isn't an issue at times, but that was a bullshit study that only considers competitive districts those that actually flip. If someone wins with 50.8% three times but doesn't flip, than that's not considered competitive.

“Some of the Republican members form heavily gerrymandered districts have nothing to fear from voters in a general election; everything is determined by the primary,” Dingell told me.
Richard McLellan, a heavy-duty Republican if ever there was one, agrees. So does Mark Grebner, head of Practical Political Consulting in East Lansing and one of the smartest political thinkers in this state. In Michigan, he counts as gerrymandered Republican at least three congressional districts, four or five state Senate seats and at least 10 state House districts.

Dingell, McLellan, and Grebner I do respect. That quote from Dingell is true, but a large part of that is self-packing (along with the VRA districts).  I'd like to know which districts they consider gerrymandered. I'll concede the 11th for congress, but VRA districts don't count due to federal law. For state senate some of the uglier ones are probably more dem favorable than previous incarnations (arguably the 32nd, 36th). There's an argument for the 14th, but the 32nd is the price for that. The 6th was flat out conceded. The 10th I'll concede. I don't see 4 or 5 with the state senate. State House? What are the 10? The 76th was a bad Hail Mary pass that failed (and the Roy Schmidt party switch process was worse). Several districts were conceded that didn't need to be (17th, 62nd).  I'll give you possibly the 23rd, but that cost us the 17th. The 24th cost us the 18th. I'll concede the 51st. If anything, I think the state house was a little too cautious, although that's also limited by APOL standards (as is the Senate).

The only good thing emerging from the recent mess in Washington is a new realization of and focus on the malign influence of gerrymandering on American politics.
But the more essential and complicated question is what to do about it. Many urge we take the drawing of district lines out of the hands of politicians (usually state legislators) and give the job to independent, nonpartisan folks like retired judges.

This is the system adopted in Iowa, where there is some evidence it has reduced overt partisanship in drawing lines. I still think it’s naive to believe you can ever totally take politics out of redistricting, the most political act of all.
There's nothing independent about commissions. There's nothing nonbiased about commissions. Even Phil Power concedes that. What's worse about commissions is that if they pass a screwjob, there's no recourse whatsoever against the bad guys who push it (Mathismander in Arizona). If the state legislature passes a screwjob, there's at least SOME recourse by tossing the bums out.

Grebner proposes a similar alternative: Pass a redistricting law that prohibits any political considerations in drawing congressional or legislative districts. “Put criminal penalties on violations,” Grebner says, while admitting the idea is pretty radical. And I’m not sure how a jury will decide what constitutes a “political consideration.”

What is defined as as a political consideration? That's the problem.

Another possibility would be to adopt the “open primary” system, in which candidates for office run in primary elections just as they do now, but in which the two top vote-getters — whether a Republican and a Democrat, or both Republicans, or both Democrats — run against each other in the fall general election.
That way, both candidates wanting to maximize total vote would have political reasons to reach beyond their narrow base to members of the other party or independents. This system is under trial in California, where it’s resulted in the defeat of two liberal congressmen who didn’t reach beyond the Democratic base.
This is something I could look at, often called a jungle primary. The Louisiana style is similar back from their one party days. There's various forms of it with runoffs for less than a certain amount.

Unless we cut the cancer of gerrymandering out of the core of our political system, our days as a great nation are numbered, doomed by a dysfunctional, hyperpartisan and crisis-prone politics. We need a serious conversation about reforming this practice, now.

Phil, if we don't stop overregulating and overspending, we're in deep shite. If the "my way or the highway" stuff doesn't end (Obama and Reid are the worst of all there), neither will the dysfunction.

As far as gerrymandering goes, I'm open to a computer style that takes as much human element away as possible. That's as far as I go. No biased and not really independent commissions and nothing that doesn't account for self-packing.


Jordan Genso said...

I'm glad you and I are in agreement that a computer-based redistricting that eliminates the human element is the best way to eliminate gerrymandering. We may disagree as to the extent that gerrymandering is a problem*, but if we at least agree that it exists, then a redistricting process (that gets rid of VRA districts) based solely on objective, quantifiable data should be a common ground solution.

*I personally think the spiral in southeast Oakland, with the 8th, 11th, 14th, and 9th Congressional Districts all going around each other shows that all four of those have been impacted by gerrymandering.

Dan said...

I think that whole area would have looked a lot different if the VRA rule was reduced even to plurality than majority. It would have been easier to clip Eastpointe and South Warren and move the west side one to Southfield/Oak Park.

The 14th impacts all of them, but VRA. The 11th wraps around that. The 8th and 9th basically pick up what the 11th doesn't.

While there's debates to rules regarding the VRA act, some form of it will be passed at all times. R's generally support it to reduce white democrats in other districts. D's generally support it because it gets them seats in some Southern states they otherwise probably wouldn't have.