Redistricting Minority Reports

I had an idea this week, which I’m sketching out just for whatever. Please note, this is not a recommendation, just a thought-experiment. The best approach for redistricting, short of reconsidering the whole concept of geography-based democracy, is probably still very independent commissions kept as far away from politicians as possible.

But, what if the backstop for legislative district maps supported by only the party in power was a kind of “official minority report” along these lines:

In Ohio, for example, current redistricting rules call for maps to be supported by at least half of the second-largest party in government (i.e. Democrats), but allow the party in power (i.e. Republicans) to enact four-year maps on a party-line basis, subject to antigerrymandering rules. In practice, Ohio Republicans are just ramming more gerrymandering right through the rules, and it seems to me like any real solution must involve taking the map-drawing pen away from the gerrymanderers at some point.

So how about, instead, if (when) Ohio Republicans ram through gerrymandered districts on a party-line vote, Ohio Democrats get to re-draw part of the map, say 40%.

In Ohio, the minority party could select any 14 of the 33 state senate districts, and redraw them, along with the 42 state house districts nested inside. Now, obviously, since you have to leave the other 17 state senate districts alone, you have to choose at least two adjacent districts and leave that unit’s outer borders untouched. But with a large minority of the map as a blank canvass, it seems like you could reverse a lot of gerrymandering.

Now, I haven’t tested this. But it seems to me like this could have real power as a solution, in large part because (in Ohio at least) there are only limited regions where gerrymandering is even relevant. Much of the state is a sea of red; the countryside, the little towns, even the small cities are solidly Republican. The urban and suburban areas where lots of people live are where maps really matter.

Letting the Democratic minority re-draw some substantial minority of the map seems like it would offer substantial protection against abuse of the pen by the Republican majority. I suspect the principle would work in many and maybe most states, if it’s sound. (It has less applicability to Congressional maps, and almost none in states where there are only a few Congressional districts.)

I can think of multiple questions about this idea, which don’t really matter since it’s pie in the sky fantasy, but let’s at least list some of them.

At a tactical level: How much of the map does the “minority report” apply to? This is a critical question, which probably goes a long way to determining the question of whether it can work at a tactical level. Also, if it would work with e.g. Republicans’ 2021 maps for Ohio, could different maps have drawn the minority into a corner as it were, had the mapmakers been confronted with these rules? How should other redistricting rules apply? (I would suggest that the maps must stand or fall as a unit, so that if e.g. Republicans got Republican judges to strike down the districts drawn by the Democrats, that would just void the whole thing and start the process over.)

At a strategic level, it’s worth asking whether this would amount to incentive for and institutionalization of partisan gerrymandering, which it probably would; I don’t think it would act as a deterrent, of which more in a moment. I think the biggest question is just how do you compel Republicans to follow any of these rules instead of driving a truck through them, running out the clock as long as possible during litigation, and in the meantime trying to rig the courts with dishonest partisan operatives.

Of course, I think this is a general question for America at this point, which is part of why I posted this idea. As a thought experiment, I think that its possible practicality demonstrates the impracticality of America as a whole political unit. I can’t even take seriously the possibility that Republicans would simply accept fair maps, and avoid the entire issue of a “minority report.” Ha. This year has blown up that particular naivete, for anyone paying attention at least.

So, if the solution is to take the pen away from Republicans, or—since it’s a problem for liberalism to decertify an entire political party supported by millions, but strict rules aren’t working out well, either—to have two pens and give the two parties space to do redistricting separately, well where is this really leading?

I’m generally reluctant to quote myself, but I haven’t seen this particular point anywhere else: “I have come to think of gerrymandering and secession as varieties of one thing: both are ultimately about redrawing borders to reject the whole possibility of an Other having authority over your kind of people.”

If America is—as it may be—to the point where the most practical solution to gerrymandering is to accept it and let each party have some territory to redistrict however it likes, aren’t we really acknowledging two irreconcilable nations?

n.b. For the record, if I had the authority to implement something like this, I would of course apply it even-handedly. By all means, let the Republican minorities in Illinois, Maryland, New York, etc., have their “minority report” districts too, if they find the Democrats’ maps intolerable. I write about Republicans here because, you know, Republicans are the larger problem. Democrats very reasonably are not proposing to do redistricting favors for Republicans in states where Democrats control the pen, at the same time as Republicans are gerrymandering Democrats into oblivion everywhere possible—but Democrats do support serious national fair districts policies which would apply to all, while Republicans offer nothing but obstruction and more gerrymandering.

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