Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Drawing a bead on drawing districts

The Supreme Court has agreed to examine the 2003 redistricting in Texas, which moved the Texas Congressional delegation from a 17-15 Democratic majority to a 21-11 Republican majority.

The arguments will be about legality and minority voting rights, but the underlying case is a more basic one: what are the limits of gerrymandering political districts?

The basic facts are straightforward. The districts are supposed to be redrawn after each Census. They were, but the Texas legislators couldn't agree, so the issue got bounced to the courts, where a panel of judges basically reaffirmed the existing boundaries while adding two new districts.

Three years later, Delay and Texas Republicans reopened the issue and redrew the boundaries to suit themselves.

Politically, you'll be outraged if you're a Democrat and you think the 2003 redrawing violated the tradition of only redrawing districts after each census. Or you'll feel justice was served if you're a Republican who thinks that legislatures, not courts, are supposed to draw the districts, and so the court-drawn districts were illegitimate.

Me, I hope (probably forlornly) that the case will lead to some reasonable rules about drawing political districts.

Gerrymandering is wrong, period. Districts should be drawn in ways that make sense, not solely to favor one political party or the other.

Those charged with drawing districts should be required to follow one or more basic rules for the boundaries, such as major geographical or political boundaries (mountains, rivers, city limits) or geometrical guidelines such as average distance from a central point. The boundaries should be susceptible to mathematical or logical analysis using those criteria; districts that fail the analysis are thrown out.

Hey, a guy can dream, right?

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