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View Diary: Time for some Dem-friendly redistricting (268 comments)

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  •  Mid-term redistricting and hysteresis (3+ / 0-)

    If I understand the Supreme Court correctly, it is now kosher to redistrict as often as the stage legislature decides they want to do it, meaning that each time a legislature changes party, we will probably now see redistricting. The only limitation is that there cannot be lines drawn that are so counter-intuitive that they could only be a product of partisanship.

    My first reaction was that this is very bad, anti-democratic. But upon reflection, I think it may not be quite as bad as it first appears.

    If we set aside dueling ideologies, the largest practical deficiency of our system is that is falls apart when the results of an election are close. That's when you see a large impact of fraud and dirty tricks, and it's also when you see deadlock and whipsawing in government.

    If the electoral process can be seen by analogy as a digital switch, that is designed to provide a clear up or down response to an input, then what we are seeing in the country as a whole and in many localities is an input in the "linear range", that is, so close to the center that the output swings back and forth in response to tiny changes in the input or in the environment. The traditional solution for this kind of problem is hysteresis, whereby the output of the switch requires an input a certain amount above center to switch from low to high, and an input a certain amount below center to switch from high to low. In the political domain, this is generally handled by supermajorities, but supermajorities are rarely implemented in our system.

    However, a mid-term redisticting designed to favor the party newly in power would have the same effect as hystersis in a linear device: it would make it harder for the "out" party to win. As long as both parties were free to do this, and did do it with an equivalent degree of effectiveness, then you have have a much less noisy switch, meaning that if the legislature changed hands, it would be the result of a genuine change in voters' allegiance rather than meaningless fluctuations and fraud.

    I'm not saying this is great, it's a real kludge, but I've thought for a long time that we could use some hysteresis in our politics, so to the extent that mid-term redistricting after each change of majority party would do that, it might not be as harmful as it appears.

    Greg Shenaut

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