Friday, November 17, 2006

Yet another reason to love Iowa...

While much of the country was well and truly gerrymandered during the last decade, those sensible Iowans managed to get the job with little rancor and even ended up with sensible districts.

Redistricting has become synonymous with political extremism and party warfare. Last year, legislators staged bizarre confrontations in Colorado and Texas over unprecedented attempts to change district lines in mid-decade.

But unlike many other states, in 2001 the Iowa Legislature was able to re-draw its congressional and state legislative districts with little controversy.

But can we use a computer to do the work?
Whether or not computerized redistricting would make for good government, it offers some interesting exercises in mathematics and computer science. Algorithms for redistricting exploit techniques from computational geometry, graph theory, combinatorics and optimization methods. Even if such algorithms are never embodied in law, perhaps they can suggest some ideas that would be useful in a more conventional approach to redistricting.
I suppose we'll have to wrench districts around according to the power structure of the moment for a few cycles, but what may finally end gerrymandering is the mobility and fickleness of the American public. Districts don't necessarily stay" safe" for long periods.


Anonymous said...

John - I wholeheartedly agree with your praise for the Iowa method of avoiding gerrymandering. I believe this, along with the imposition of term limits would solve many of the problems that continually haunt us with regard to the behaviour of our elected representatives. If you knew that when you were elected to congress, that you were not going to build a 20-40 year career there, it would not be paramount to build huge campaign funds, build the kind of relationships with big donors and PACs that make the long careers possible (and make the rest of us dubious about grimace), and think about sneaking in earmarks and porkbarrel projects to buy support at home. If you're going to be coming home to live like a regular person under the laws you help make, I really believe that the desire to have done a good job and stand for something would outweigh the desire to serve 6 instead of 4 years.

John Phipps said...

Well said, but one of the unfortunate consequences of the information explosion has been the discouragement of people of ability to seek public office.

For example, I'm sure one or more of the many indiscretions and/or bad judgments of my life would be googled and used against me if I were consider running. No big loss I know, but candidates must now be brazen and immune to intimidation to endure what passes for our political selection process.

As a result, we have hardened professional political operatives who have little in common with those they profess to represent.

Joseph de Maistre once said that every country tends to have the government it deserves. For a Frog, the guy was pretty bright.

Anonymous said...

Actually what Iowa ended up with in 2001 was the second try. The legislature turned down the first go around because too many incumbent state represenatives and state senators were put into the same districts. The last thing that the incumbents of either party wanted was to have to run against one another or move to an open district.