A brief synopsis of Hands-Off Redistricting and how the OPRA concept would work. The following is explained in slightly more detail in this YouTube video.
It isn’t controversial to assert that the US House of Representatives is broken. Congress these days is oddly out of touch with the consensus popular views it was designed to represent, and it is incapable of working cooperatively with the Senate and Executive branch for the common good. It includes way too many hacks, cranks and ideologues, who seem to operate with political impunity. Why is that?
The simple reason is that the two dominant political parties control how the boundaries for Congressional districts are drawn. They are quite brazen about this. You can find endless examples about how “safe” Republican and Democrat districts have come about that make politicians essentially unafraid of what their constituents think of their behavior.This is a blatent and corrosive conspiracy against the public interest. So…
We must get Politicians — and special interests of ALL kinds, whether we are sympathetic to them of not — OUT of the Congressional Redistricting process entirely.
Simple Principles and Rules
There are really only two fundamental principles behind Hands-Off Redistricting:
- There is no place for special interests of any kind in determining Congressional districts
- Neighbors should vote in the same district
Once you accept these very simple and basic principles, you’ve accepted the need for a technocratic solution to the need for setting district boundaries. In other words, it is wrong to think of this as a “political” problem, or even something that politicians should have anything to do with. Voters should demand a technical solution that can be measured by its effectiveness in allowing neighbors to vote together. And the best technical solution to that problem should prevail. Period.
There are only precisely FIVE rules required for Hands-Off Redistricting. The first three are how things basically work now. The fourth is admittedly tricky, but we’ll dive into that later…
- The total number of Congressional Districts each state must create is revised every ten years
- Every Congressional District must have (approximately) the same number of constituents
- Every Congressional District must be contiguous
- Districts must be created that “maximize” the “neighborliness” of constituents. (In other words: People within districts are, on average, as close as possible. Or in other words: Districts are drawn with Optimal Proximity of people within them)
- Anyone can propose a solution, and the proposal that best solves Rule 4, while conforming to #1-3, will be adopted
What is Optimal Proximity? Think of it as the opposite of Extreme Gerrymandering…
If extreme Gerrymandering means coming up with bizarre district boundaries that bend and stretch all over the place and have people living very far from each other in the same district, Optimal Proximity means compact districts with boundaries that seem “natural” and, importantly, “economical.”
With that fuzzy description as our goal, here’s a working definition of how Optimal Proximity is measured. Let’s say you need to divide a hypothetical rectangular state into Four congressional districts, keeping in mind that each of the four districts should have the same number of people in it, and the people will be clustered more densely in some areas vs. others.
You could sponsor a contest for anyone to enter, and you might get dozens or hundreds of entries. If you imagined that a FENCE ran along the district boundaries of every proposed scheme, you would simply measure the total Fence required in each scheme, and the scheme that required the least fencing (Green Scheme 2 in this example) would be the new district boundaries! So…
Optimal Proximity is achieved with the redistricting scheme that is most economical with district boundaries.
OPRA: Hands-Off Redistricting for the Real World
How would this work in the real world? With apologies to the television personality, here’s a proposal for “OPRA”, the Optimal Proximity Redistricting Algorithm. OPRA would just be a more sophisticated version of the example we just saw, with one addition to make it practical: all the “fences” between district boundaries have to follow along the established boundaries of US Census Tracts.
Using census tracts is a natural thing to do, since the reason the census bureau was created in the first place was to provide the base population data for redistricting! Each individual Census Tract tends to have between one thousand and eight thousand people in them, and their boundaries were chosen intentionally to run along major geographical features, so that they don’t need to change over time. When a census tract gets too many people, the Census Bureau just subdivides it into smaller census tracts. California currently has just over 7,000 census tracts.
Take a look at these Census Tracts below, from suburban southwestern Sacramento, California. With the data and tools the Census Bureau already has, it would be easy to calculate the length of the boundary between every census tract. This information could be used to create an interactive tool that anyone could use to try to map their own redistricting scheme, since the tool could keep track of districts, the number of people in each district, and the length of “fence” required in the scheme. This could be a very public process, open to well-meaning citizens as well as cranks and very sophisticated political organizations. But no matter how sophisticated the participant, the iron law remains: whatever scheme requires the shortest fence is the scheme that will be adopted!
What would happen with Hands-Off Redistricting?
What would be the result of a process like this? First- and most important- with a common-sense and measurable standard for selecting the redistricting scheme, nobody can drive an unnatural solution. The current political parties will certainly still have their “safe” districts, but the number of truly competitive districts will increase dramatically. That means more representatives will have to worry more about what their constituents really think. It will be much riskier to vote the way your party boss wants if it isn’t what the voters in your district want. Who knows, maybe some viable 3rd-parties will grow out of all of this?
And finally, the whole process would radically change district boundaries immediately, and keep the boundaries somewhat volatile on an ongoing basis. This introduces an element of uncertainty, almost of randomness, to the process of selecting congressional representatives. Talented and popular congressional leaders will still have their opportunities to serve, but their ability to rig the game to their own selfish benefit will disappear.
So, that is the concept. It is early days, but don’t you think it makes sense? If so, please Follow this blog and help us figure out how to move this idea forward!