California Prop. 77

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On Nov 8, California voters will have an opportunity to vote on Proposition 77, which replaces the current legislative redistricting scheme with one performed by a panel of 3 retired judges. As I've mentioned before, the current redistricting scheme is extremely susceptible to gerrymandering and Prop 77 claims to fix that.

I haven't studied the Prop 77 redistricting scheme in detail but my initial impression is that it's superior to the current system in some important respects. The judges are selected by a complicated and partially (but not completely) random process which requires that there be representatives from both political parties and that they agree unanimously to any plan. This creates a barrier to Texas-style redistricting designed to consolidate the party of a single political party, but is still susceptible to collusion designed to reduce the number of competitive races.

One semi-weird feature of the proposed scheme is that the new districts need to be approved by voters but that happens in the first election after they're proposed and that election is performed with the new districts. That's probably not that great a design, but I don't see that it's really fatal. A second weird feature--and one that's being objected to widely--is that Prop 77 requires the next redistricting to happen immediately rather than in 2011 when it would otherwise occur. On the one hand, the current districts are gerrymandered and so this probably isn't too bad, but this still smacks of trying to change the rules in midstream, which has created a lot of resistance to the measure.

At the end of the day, I'd probably prefer an automated random process (despite the known problems), but I tend to think that the proposed scheme is superior to what we have now. However, it also seems that you could construct a similar scheme without some of the features that people find objectionable in this one.

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7 Comments

Don't forget the one other thing...

The "VOTE NO TO SCREW AHNOLD!". This special election should have never, EVER been held in the first place, and IMO, all the measures on it should be defeated just to send a message.

It doesn't help that I find all of them highly objectionable, and don't trust the implementation on the ones where I do like the idea (eg, changing how redistricting works).

The randomness in prop 77 essentially works this way. A field of judges is selected by each party in the legislature. Eventually, this field is whittled down to 6 democrat-selected judges and 6 republican-selected judges. Then, randomly, one of each party is chosen, and then randomly, a third is selected from the remaining 10 judges.

A panel of 2 judges of one party, and one of the other party (with a random majority decided by lot every 10 years) will then create a redistricting scheme, which I guarantee you will give the party represented by the random majority far more seats. This redistricting is binding on the next election. The voters can send the plan back to the judges to redistrict again for the subsequent election, but there's nothing reallying saying the judges can't move one voter from one district to another, then resubmit that as a binding plan for the subsequent election (ie no change at all), effectively keeping the same districting. After the next census, we toss the coin again.

The reason the republicans like this plan and are pushing it so hard is that in any reasonable redistricting scheme, they would never be able to achieve a majority in the state houses, or get a larger number of US House seats than they have now. But if they get lucky, then for 10 years they get to call the shots. If they're unlucky, then things aren't much worse for them than they are now. The only way is up.

A far better redistricting scheme would be one I think with a larger panel, where a supermajority is needed for agreement on a plan. The minority vote on a panel of 3 judges gets ignored. The minority on a panel of, say, 7 or 11 can hold the majority to honesty.

PS. I'm partly voting no to screw ahnold, but also reading *all* the measures, including the non-ahnold ones, they all just suck. I've voting no across the board. Can anyone explain to me what "profiteering" is by the way, and why it should be illegal?

ekr writes:

"At the end of the day, I'd probably prefer an automated random process (despite the known problems)"

Can you give pointers to states (or similar outside the U.S) using an automated random process? I wasn't aware of any that tried to draw the maps using a random method, and it's an intriguing problem....

Craig,

You write:
"A
panel of 2 judges of one party, and one of the other party (with a random majority decided by lot every 10 years) will then create a redistricting scheme, which I guarantee you will give the party represented by the random majority far more seats."

I had the same intuition, but as far as I can tell, the vote has to be unanimous, so I'm not sure why having a majority of judges helps here--though of course it's also not clear why you need an odd number. Did I miss something?

skippy_fluff:
I don't know of anywhere that uses a random process. I've written about it here:http://www.rtfm.com/movabletype/archives/2003_05.html#000165

"Profiteering: the act of making a profit by methods considered unethical." Sounds like it should be illegal to me. (Unless, of course, ethics aren't important.) I think i like prop 77, but i'm in florida so my vote doesn't count in california. Or, apparently, in florida.

Who exactly is the arbiter of what's ethical? Maybe we should be a little more specific before we start throwing people in jail.

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