Friday, April 29, 2011

Partisan Gerrymandering: Harms and a New Solution from the Heartland Institute

With permission from the Heartland Institute CLICKHERE

John Hood has a online post in regards to redistricting CLICKHERE in the article this is what was said;

"• Leaders of both houses and the new redistricting committees should commit themselves to neutral, binding constraints such as compactness and respecting jurisdictional lines. The goal should be to devise rules that limit the degrees of freedom any political cartographers would have, be they elected or appointed. The leaders should also hold open hearings and welcome suggestions from individuals and organizations of all political stripes."

Compactness should be a integral part of the redistricting process and the Heartland Institute gave Triadwatch permission to post a article in regards to this issue which you can read below.

Partisan Gerrymandering: Harms and a New Solution

 Written By: Daniel D. Polsby and Robert D. Popper

Published In: Intellectual Ammunition > May/June 2001

Publication date: 05/01/2001

Publisher: The Heartland Institute
Editor's note: Just in time for redistricting battles, we present an excerpt from the archives. Heartland Policy Study No. 34, "Partisan Gerrymandering: Harms and a New Solution," was released on March 4, 1991.

Redistricting, at least as it is practiced today, inevitably involves gerrymandering. Broadly defined, "gerrymandering" refers to any manipulation of district lines for partisan purposes. The term is derived from the name of former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry.

The partisan map-maker seeks to draw lines that concentrate the opposition's electoral support in just a few districts (called "packing" or "stacking"), while at the same time creating many more districts where his own party commands a small, but still safe, majority ("cracking"). The net result is that the opposition party's votes are squandered by being thrown into carefully constructed landslides.

The problems of gerrymandering can be stated so luridly that it cannot possibly be ignored. A party in control of districting could at least in theory construct a majority in every district but one, no matter how many districts there were and no matter how voters were dispersed throughout the state. If there were 20 districts, it could assure itself majorities in 19.

To be sure, there is nothing specific in the Constitution that forbids gerrymandering, any more than there is specific language that forbids the excessive, unfair, or abusive exercise of any delegated power. But the very idea of democracy that is embedded in the Constitution certainly forbids legislatures from immunizing themselves against the popular will.

The Legal History of Gerrymandering

While the courts have ruled on gerrymandering, they have failed to stop it. In 1986 the Supreme Court held in Davis v. Bandemer that claims of partisan gerrymandering are justiciable as violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The Davis decision is problematic, though, for the precedent it sets with respect to how gerrymandering claims are to be evaluated. The Court chose to emphasize impact over intent, requiring that a gerrymander case be evaluated on the basis of harm to an excluded group's "opportunity to participate" in the political process as a whole.

The Court's standard requires that the successful plaintiff show that the political party to which he belongs has been denied the opportunity to participate in or influence the political process. Inasmuch as conditions this extreme probably do not exist anywhere in the United States, such a standard is tantamount to the proposition that gerrymandering does not exist.

In a series of malapportionment cases, most prominent among them Reynolds v. Sims (1964), the Court established that "the judicial focus must be concentrated upon ascertaining whether there has been any discrimination against certain of the State's citizens which constitutes an impermissible impairment of their constitutionally protected right to vote." In the malapportionment cases, the court found such an impairment where voter districts were constructed with vastly unequal populations, resulting in the intentional "dilution" of the votes of persons living in overpopulated districts.

In brief, malapportionment is not a denial of the right to vote; it is a dilution of that right. What the two concepts have in common is the state's act of discriminatory classification. Both gerrymandering and malapportionment involve state-sponsored discrimination against voters.

Viewed in this light, gerrymandering is a violation of an individual right. It violates the right to be free of governmental diminishment of the potential efficacy of one's vote. The voter's stake in democracy is actually diminished, and he or she is deprived of an important act of power.

Compact Districts Restrain Gerrymanders

Two current standards-­equinumerosity (the requirement that all districts have approximately equal populations) and contiguity (that all parts of a district be adjacent to one another rather than detached or separated by other districts)--cannot, alone, prevent gerrymandering.

"Compactness"--broadly defined, a requirement that district boundaries be without uncalled-for spikes, indentations, or silly meanderings--focuses on and foils a technique that is indispensable to creating effective gerrymanders.

A successful gerrymanderer begins by assuming that his party has a certain amount of support statewide; he then apportions that support strategically among individual districts. The goal is to control the winning and losing margins in every district.

At the threshold, the gerrymanderer encounters a difficulty: friendlies and unfriendlies will be inconveniently dispersed in the area he is trying to gerrymander. Because people do not naturally arrange themselves to suit his purposes, he must help them, putting them where he needs them to be, by drawing districts to contain enough friendlies to outvote the unfriendlies by a comfortable margin. Boundary lines are stretched and shrunk to include certain neighborhoods of voters and exclude others. In this process, districts become non-compact.

If compactness is a constraint, however, a gerrymanderer will find his job noticeably more difficult, although not absolutely impossible. Computers can endlessly crank out district plans that conform to a fixed standard of compactness.

The point of a compactness requirement, however, is not to make gerrymandering logically impossible, but to make it practically useless, so that it becomes an ineffective tool for routine use. But gerrymandering can be limited, and the worst cases can be prevented.

Before making the case that compactness inhibits "effective gerrymandering," it is necessary to clarify the meaning of "effective." An effective gerrymander, for purposes of our argument, is one that has been designed to increase the disparity between a party's actual support among the population and its seats in the legislature, and which actually achieves this result.

No one can say a priori how many seats a party is "entitled to" given a particular level of popular support. But a compactness standard does not seek to answer that question. A compactness requirement, by purely mechanical operation, tends to inhibit gerrymandering.

Good Government and Representation

A requirement of compactness would prevent "effective gerrymandering." Consider a hypothetical state with 20 congressional districts, and with a voting population evenly divided between two parties. With no compactness requirement, the party controlling the districting could readily arrange wins in 19 of those districts. The more that compactness is given as a constraint on the discretion of the map-makers, the greater their difficulty in arranging wins in 19 districts. At a certain level of compactness, only 18 districts will be secure. Tighten up on the compactness requirement some more and only 17 can be counted on. And so on. If the only acceptable plan were the most compact plan (according to whatever definition of compactness one were using), results more like 10-10 or 11-9 are what would usually emerge.

Professor Bruce Cain has offered a critique of the value of compactness--what might be called the "good government" reasons for skepticism. He begins by making a list of all the "good government" values one would like to see embodied by electoral districts. He then argues these values may or may not be furthered by the adoption of a compactness standard, and that, in general, its good effects and bad effects will wash. Thus, for example, the compactness criterion may make it difficult to preserve "communities of interest," however these are defined.

But even if Cain is right in his evaluation of compactness as a "good government" principle, the value of preventing gerrymandering outweighs the independent benefits we can associate with compactness. Although compactness may have some independent value as a principle of democracy, one needs no better reason for embracing the compactness principle than that it makes effective gerrymandering more difficult. Gerrymandering is, after all, a pathology of democratic government. It allows legislators to play unfairly with what is perhaps their most solemn and central power: setting the constitutive terms of the democratic argument.

Cain seeks to strengthen his argument by pointing out that compactness may at times conflict with the "good government" value of proportional representation. It must be conceded, for example, that because single-member districts are naturally skewed against minorities, there are going to be cases in which accurate proportional representation may be more readily accommodated by non-compact districts. In such cases enforcing a compactness standard may seem counter-productive.

The wisdom of deliberately concentrating racial minorities to create minority-dominated districts has been widely and ably debated, and need not be considered here. A race-conscious electoral policy, assuming we are to have one, can be accommodated by a legal compactness standard by the simple expedient of requiring that non-compactness be explained. If the explanation is that non-compactness was forced by the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, this should be legally sufficient.

A Workable Compactness Standard

A workable legal standard of compactness proposed by Joseph E. Schwartzberg defines compactness in terms of the effectiveness of a shape's perimeter in capturing area.

Schwartzberg's standard measures the ratio of a shape's perimeter to its area. Not every ratio of perimeter-to-area, however, will adequately gauge the compactness of that area, as the following example shows.

Consider two squares of different sizes, one with two-mile sides and one with ten-mile sides. The smaller square has a perimeter of eight, an area of four, and therefore a ratio of 2.0. The larger square has a perimeter of forty and an area of one hundred, or a ratio of 0.4. The shapes, although they are identical, have very different scores.

There is a technique, however, that avoids this anomaly: renormalizing the perimeter-to-area ratio against an absolute scale. For any length of a perimeter, whether ten inches or ten miles long, a circle is the geometric shape that encloses the maximum possible area. Every other shape must somewhere make a concession of some kind, and thus its perimeter will not be used with the greatest possible efficiency to capture area. The absolute measure of a shape's efficiency is thus determined by dividing the area of the shape by the area of a circle with a perimeter of equal length. When this formula is applied, all calculations result in a figure between 0 and 1 (1 being the best possible score) and all identical shapes, regardless of size, score the same.

Any deviation from any given shape that changes a district's area and perimeter to the same extent--no matter where the protrusion is added, which way it is oriented, how far it is from the district's center, or how it is shaped--will degrade the district's Schwartzberg score by an identical amount.

The Schwartzberg measure highlights the best features of the other criteria of compactness. It charges points when districts are longer than they are wide; when boundaries are far from the center; when lines are indented; or indeed whenever the district lines are longer than they need to be. The Schwartzberg test even measures "smoothness," taking away points for any irregularities in a boundary, even in a generally compact district.

Despite any theoretical objection to the Schwartzberg criterion, it nevertheless works well in practice. The Schwartzberg standard is so sensitive to any deviation that it is impossible to gerrymander comfortably using either a spike or an indentation. Adding perimeter in a greater proportion than area will always drop the score. In that sense there are no "wrong" results: Districts with appendages or indentations will always score worse than those without.


It is ironic that reapportionment, a project made necessary by fidelity to democratic principles, should become the occasion for so much gamey partisan brawling, but the fact cannot be denied. Ordinary voters believe gerrymandering is one of many ways politicians frustrate, rather than facilitate, the popular will. Ordinary voters, furthermore, are right.

Anyone who eyeballs a few legislative district maps will quickly learn to recognize gerrymanders, although admittedly with imperfect accuracy. But one need not rely on seat-of-the-pants reckoning to find the sort of non-compactness that implies gerrymandering. Schwartzberg's mathematical standard is a superior way to measure the kind of non-compactness that is associated with gerrymandering.

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