Thursday, December 30, 2010



Following the results of the 2010 census, many states are preparing to reorganize their congressional districts, as they gain or lose U.S. representatives (see here and here). My state, New York, will lose two of its 29 seats. Nearby New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio will each lose one seat.

Meanwhile, states that have grown in population in the last ten years — Texas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and others — will gain seats. This all makes sense from the view of having representation based on population, and the chart of the most and least populated congressional districts in the second link above is an interesting one.

There are two things about this that are bothersome, though.

The first is how we go about the redistricting. It’s done state by state, of course, with each state deciding its own rules. Most states (New York included) have their legislatures do it, which makes it a very partisan process. Districts are defined in ways designed to maximize the number of seats controlled by one particular party, the one that holds the majority in the legislature at the time of the redistricting.

Creating oddly shaped districts for these manipulative purposes is called gerrymandering, and it’s a very anti-democratic process. New York hasn’t fared too badly in that regard as far as the U.S. congressional districts go. Our worst example — notorious, really — is the 28th congressional district, which is likely to be absorbed by neighbouring districts in this redistricting pass anyway. By artificially grouping the (Democratic) northern Buffalo suburbs in with Rochester, using a thin connecting strip along Lake Ontario, it protects the more rural 26th district for a Republican representative.

It makes much more sense to make the redistricting non-partisan. States should create redistricting committees that are separated from the political process and not answerable to the legislature, and empower them to deal with the necessary changes.

The second bothersome thing is the effect redistricting has on the presidential elections. Because the electoral votes each state gets is directly related to the number of the state’s senators and congressional representatives, New York will collectively lose two votes — in the 2012 election we’ll get 29 electors instead of 31.

You might say that that’s as it should be, since our population has gone down, and I’d partly agree. The problem is that the effect is indirect, and, in a sense, New Yorkers — especially Republican New Yorkers, but the same is true for Democratic Texans — are disenfranchised in the presidential elections. In 2008, I could say with essentially 100% confidence that New York would give 31 electors to the Democratic presidential candidate, no matter how I cast my vote. Whether I voted for Mr Obama, Mr McCain, Mr Nader, Mr Barr, Ms McKinney... or whether I wrote in Pat Paulsen... it didn’t matter in the slightest.

In the 2012 presidential election, Republicans in New York will be slightly better off, in that they will know that New York will give only 29 electors to the Democratic candidate, rather than 31. Yet it still won’t matter how they vote. Redistricting gives a moderate shuffle to the numbers ever three presidential elections, but it still does nothing to address the underling problem of the obsolete electoral college.

So it’s time to put in another plug for the National Popular Vote plan, a mechanism to get each voter’s vote to count equally. New York has signed onto it, along with Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, and the District of Columbia. There’s widespread support, but we need to push more state legislatures to adopt it.


toto said...

On June 7, 2010 The New York Senate passed the National Popular Vote bill (S2286A / A1580B), with over two-thirds of both political parties supporting the bill in a 52-7 roll call. The vote was 22-5 among Senate Republicans (with 3 not voting) and 30-2 among Senate Democrats. The bill now goes to the 150-member Assembly where it has 80 sponsors.

The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Elections wouldn’t be about winning states. No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps. Every vote, everywhere would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws, have come about by state legislative action.

The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: CO– 68%, IA –75%, MI– 73%, MO– 70%, NH– 69%, NV– 72%, NM– 76%, NC– 74%, OH– 70%, PA — 78%, VA — 74%, and WI — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): AK – 70%, DC – 76%, DE –75%, ME — 77%, NE — 74%, NH –69%, NV — 72%, NM — 76%, RI — 74%, and VT — 75%; in Southern and border states: AR –80%, KY — 80%, MS –77%, MO — 70%, NC — 74%, and VA — 74%; and in other states polled: CA — 70%, CT — 74% , MA — 73%, MN – 75%, NY — 79%, WA — 77%, and WV- 81%.

The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in AR (6), CT (7), DE (3), DC (3), ME (4), MI (17), NV (5), NM (5), NY (31), NC (15), and OR (7), and both houses in CA (55), CO (9), HI (4), IL (21), NJ (15), MD (10), MA(12), RI (4), VT (3), and WA (11). The bill has been enacted by DC, HI, IL, NJ, MD, MA, and WA. These 7 states possess 76 electoral votes — 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.

toto said...

A survey of 800 New York voters conducted on December 22-23, 2008 showed 79% overall support for a national popular vote for President.

By gender, support was 89% among women and 69% among men.

By age, support was 60% among 18-29 year olds, 74% among 30-45 year olds, 85% among 46-65 year olds, and 82% for those older than 65.

Support was 86% among Democrats, 66% among Republicans, 78% among Independence Party members (representing 8% of respondents), 50% among Conservative Party members (representing 3% of respondents), 100% among Working Families Party members (representing 2% of respondents), and 7% among Others (representing 7% of respondents).

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Brent said...

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