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A Cure for Redistricting Woes

by Chris Kennedy Thursday, Aug. 14, 2003 at 9:41 AM

Besides fixing the fight over who can gerrymander, proportional representation has been shown to increase voter turnout, which is at an all-time low in Texas.



A cure for redistricting woes

By Chris Kennedy (Daily Texan Guest Columnist)

August 12, 2003

Like so many other issues in politics these days, mainstream analysis of the redistricting fiasco has tacitly accepted gerrymandering as a necessary evil, omitting a well-founded remedy. From discussions on the legality of the Republicans mid-decade map redrawing to attacks on the morality of the Democratic escapes, pundits have failed to ask themselves if a flawed system of single-member districts is really what Texas needs.

Proportional representation is the deus ex machina critical to the recurring conflict of gerrymandering (oops, I mean redistricting) congressional districts in Texas.

By combining electoral districts into larger regions, voters elect multiple representatives based on the proportion of votes each party and candidate receives. In other words, if Republicans receive 60 percent of the votes in a 10-member region, while Democrats receive 40 percent of the votes, the two parties will respectively receive six and four representatives. In such a case, gerrymandering would be inconsequential, because any Republican votes shifted to another district would only increase the likelihood of the Democrats winning another seat in the current district.

Under our current system, the dominant party can ideally gerrymander districts to receive 100 percent of the representation with only 50.1 percent of the votes, resulting in 49.9 percent of voters receiving no representation. Of course, no scheming party official can predict exactly which way Texans will vote under any redistricting map, but the intense escalation in the redistricting fight shows that Republicans and Democrats alike are desperate for the chance to manipulate their own constituents.

There are several variations of proportional representation. Under a closed-list party system, citizens cast votes for specific political parties, who create a ranked slate of candidates prior to the election. Parties then receive seats based on the proportion of votes they receive, and seats are claimed by candidates in order of their rank on the party slate.

Contrast that with an open party list system, in which voters would vote for a specific candidate in their desired party. The ranking of candidates within a party's slate is then determined by the number of votes each receives, thereby shifting power over the rankings from parties to citizens. Thus an open party list system would be the most democratic choice for Texas's proportional representation system.

Changing our method of electing congressional representatives has other benefits. Besides fixing the fight over who can gerrymander, proportional representation has been shown to increase voter turnout, which is at an all-time low in Texas. Texas ranked 49th in voter turnout in the 2002 congressional elections with 27.4 percent, after New York, which had 26.4 percent.

Proportional representation would also give the Libertarian and Green parties a chance to prove themselves, something our two-party system has not allowed. Because the threshold for winning a seat is reduced under proportional representation, Texans who favor these increasingly popular parties will be able to elect representatives who truly represent their interests and ideologies. Our pseudo-democracy penalizes any voter who does not want to vote for one of the two homogenized mainstream parties, since third parties are forced to win a plurality of votes in an individual district to receive before they receive any voice in Congress. With the constant gerrymandering that Republicans and Democrats are instigating, third parties have no real chance of success, even if a significant percentage of the public supports them.

Instead of jumping on the gerrymandering bandwagon and placing our support with the "Chicken D's" or the "DeLay R's," we need to demand that our representatives fix the problem once and for all. Implementing open party list proportional representation is neither easy nor simple, but it's the only solution right for Texas in the long run.
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