Unlike some, I don’t think gerrymandering is necessarily a problem. This paper explains why. Party affiliation isn’t an immutable characteristic, and the political goals of parties can change. As a result, the anti-democratic effects of partisan gerrymandering can be avoided, provided that voters are willing to vote for different parties and that parties are willing to change their platforms to appeal to different voters.
Obviously, these conditions don’t always obtain. Voters might be very loyal to their respective parties. Or parties might be unwilling to compromise on issues for ideological reasons. In these cases, partisan gerrymandering will have anti-democratic effects. And while I’m not the biggest fan of democracy, I prefer majority rule to minority rule, all things equal.
So I’ve been thinking about how we might solve the problem of partisan gerrymandering. Judicial remedies are unlikely to be satisfactory, for a variety of reasons. First, I’m not convinced that the judicial power furnishes a remedy for partisan gerrymandering cases in principle. If a court declares a map illegal and none of the actors who are authorized to draw a new map elect to do so, then what else is there to do? Is the court going to hold a state legislature in contempt for failing to draw a satisfactory map? Fine the state until they acquiesce? Or maybe the court will just draw its own map, notwithstanding the provision in the Constitution that empowers Congress, and not the federal courts, to revise federal election regulations. Maybe that could work, at least to some degree. But do we really want to allow unelected officials with life tenure to regulate federal elections based on a highly dubious interpretation of the Equal Protection Clause? I, for one, do not.
Second, even if it is possible in theory for judges to adjudicate partisan gerrymandering claims, finding a manageable standard has proved darn near impossible. There are simply too many factors to take into consideration, making it extremely hard to determine what district lines are “illegitimate.” Third, the proposed standards that have the most promise, such as the “Efficiency Gap” analysis, would have a tendency to further entrench the two party system that we have (because they treat party alignment as more fundamental than it actually is), making it even harder for voters whose preferences don’t align with the platforms of either party to achieve their political goals.
Instead, I favor a different solution. It would have to be passed by Congress or written into the Constitution via amendment. Obviously, these constraints would make it difficult to implement, but I can dream.
Rather than trying to determine what sorts of districts are “fair,” let’s just get rid of districts. All elections for federal office will be at-large. Instead of voting for candidates, voters within a state will pick their desired party, which will offer a list of candidates for office before the election. A state’s seats in the House will be allocated proportionally between the parties. This could also work for Presidential Electors.
This system has several virtues. First, it would eliminate the possibility of gerrymandering, because there would no longer be any districts. Second, this system of at-large proportional representation would make it easier for new political parties to win seats, as they would only need a minimum amount of support statewide, rather than majority support in any given district. Third, if adopted as the method of selecting presidential electors, the system could help to restore the function of the electoral college as a deliberative body.
As it stands now, presidential electors don’t have much agency in the process of picking the president, notwithstanding the fact that this is their job. Instead, they are bound, sometimes by state law, to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote in their state, with a few exceptions. This defeats the purpose of the electoral college, which is to be a body that deliberates over who ought to be president and then selects a candidate.
The current state of affairs could be changed if we adopted the voting system described above for presidential electors. It would still be expected that electors from the major parties would vote for their party’s candidates. However, smaller parties, who might not even be able to field a presidential candidate, would still be able to exert influence on the deliberation and eventual vote of the electoral college if they secured even a small number of electors. And the multiplicity of interests and views represented in the electoral college would make it harder for ideologically extreme candidates from either party to win.
Of course, it’s unlikely that this sort of change will come to pass, at least any time soon. Both parties in our government benefit from their continued entrenchment, and would therefore resist any attempt to make it easier for third parties to win seats in the government. And while individual states could adopt these rules for their elections, the legislatures are unlikely to do so, given that ruling parties likely stand to lose by enacting them. Still interesting to think about. Maybe someday we’ll get to a point where something like this will be politically feasible.