Washington, D.C. is currently mired in some controversy over the need for post-census redrawing of our Ward boundaries. I’ve also been reading some analysis of the new congressional district plan out of Democratic-controlled Illinois, and I’m anticipating looks of shock and horror when progressives see the maps Republicans come up with in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. Then out will come the goo-goo brigades aghast to learn that members of Congress are representing funny-shaped districts.
At times like these, I always recall a conversation I once had with a law professor who told me she teaches proportional representation last in her class about district-drawing issues because it solves the problem too easily and the students need to learn.
Here’s how it would work. The state of, say, Minnesota would need to elect eight House members. So everyone who wants to represent Minnesota in the House will run. Then the voters will rank as many candidates as they want, in order of preference. Anyone who gets more than 1/8th of the first choice votes wins. If that gets us fewer than 8 members of congress, we start doing two things. One is we redistribute “overvotes” from candidates who got more than 1/8th of the first preferences. The other is we start striking the candidates with the fewest votes off the list and looking at their second choices. Eventually, we’ll have eight members of congress. Parties and pressure groups will endorse not just specific candidates, but specific preference orderings. So the Minnesota AFL-CIO and the Minnesota Sierra Club might rank their choices in different order even if they have the same eight favorite candidates. In this system, there’s no such thing as a “safe seat” and no such thing as a gerrymander. If African-Americans show a strong inclination to cluster their votes and back a black candidate, then we’ll have black members of congress without needing to conjure up special majority minority districts.
Really big states will still need some districts, of course, but the details of dividing Texas or California up into four or five big regions wouldn’t have nearly the same scale of consequences.