Keystone State Gerrymandering

Really funny example I ran across this morning: take a look at this Keystone Politics post from last week. The writer lifts Pennsylvania’s State Senator Daylin Leach‘s Facebook page entry on a real-world experiment Leach made about redistricting. (I confirmed with Senator Leach that this is indeed his work.)

Keystone Gerrymandered 2 ways

Daylin Leach’s comparison of 2 gerrymandered schemes for Pennsylvania’s Congressional Districts, reproduced from Keystone Politics.

Leach took the current gerrymandered plan dreamed up by Republicans, that gives the Republicans 13 seats to the Democrat’s 5. But, using the same voting records that predict a 13-5 Republican advantage, Leach was able to “re-gerrymander” Pennsylvania to give Democrats the same 13-5 advantage. In other words, the exact same voting patterns could result in a landslide election for either party: it just depends on who gets to draws the lines!

Some people may lazily assume that these results indicate that if the Dem’s want it one way, and the Rep’s want it another, that the best approach would be to split the difference and make sure the parties in Pennsylvania have roughly equal representation in Congress. This is the mindset that drives so-called “bi-partisan approaches” to redistricting. But there are two fatal flaws in this line of thinking: (1) it rewards extremism, since the result is the average between two demands, and (2) it awards two private entities a place in public government that they don’t deserve.

Leach makes a strong case for the superior fairness of his design. He describes the Republican plan as relying heavily on what has been referred to in previous posts as “cracking” of urban areas to dilute their influence.

But however persuasive Sen. Leach’s arguments are, we should get out of the mindset that we’re stuck with choosing between fully-formed proposals from self-interested parties or bipartisan commissions. Let’s get everybody’s hands off redistricting, let neighbors vote together, and make politicians respond to the political realities that face them.

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