Our first topic is voting. We’ve been fighting about voting since America’s founding. Most recently, the big fights are about fraud, voter suppression, and gerrymandering of district maps. State legislatures, the US Congress, and courts at many levels are embroiled in the battle.
I enjoyed your first newsletter, Lee, and fully endorse your desire to promote a win-win democracy. I am concerned that those at the ends of the political spectrum are not willing to consider giving up their all-or-nothing stances. There was a time when compromise across the aisle was the preferable outcome. Regrettably, I fear those days are past. Just as Xtreme sports are raging in popularity, Xtreme politics seem to win the day. Here's hoping your optimism prevails, and that there are enough policy-makers who are tired of gridlock and bitterness that ideas such as yours will take hold.
There’s a hopeful note on gerrymandering in Dan Rather’s good news Saturday post on Steady…
I don't have much to offer in terms of observations on gerrymandering. It is indeed a difficult problem.
Here are two observations that might be useful to inform your thinking:
- we already have a national id for citizens. It's called a us passport (or passport card). There is no need to invent a new national id. You can just use what we already have. About 40% of American citizens already have passports.
- Most democratic countries require id to vote (Australia and the UK are well known exceptions) and they seem to be doing fine. The focus and energy on the voter id vs suppression issue in the US seems quite unique. You've noted that Democrats have not provided data supporting voter suppression is significant and the only data you provided on ids is a survey from 18 years ago (which, by the way, provided almost no explanation to how the data was collected, sample size, etc etc.). If it ain't broken, why do we need to fix it?
I'm a center leaning person and I think you are missing large part of the voter-id perspective on the right side of the map - its critical if you want to get a win-win. It is not just about fraud.
- States and local authorities manage voting. That's the way things should be. Most things, including voting should be run by local authorities. Voting in new York city should work differently than they would in rural Ohio. The federal government should not be involved in voting. We already have a perfectly capable democratic system in each state and if the people of New Hampshire want to allow voting without voter if, all the power to them. The people in Texas should have no say in the matter.
- People on the right want a smaller government, not a bigger government. Solutions that involve creating new bureaucracies and spending are not attractive, because they often come with their own share of problems and challenges, making the situation worse.
Maybe as part of the census, based on the results combined with the power of computing, the districts can be drawn up with the starting point being the center of the population base and lines drawn in “pie” slices numbering proportionately to the population? Then the only incentive is for states to make sure the census counts all eligible voters and get them legitimately IDed to get the maxed number of “slices” (representatives). So the census department defines the districts with bipartisan oversight.
Lee, regarding the idea of a national voter id, I suspect your suggestion will be get the same reaction from Red and Blue, for pretty much the same reason: "What?!!?! National Identity Papers? Never!!!!!" It's interesting to look at which countries have national id's (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_identity_card_policies_by_country).
Regarding Gerrymandering: What is the mechanism for specifying and enforcing laws to prevent Gerrymandering? As Bob Shapiro suggests, both Red and Blue will be against it following the current faction that's in power. Also, if the underlying criterion is that representative count should be proportional to vote count, I can see another solution: Make all positions in the House of Representatives state-wide ("at large"), with representatives apportioned according to vote count (and, while we're at it, remove the Electoral College).
A predecessor issue to both voter ID and gerrymandering is the census. Census data is used as the basis for determining the number of representatives for each state and redistricting maps, and it only takes place once every decade.
The 2020 census was a complete debacle, between the administration‘s influences and Covid 19, the results are deeply flawed.
For example in California, where I resided at the time, there was a tremendous disinformation campaign that linked census responses to ICE reporting, resulting in a huge undercounting of the undocumented and superstitious population. (This population would most likely have the same fear based response to voter ID initiatives.)
Bad census data poses many interesting possibilities. While on one hand providing data to support a preferred district map, or number of representatives, the absence of a voter ID requirement could result in surprising election results. That’s why voter ID and gerrymandering are only a guarantee of the desired political outcome if they are both implemented.
Great pairing of issues, much food for thought!
Personally, I think a “district” should be a box that expands symmetrically until the population requirement is met, the representative must be someone from within the box who knows firsthand the issues inside the box, and works to “represent” the best interests of that population. And, a proper census could potentially identify eligible voters and provide the necessary voter ID.
Okay, I am officially “out” as an idealist. Thanks, Lee.
One problem with a theoretically good win-win solution is that whoever thinks the current rules benefit them, is unlikely to go along with it. Perhaps any changes could be planned to take effect after the next census (assuming our democracy lasts that long). That way nobody knows who will most benefit or lose from any change in process.
Very thoughtful ideas. I hope you get many thoughtful comments. In New York, we were surprised to learn of the legislature’s gerrymandering in the democrats’ favor… but then again, perhaps not so surprised.
Are district maps drawn based on overall population or just voting age population? For me "fair" would be that the district lines would only consider whether an individual was voting age or not and would be drawn to minimize the district boundary.