In a NY Times op-ed, Steven Hill suggests that, based on reent experience in Arizona and on California demographics, Scharzenegger’s plan to reform California’s political districting is not likely to produce the beneficial results we’re being promised.
So Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan, while well intentioned, is bound to fail. The old ways of thinking about redistricting and its impact no longer apply in California – nor in many other states. Shifting demographics have outstripped the abilities of the mapmakers to encourage competitiveness.
A nonpartisan redistricting commission may make a few more legislative seats more competitive. And it certainly would have the salutary effect of changing the public perception that incumbents have a hand in rigging their own district lines. But such tinkering is not likely to change much else. It will not “blow up the boxes” of state government, as Mr. Schwarzenegger has said he wishes to do.
Hill, a senior analyst with the Center for Voting and Democracy, advocates the use of proportional representation to elect representatives from multi-member districts, thereby giving representation to smaller voting blocs.
We can’t change where people choose to live, but we can begin using some type of proportional representation system. For example, California could use a system like that in Peoria, Ill., for municipal elections. Instead of electing 40 state senators from 40 districts, voters in 10 districts could elect four senators each. Any candidate who won at least a quarter of the vote would earn a seat. These districts would be far more likely to be bipartisan, even electing some urban Republicans and rural Democrats.
This makes sense, and gives a voice to many more voters than our current system does, gerrymandered or no.
But while we’re at it, let’s have one more reform: expand California’s legislature. A drawback to multi-member districts is that the resulting districts are geographically larger than they are now, and California’s Senate and Assembly districts are already far too large for effective local representation.
So yes, let’s move to multi-member districts, but at the same time let’s double or triple the number of seats in the state legislature.