Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My written testimony to the Governor's Redistricting Commission

This is what I was originally going to say in testimony, but it was largely covered by others.
Instead I spoke about multi-member districts, based from this previous piece.

Here is my original testimony, which will be submitted in writing:

Everyone knows that gerrymandering is a problem. But I'd like to explore some aspects of gerrymandering that have escaped the notice of most people. First, it breaks up communities. This advantages incumbents because, for any concerns a community may have, responsibility is spread between multiple representatives. Any issue of local concern falls into the category of “someone else's problem” and therefore becomes no one's problem. It, intentionally or not, strips away the voice of the community in order to protect a favored incumbent, or at least a favored political party.

The second problem is that the process is, by design, outcome determinative. While most people recognize that, what they miss is that gerrymandering is, in effect, an open conspiracy between the map-makers and their supporters in some areas to their political opponents representation. That is, in fact, the entire point.

While an independent commission would alleviate some of the problems inherent to the issue for a time, trying to find a system that only recruits the right people is a fool's errand. Eventually, the commission would end up captured by agents of specific incumbents or the parties themselves co-operating to protect incumbents against any challenges. While it is not possible to insure the right people, it is possible to create conditions that compel the wrong people to do the right thing.

The best way to create conditions to compel the right decisions is simple. It requires two simple rules; the first and most important is that districts must respect pre-existing political and natural boundaries as much as possible. No jumping back and forth across streets, rivers, counties or even the Chesapeake Bay to cheat as many people as possible of a voice.

The second rule is compactness – that districts be as compact as possible. That would prevent any remaining tricks that don't involve crossing boundaries like running along a river to include friendlier communities to flip a district. It's a simple reinforcement of the first rule.

These rules would have the effect of keeping communities together, which itself makes it easier for challenges to gain standing within a few communities to build a support base of voters and volunteers, which in turn would compel incumbents to listen and focus on the communities they represent, instead of grandstanding on television and relying on party loyalists to make up the difference. Currently, with pieces of the districts here, there and all over, it makes it extremely difficult to reach out to and develop support bases without already being an incumbent.

The rules would allow meaningful judicial review as well. Currently, judges have very few rules to determine what is a good or fair district, so judges have few justifications to throw out rigged maps. These simple rules will create the opportunity for judges to assess whether the maps are fair. The posssibility of judicial review will incentivize the map-makers to create fair districts, as they would not wish to cede the power to a court or another body to create a map themselves.

Obviously, the current system is rigged. Mike Miller, State Senate Leader, has effectively admitted that both MD-6 and MD-3 are rigged to insure both John Delaney and John Sarbanes win re-election. Without the rigged lines, they would lose for certain. That's outrageous and reprehensible, not defensible.
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