One of the following maps is the current gerrymander of Maryland’s Congressional District, and the other is my attempt at fair districts for Maryland.
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I’ve written before on how to create fair districts. Let a computer do it, minimizing the lengths of internal borders, subject to the districts being roughly the same size. In response to that idea, the late Ron Smith of WBAL radio said,
“That’s an interesting idea. The problem is that it would defeat the very purpose of gerrymandering, which is one of the rewards for gaining the upper hand as a political party. Pols probably wouldn’t relinquish that very easily.”
My replay was:
I have no illusions on something like this. This could not come from inside the system, it would have to come around the system through a constitutional amendment process. What’s worse, is that I don’t think there are any interest groups with money that would back such a proposal.
Now, I decided to trying an experiment. I can imagine someone making the following argument:
What? Are you crazy? Leave it to a computer? Computers don’t respect the unique culture of political subdivisions within a state! People on opposite sides of the street could be in different districts! A large city could be split in two or three, with no respect for the various subcultural groups, which would lose their voice! Haven’t you heard of the Voting Rights Act!?
Well, okay. Let’s try doing something a little different. Let’s start with the next largest subdivision in states — counties. Let’s try to do a few things:
- Have districts that are roughly equal-sized.
- Have districts that come from similar geographic areas of the state.
- Divide up counties as little as possible.
- When dividing counties use straight lines.
Three counties were larger than the amount needed for a seat — Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Baltimore County (not city, which is its own county). That’s where I drew three short lines, giving bits of those counties to other districts.
The top map is my creation. Given the odd geography of Maryland, I think it does a good job of creating equal districts amid the diverse cultural geography of Maryland.
- Western Maryland (rural)
- The Eastern Shore (rural)
- Southern Maryland along the Chesapeake Bay (suburban/rural)
- Montgomery County near DC (urban)
- Prince George’s County with Charles County to the South (urban)
- Baltimore County less its southern fringe (suburban/urban)
- Baltimore City w/Baltimore County’s southern fringe (urban)
- Central Maryland (suburban/rural)
When I look at the second map, I can’t see how any of the districts are fair. They are discretionary, jagged, concave to the max. Why anyone should rule that these districts are fair is beyond me.
To those who live in Maryland, which is maybe 2% of my audience: what would it take to get a ballot measure together to change the way that we set districts? To those living in other states, maybe you want to consider a similar shift.
Looking at my map, I suspect the congressional composition would be 3-5 Democrat to 4-4 Tied, versus the 2-6 we have today, and the 4-4 that existed when I first moved here in 1998.
If representatives were elected proportionately, Maryland would be 3-5, blue as the state is.
These are just my musings, but I will be passing them on to my friends in Maryland.
By David Merkel, CFA of Aleph Blog