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March 25, 2008 08:51 PM UTC

Happy Happy Joy Joy Redistricting

  • by: Colorado Pols

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon has never been one to embrace political reality, but now that he is term-limited, he’s become even more obsessed with his own version of political xanadu. As the Rocky Mountain News reports:

State lawmakers would have to try to make congressional districts competitive, rather than a slam-dunk for either party, under the latest attempt to referee what’s usually a very political fight at the Capitol.

Democratic members of the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee backed the idea Monday, but both Republican members voted against it. Senate Bill 198 now heads to the full Senate for debate.

Lawmakers must redraw district boundaries every 10 years based on the latest census results. The next round of redistricting is due in 2011.

Having an even distribution of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters in a district would take a back seat to meeting all existing criteria such as making sure districts have the same number of people and keeping regions like the Western Slope or eastern plains in the same district.

Lawmakers would have to try to keep cities and counties in the same districts, but counties could be broken up to make a district more competitive.

Senate Majority Leader Ken Gordon, the bill’s sponsor, said safe districts that always send a member of the same party to Washington help make Congress “dysfunctional.”

He said primaries generally determine who gets elected to Congress in those districts and that those races typically attract people at the extremes of the dominant party in the district.

“When they get to Congress they don’t think the other side is wrong, they think the other side is evil, and therefore they frequently have trouble reaching compromise and making agreements,” said Gordon, D-Denver.

Gordon is right to a degree, but unfortunately we don’t live in a magical fairy land where every seat is competitive and voters are equally aligned between Democrats, Republicans and Unaffiliateds throughout the state. It’s not like he’s the first person who has ever thought of this – he’s just the first with enough hubris to act like he was the first to think of it.

The only way you could make a seat like CO-5 competitive, for example, would be to design a completely ridiculous district that looked like a Rorschach test. Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 in both CO-5 and neighboring CO-6, so where are you going to find enough Democrats to balance that out? You could take some from Pueblo, but then you’ve completely screwed up CO-3. And so on, and so on. There are a lot of Republicans who live in Colorado Springs, and there are a lot of Democrats who live in Denver. That’s the way it is.

The idea of creating seven competitive districts is a lot like TABOR – it sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t actually work.


21 thoughts on “Happy Happy Joy Joy Redistricting

  1. My criteria would be very simple:

    1) The maximum number of districts are within the 52/48% range as measured by voting for party-line seats (Board of Regents, Secretary of State, etc).

    2) For that number of districts, select the breakdown where the circumference of all districts is minimized (keep it geographically sane).

    That’s it. I think any county is better served if they are in 2 (or 3) districts, but have ligislators who have to work for their vote every election than one who has a safe seat.

  2. Choosing districts to try and build competitive seats is every bit as silly as building districts to protect incumbents.  The criteria ought to be simple: (1) comply with federal laws, (2) equal population per district, and (3) minimize total circumference.  This is an NP-complete problem, of course, but decent approximation algorithms abound.

  3. First, political parties exist to exercise political power and implement certain broad philosophies and policies.  A party must win to fulfill that purpose and it is only natural that a party wants to maximize its seats in the U.S. House.

    Second, competitive districts sound good but a closer look makes this proposal bad for our political system.  If every district was competitive, we would have continuous turnover in almost all districts.  The proponents are assuming that competitive districts equate to good public policy.  That assumption cannot be made.

    Also, as someone has already pointed out, it is impossible to make every district comeptitve for the simple reason certain areas of the state have very heavy concentrations of registered Democrats or Republicans (e.g. Denver and El Paso counties respectively).  If every district were drawn based on competiveness, we could have Grand Junction and parts of the Denver metropolitan area in the same district(s).

    This is another one of those ideas that seems to solve all our problems in Congress but in the end doesn’t.  

    1. Looks good on paper, but that’s about it…

      I wonder-if Coffman goes to Congress and Ken Gordon is appointed SOS, does Gordon push for this?  Does this help or hurt his chances of getting appointed if a vacancy arises?

        1. If I had to pick a Dem, he would be one of my top picks.  It would be cool if Ritter appointed a Republican, but I don’t see any reason why he would.

    2. but because gerrymandering to create competitive districts is just as bad as gerrymandering to protect seats.  You seem to be in the opposite direction, and I certainly can’t follow there.  If only we got over trying to game the political system and concentrated on policy.

      In theory, allowing political figures to draw district boundaries is a good idea, because communities can be identified based on social aspects that are important and deserve representation.  But in reality, it’s become one big gigantic joke.  It is blatantly apparent that this tool will be used not to provide sane input into political organization, but rather to protect party interests by whomever is in power.

      There used to be a time when political figures were at least constrained by the fact that certain things look silly.  Now the whole political system has adapted to exploit the fact that people have more information than they can handle, the press is less and less investigative, and it’s becoming easier to do stupid crap and hide it than to not do it at all.  What a shame.

      In this environment, I would strongly support a law that took districting completely out of the hands of the legislature, and did it based on purely mathematical properties such as minimizing the total circumference of districts, nesting smaller districts inside larger ones, and so on.  Too bad Gordon didn’t propose that legislation.  He’s got the right idea, but this is still gerrymandering in the end.

      1. All of us tend to blame the system from time to time but the real crux of the matter is ‘us.’  If we want Congress to stop the war, balance the budget, trim the earmarks etc. it is up to us, the voters, to make these positions or others known and then, if they don’t listen, make examples of individual members of the Congress who won’t listen.  For example, there seems to be almost universal condemnation of these ridiculous federal deficits plus off budget spending but nothing ever happens to change it regardless of which party is in the White House or in control of Congress.  In the end, that isn’t the fault of the members of congress it is our fault for not holding them accountable.  Competitive districts won’t solve that.  

  4. And in this order:

    1) equal population

    2) minimal overall circumference

    3) follow county and municipal boundaries as much as is possible.

    4) within municipalties respect communities of interest.

    One thing to keep in mind here is, as much as the politicians are worried about how many D’s and R’s and in each district, someone has to the administer these districts: the parties and the county clerks (depending on the activity).

    Having just come out of our county assembly period, can anyone in Denver really say they want MORE multi-county districts? I want to try to get us down to one or maybe two. (Glendale and Holly Hills will always creat multi-couty districts so we have to live with that much).

    Within Denver, we have several illigical HD lines. For example, I live in HD2 which is predominatnly in West Denver. However I live east of Broadway. Broadway is a natural divider in the city and atitiudes, concerns, and interests vary greatly between the groups of people who live on one side versus the other. Denver has several of these “natural” (even though they are man-made) dividers that were mostly ignored during the last redistricting: Broadway, Colorado Blvd, Colfax, I-25.

    The end result was having silly things like 1 precinct (out of 426) that has a ballot style all by itself because it is the only place where SD32 and HD5 overlap; or a place where only 2 precincts are in both SD35 and HD7; or the bizarre situation of having Grant Ranch in the same SD with Cheesman Park.

    The reason I got interested in this was when I lived in Capitol Hill I realized this one neighborhood, with a population to make up about 2/3 of an HD, is actually divided up between 4 of them (and 3 SD’s!).

    And this was just Denver. There are similar stories from all over the state.

    1. Dan,

       Small technical point.  I think your post addresses the issue of reapportionment – the re-drawing of state legislative districts.  Sen. Gordon’s bill only addresses redistricting – the re-drawing of state congressional districts.

        This is not to say your comments aren’t valid.  

      1. They are separate issues. But after reapportionment (the redistribution of electors per representative), redistricting at the legislative level has to happen to accommodate the numbers. So they go hand-in-hand.

        When it comes to Congress, our state laws refer to it as redistriciting, but a reapportionment happens there too, ust nation wide. For example, CD6 has had more growth going than any of the other districts in Colorado. Therefore it should shrink in size (or more likely grow less in size) than other districts. Of course whent he redistricting part takes place, the new CD6 will probably not look a lot like the old CD6 anyway.

        National reapportionment has benefitted Colorado the past two times by giving us one more US Rep each time. I doubt it will happen this time, though.

      2. have applied Colorado’s reapportionment principles to redistricting when the issue was before the federal courts after the 1980 census and after the 2000 census the state courts did the same thing.  In each case, the courts cited the principles in the Colorado Constitution concerning state house district and state senate district reapportionment and applied them to congressional redistricting.  

    2. I agree with your criteria, Dan, though I’d switch number 2 and 3 because if 2 precedes 3 it would necessarily force more splits of counties and cities.  The Colorado Supreme Court in 2002 provided some great direction on legislative reapportionment.  After the Democrat controlled commission passed an egregious gerrymander, Justice Hobbs on a 4-3 vote (overturning the desire of the Chief Justice’s own appointees to the commission) wrote a great opinion that should really rein in some of the partisan excesses (on either side).  It’s worth a read.  We should take Hobbs’ opinion and put it in the Constitution and require congressional redistricting to follow the same parameters

  5. Or what if a new party emerges like has happened dozens of times since the country founded?

    Imagine a law that said we had to have equal numbers of Whig Party and Federalist Party members. (Which ironically we do. Zero of each. But you get my point.)

    If there is a spectrum of views, I think that more than just the RINOs and DINOs should have representation. A fuller conversation might be messier at times, but I have a fondness for democracy.

    1. The primary concerns – equal representation, compactness, and communities of interest – will continue to trump this new criteria.  This means that CO-01 and CO-05 will remain their normal partisan selves regardless, and any “non-partisan” bias would have to come from the remainder.

      I’m not exactly sure of the impact of the law, though.  Do you have to maximize the number of competitive districts from the remaining regions?  You certainly can’t meet competitiveness goals in all of them, based on the compactness and communities of interest requirements.  The most this would do for Colorado is keep the map similar to its current configuration…

  6. If one party wins a district regularly by a landslide, does that not indicate that the residents of the district have enough in common that their views are being well-represented in the legislature?  If every district is competitive, then in a two party system, about half of the entire electorate will be dissatisfied with their representative.

    What would be wrong is drawing the districts such that the Whigs won every district 60/40 over the Know-Nothings, if it were instead possible to draw districts such that the Whigs won 6 and the Know-Nothings won 4 (or 5/5 or something else).

    What I think we need is an increase in the size of the US House of Representatives such that each Congressperson has fewer constituents, and districts can be geographically smaller, allowing a more fine-grained representation of different communities (e.g. a seat for Denver east of Broadway and another for Denver west of Broadway).

    Of course, more representatives means more election campaigns (and thus more campaign expenses), more costs for staffers, maybe remodeling the US House chambers.  But, other countries manage it.  The UK has 646 MPs in the Commons for a national population of 60.6 million people.  That’s about 94,000 people per MP.  In the US, the figure is about 698,000 people per Representative (that average not taking into account state to state variation in population).

    On the other hand, the US has state legislatures, which probably handle some of the issues that MPs handle in the UK.  Still, it’s hard to fairly represent the wishes of almost 700,000 people with one person.  Also, the nation is much larger, and the federal government much more involved in daily life, than the last time the House was enlarged in 1911.  There is a limit, though; the Constitution sets the minimum number of constituents at 30,000 per representative, meaning that there could be no more that about 10,000 members of the House at this time.

  7. He is better than Mike Coffman and would be a better Secy of State, but he is still an idiot.

    Whomever posted (above) that Romanoff would be a great pick by Ritter for Secy of State should Coffman vacate, I agree!!!

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