Drawing districts for political benefits is an unequal application of the law to every resident of the state. Gerrymandering of political boundaries is used to gain a benefit for a specific political party, group of voters or individual legislator, to the detriment and harm of every other party, group or opposing candidate. The Fair Vote 2K Initiative eliminates this unfair and unequal treatment under the law by requiring a simple and logical method of creating electoral districts automatically.
The U.S. Constitution established a decennial census to provide an equal distribution of tax burden among the states and to ensure equal access to the federal government in the House of Representatives. Without the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, states (with more than one Representative) were left to design districts without restriction. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, the Governor of Massachusetts, Eldridge Gerry, gained notoriety for drawing districts that benefited his supporters. One of his more outlandish districts was shaped like a salamander and the practice took on the name of "gerrymandering". Even after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment, equity and fairness were only applied to those gerrymandering episodes motivated by racial discrimination.
At the beginning of every decade, the Census Bureau releases population counts for the entire nation. The total count is divided into the 435 seats in the House of Representatives and each state is apportioned a number of seats (no less than one) that they may fill. After the 1990 census, California was allocated 52 seats and given the responsibility of creating electoral districts to provide for the direct election of each member. Districts must be "substantially equal" in population and comply with a host of other court guidelines. The "one person, one vote" rule has been well established in Supreme Court rulings, but there has been no challenge to district lines based on the unequal consequences of specific boundaries, except as they apply to race.
Since the establishment of district boundaries is a state legislative issue, it is subject to all the political manipulations of individual legislators and governors. The objective is to gain the maximum political advantage, putting the parties and individual legislators at odds over district lines. Since all legislators considering the matter are incumbents, their first priority is to ensure re-election. With the aid of party registration records, previous voting history and the other demographic data provided by the Census Bureau, the majority of legislators jumble census tracts back and forth to create a majority of "safe" seats for their associates. If the majority party in the legislature also holds the governor's seat, they can nearly assure their dominance in the state for the subsequent decade. If the legislative power is divided, the contest usually ends in a court battle with little or no objective guidelines for resolution of disputes. In either case, millions of legislative hours and taxpayer dollars are spent to settle the political conflicts. The Fair Vote 2K methodology can be implemented on a single personal computer in a few hours, making the process fast, inexpensive and totally transparent.
Since the explicit objective of gerrymandering is to create real political gains and loses, it is an inherently unequal application of the law for every resident of a state. Over three decades ago, the U.S. Supreme Court found equality of population an essential element of electoral districting. Since then, it has discarded historic county boundaries, arguments against unequal representation in legislative bodies, and has ruled that lines may not discriminate on the basis of race.
On the basis of equal protection, the Court has found that racially segregated public facilities, even if comparable, are not equal. However, it has not yet applied that protection to the political consequences of unequal treatment. People ought to be granted an equal measure of political power when they cast their votes for state or federal representatives. This is accomplished in the Fair Vote 2K Initiative by eliminating any other factors than raw population in the drafting of electoral boundaries.
The Geometric Criteria
Legislators, academics and interested organizations have considered a variety of criteria to ensure fairness in the drafting of boundaries. Contiguity is the simple assertion that districts should be whole pieces. Electors are at least adjacent to each other, rather than being in twor or more remote areas, linked only by a district number. Although contiguity has been stretched by connections which are nearly preposterous, all districts are whole pieces. Compactness is a criteria which exceeds wholeness and aims toward a vague sense of community. Both geometric criteria are automatic consequences of the Fair Vote 2K Initiative methodology.
The "Policentric" Criteria
Some proposed criteria have a political ("policentric") objective. Maintaining county, city and geographic bounds within electoral districts aims to secure the common interests of certain distinct populations. The political objectives are to preserve the influence of existing rural, urban, suburban, commercial or farming interests. The Supreme Court has ruled that county boundaries cannot be an impediment to equality of population, but the political objectives for smaller interest units can still have a legal impact on district formation. When transportation and communication were confined by distance, the geographic factors may have had some merit. Since the tracts defined by the census conform with county boundaries and major geographic features, they are reflected in the Fair Vote 2K methodology, but only as an incidental consequence of existing tract boundaries.
The "Ethocentric" Criteria
Criteria have been proposed that aim at satisfying every interest at the expense of any other factors. Ethocentric (interest-defined) and ethnocentric (racially-definded) criteria are equally insupportable. The premise is that this or that party, political subdivision or interest group (any ethos) should have a directly proportional influence on legislative activities. Implementing such a criteria is fraught with multiple complications, depending on the interest. Even the simplest aspect of party affiliation could only be implemented by abandoning contiguity, compactness and the basic concepts of district representation. To accumulate all members of a small minority party into a single district to ensure legislative representation would be a Herculean task, beyond any bounds of reason and probably in conflict with Supreme Court criteria. Moreover, the correspondence between geographic places and the variability of ethocentric interests over the subsequent decade would destroy the intended purpose in a very short time. Attempting to suit districting to any special interest objective would be even more complex and fruitless than attempting to implement all the policentric objectives.
The District Seed
The proposal in the Fair Vote 2K Initiative discards all policentric and ethocentric elements in favor of the simple geometric criteria based solely on raw population. A census tract in an extreme corner of the state is selected as the seed for the first and all subsequent districts of a particular type. To avoid residual tracts in remote locations, the starting point is dictated by the geometric shape of the state. For California's crescent shape, a starting point in the Southwest would probably leave residual tracts in the Northeastern corner, hundreds of miles away from the residual tracts in the Northeastern corner of the Southern portion of the state. Other starting points may be suitable, but following the habit of reading from left to right and top to bottom, the most convenient starting point is the Northwest corner of the state. The starting point has little impact on the consequent size and shape of the districts, due to the consistent method of consolidating the actual districts.
The Accumulator Method
From the district seed, the closest tracts are accumulated until the population threshold has been met. The procedure is purely mathematical, based on a simple distance measurement from the seed tract to other close tracts. Because tract boundaries tend to be irregular, the measurement is made from the center point of the district to the center point of the adjacent census tracts. As each close tract is added to the district, population is accumulated and the center point (centroid) of the district is re-calculated for comparison against the next adjacent tracts. Once the population quota is met, the district boundaries are complete. Following the same Northwest to Southeast sequence, the next seed tract is selected and the closest adjacent tracts are again accumulated. This process is repeated until all district boundaries have been established.
The Population Count
Prior to performing the seeding and accumulation of districts, the average population for any particular district type is calculated. For the California State Assembly, the total population of the state is divided by the number of seats (80) to determine the average district population. As the accumulator method proceeds, the resulting population is compared against the average to determine when the individual district is complete. Since there are 3,721 census tracts in California (1990) , each State Assembly District is composed of about 45 tracts. Although tracts vary in population, there would be no impediment to achieving a one percent gross variation limit for the population of each district. Mathematically, the district is complete when the population exceeds 99.5% of the average population. Some districts will be slightly above the average and some slightly below, but the method achieves the "substantially equal" population requirement better than any other method. The Fair Vote 2K Initiative Text sets a maximum gross variation of one percent from the average for all districts of a particular type.
The Nesting Method
The three types of State Districts are the Assembly, Senate and Board of Equalization. The number of seats for each group is set in the State Constitution at 80, 40 and 4 respectively. Therefore, once the districts are established for the most populous type, the others can be created by nesting pairs or sets of twenty to create districts of the other two types. In the 1990 apportionment, State Senate Districts were compounded in pairs from the State Assembly Districts for the first time. The Fair Vote 2K Initiative sets this method as a fixed feature of state districting. Congressional districts are apportioned by the same method as the state districts. The number of seats allocated to California will increase from the current 52 members if the state has a larger proportion of the national population (likely, according to estimates) than it did in 1990. The Fair Vote 2K Initiative would only require two runs of the method, one for State Assembly and one for Congressional representatives.
The Numeric Sequence
The familiar method of numbering the districts from the Northern to the Southern points of the state is altered to conform with the seed scan method to allow concurrent numbering of districts from the Northwest to Southeast. Although it is of no relevance to representation, the familiarity of the numbering method is historically and logically comfortable.
Analysis will be conducted to determine what the likely results of the Fair Vote 2K Initiative will be in comparison with the current districting, using 1990 census figures. Maps will be prepared using the new method to allow individuals to see the effects that might result. Most important for political purposes, the likely outcome of elections under the new method will be compared to the actual history of the various elections during the past decade. Of course, these will be pure surmise, because the political dynamics would be entirely different.
Assuming that the previous efforts at gerrymandering had the goal of establishing safe seats (party registration above 55%) for legislators or parties that would not otherwise have existed, it may be safe to assume that the new method would result in larger number of competitive districts (majority party registration below 50%). This could have resulted in shorter terms for many legislators than would otherwise have occurred. However, the method could just as likely create a few extremely safe seats (party registration above 65%) with a larger proportion of competitive districts.
The Court Challenge
As is the tradition for California Initiatives, adopting the Fair Vote 2K Initiative will likely result in lawsuits challenging its (federal) constitutionality. The only imaginable grounds are that the automated system deprived some (minority) group of Equal Protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the burden is to prove that this was the intent of the method. Since no racial or ethnic factors are allowed to be considered and the process is purely automatic based on population, it's difficult to even suggest any malicious intent. A review of Supreme Court decisions suggests that such a challenge could result in an affirmation of the new method as a guideline for all states to follow. From this perspective, a legal challenge may be a welcome bonus to adoption of the Fair Vote 2K Initiative.
The Emotive Factors
There is no doubt that some electoral groups will be injured by a fair apportionment. Those who derive some benefit from gerrymandering, whether it be the seniority standing of their existing representative or the secure status of safe seats, will be anxious to prevent any diminution of their power. The only strategy that makes sense is to focus on those districts which would lose their special standing and appeal to their self-interest for better-than-fair representation. The only problem with this strategy is that a large proportion of the voters in any preferential district may oppose the character of the representation they currently receive. Even a safe district has a large opposing minority. The marginal benefits of a preferred district appeal are outweighed by the stronger minority desire for electoral opportunity. Competitive districts that receive less-than-fair representation would surely oppose the benefits that might be enjoyed by the fewer number of preferred districts. The best that opponents might hope for is the emotional appeal of individual legislators who might lose their jobs. However, the argument is frivolous, since any method of re-districting would leave some legislators (simply by virtue of residence location) in jeopardy.
The Party Factors
When the analysis is complete, there may be a significant benefit to one party or another from implementing the new method. Therefore, one party or another might hesitate to support the Fair Vote 2K Initiative. However, the other party (or parties) would acquire an equally forceful motive to support the change. Legislators of either party who enjoy safe seats and seniority would likley oppose any change, but an even larger number of potential competitors would support the opportunities with equal fervor. The competing interests are likely to be about equally balanced, if not inclined toward support. If one party or the other holds a strong position prior to the year 2000 elections, holding a legislative majority or occupying the governor's chair, they might be inclined to favor maintenance of the gerrymandering power for their party. However, the outcome of the year 2000 elections will not be known, since they will occur at the same time as the vote on the Fair Vote 2K Initiative (November, 2000). Therefore, the inclination might be to support the fair method as a hedge against the outcome of the election. Even though the gubernatorial outcome will be determined in 1998 and remain secure through the year 2000 election, the status of the legislature may not be so definite.
Above and beyond the party interests, there is a decided inclination of Californians to adopt "good government" plans which result in more electoral fairness for all participants. Since the probable effect of the Initiative could be shorter terms for the occupants of newly competitive districts, the favorable sentiments of the voters toward term limits could bolster fair vote reform. There are many minority parties and organizations anxious to support a fair and equitable redistribution of political power. Similar comparisons could be made to the California Civil Rights Initiative, banning all ethnic, sexual and racial preference in state activities. The Fair Vote 2K Coalition will likely be built on the voters who recognize that the current system of apportionment is unfair and needs reform.
The National Agenda
The Fair Vote 2K Initiative amends the California Constitution, representing the next and final step toward a full implementation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Even proposing such a change for California could produce similar movements in other states throughout the nation.
The Supreme Court has made it clear that the right of suffrage is denied by debasement or dilution of a citizen's vote in a federal election. On constitutional grounds, the Fair Vote 2K methodology could be imposed on other states with the old fashioned policy of gerrymandering political power. "Separate but equal" is not equal. Deferential benefits for any one voter or representative automatically diminish the electoral power of all others.
Gerrymandering of political boundaries denies the equal protection of the law for every resident of the state. The Fair Vote 2K Initiative eliminates this unfair and unequal treatment under the law by requiring a simple and logical method of creating electoral districts automatically.