Alternatives to flaws in Virginia’s redistricting plan

Shane Wade

If you’ve ever had the opportunity to play the “Redistricting Game,” an interactive game created by the USC Game Innovation Lab, in civics class during high school, you know how frustrating (and fun) redrawing districting lines can be.

You have to keep in mind such criteria as having contiguous districts, population size and density and most importantly, avoiding drawing boundaries for the purpose of creating a partisan advantage. At least, you’re supposed to avoid that.

When the General Assembly met earlier this month to finalize plans to redraw legislative districts in Virginia, many residents complained about perceived attempts by House Republicans to dilute African-American votes by combining them with larger white districts. They also complained about similar attempts by Senate Democrats who allegedly drew district lines on cultural contours or past performance indexes that guaranteed African-American Democrats would win any election.

On a surface level, I can see the inherent unfairness of dividing a populous on political boundaries, rather than dividing on some arbitrary basis such as residency or geographic location. Some would even argue in support of gerrymandering on the basis that a conservative representative, for example, would better represent the views of conservative voters.

But America is a representative democracy, despite our past history of racism, sexism and general inequality that barred certain groups from the voting process. In a representative democracy, majority alone does not rule. The rights of the minority must be recognized and respected.

Therefore, we can all agree that gerrymandering is not a conceivable option when redistricting.

So what are the alternatives to gerrymandering that allow people to still be represented fairly?

We could get rid of the House of Representatives, but that’s highly unlikely.

Or we could try a method of “fair majority voting,” as proposed by Michel Balinski. The method of voting is responsive to the partisan leanings of the entire state and gives each district its own representative. By allocating representatives in proportion to the total number of votes and providing each district with one representative, the likelihood of gerrymandering is decreased by eliminating the possibility of defining electoral districts for political reasons and allotting seats on the basis of their total vote in all the districts across the state.

We should also keep in mind that a good redistricting plan has two central components. First, it allows citizens to have reasonable access to representatives. Second, it is as politically balanced as possible. Whatever decision we make about drawing district lines ought to make those criteria a main focus.

While my poor performance on the “Redistricting Game” may indicate my inability to competently re-draw district lines, 13 teams of Virginian college students did just that, producing 68 nonpartisan alternative redistricting plans in a contest organized by Dr. Quentin Kidd of Christopher Newport University. Those maps prove that redistricting can be done in an apolitical manner.

There are options for redistricting that don’t include political gerrymandering. As voters, we ought to check for potential abuses of power by persons seeking to protect their power, a responsibility that is not limited to ensuring financial accountability or keeping campaign promises, but a responsibility that begins and ends with where you call home.

We can rail about much needed education or tax reform, but let’s not forget about one of the widest gaps in our defense against corruption: equal representation.

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