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The Whiff of Redistricting Politics

Just a brief breach of the silence.  I’ve thought about emerging from my expat cocoon now and then for many a reason.  But, thought better because, just when I think I have a thoughtful comment on local doings, the sun rises again and the sands have shifted…literally and metaphorically.

One place where nothing has changed is the effluent pool of the decennial redistricting mess in the United States.  When I did my Ph.D research, the study of voting rights, electoral systems and rules, the opportunity posed by a shift from the American system to some alternative along the lines of proportional representation was a vibrant field full of unanswered questions and new frontiers of investigation.

It is no more.  Even over here in the U.A.E., halfway across the world, the whiff of redistricting politics is as awful as it is at home.

What began in earnest as an effort to overcome the heinous discrimination imposed on minority voters has now become a decennial dark comedy played by consultants and incumbents who seek to draw lines to clients’ advantage under the cover either of the voting rights act or the most convenient interpretation of the most relevant and or proximate judicial decision.  Sadly, there is little to show for this.

In this post, I won’t take the time to dig up the data.  Even a cursory perusal of incumbent reelection rates and turnout in congressional and state legislative elections will demonstrate that competitiveness is low, partisanship (in handcrafted districts) is uniform, turnout is low and primaries are where the real action is in any given election.

District still are drawn more along the lines of Rorschach tests or things you scrape off of your windshield than they are along the lines of existing political subdivisions.  To the extent that it is necessary for districts to meander to achieve some semblance of fair representational opportunities for minorities or other groups whose constituents are not conveniently enough located to fit into a geographically compact district, an easy solution is to draw multimember legislative districts.

It’s been done before and it is done now. But, legislators do not aspire to campaign anymore than they need to.  Accordingly, they prefer bizarrely shaped, homogeneously populated districts. Makes their life much easier if they get to pick their own voters.

There is a lot written on this and it is easily available at fairvote.org run by my friend Rob Richie.  I don’t agree with some of Rob’s conclusions.  But his criticisms are spot on.  That’s the subject of another posting.

For now, I leave it to anyone who reads this and who might be interested to ask the following of any legislator or political consultant who has made a living drafting and then defending legislative districting schemes:  what good have their efforts done and how much of the taxpayers money has been funneled into their efforts?  Really, if we begin with the cost of the light bulbs, heat, air conditioning, etc. that goes into the typical special legislative session dedicated to drawing new legislative district lines and then continue on till the last lawyer and consultant are paid, then we look at the good and the bad legislative district maps, can we really conclude that the effort—and the expense—was worth it?  Consultants were paid and incumbents returned to office.  But, has the quality of politics improved?  Is legislation better?  Could the tax dollars diverted to this process not have been put to better use for improving schools, paving roads or, well, anything else?  How much has all this cost?  Has anyone calculated the bill?

Cui bono?

Just asking.


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