The problem of electoral districts when the population is well sorted

Authors: Christopher Fowler*, Pennsylvania State University, Linda L Fowler, Dartmouth College
Topics: Political Geography, Population Geography
Keywords: gerrymandering, elections
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In searching for new rules for drawing electoral districts, citizens and public officials confront the question of whether it is possible to establish geographic boundaries for districts that promote responsive and accountable representation while satisfying constitutional precepts of equal protection, free speech and fairness. The pursuit of an “ideal” districting process not only revives longstanding debates about the meaning of representation but also encounters practical problems in defining constituent interests in terms of place. Here we consider the link between geography and representation and find continued reason to support Madison’s view that a democracy requires that legislators represent a diverse district in order to avoid a ‘tyranny of the majority.’ We go further and demonstrate that diverse districts are difficult to create using geographic bounding criteria. Although we find reason to think that local government representation recommends a place-based districting system, we find less reason to support geographically defined communities of interest in the context of state and federal legislative districts. Given these constraints, a nonpartisan deliberative body with a mandate to draw competitive legislative districts appears to be the least bad option for improved districting. In concluding we further contend that improved procedures for redistricting, while necessary, are not sufficient to increase the quality of representation in state and federal legislatures without greater attention to the recruitment and support of competitive candidates.

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