Thursday, July 06, 2006

Redistributions US style

The recent Australian redistribution proposals are the work of an independent electoral commission, but in the US Congressional boundaries are drawn by state legislatures. 'Partisan redistricting' (see this example from Texas) is rife and the only constraint is the civil rights era Voting Rights Act which has been interpreted to require that boundaries be drawn so as to give some ethnic minorities a chance of electing Congressional representatives from their minority. This has meant a requirement to draw some districts so that they have African-American or Hispanic majorities. The best book on this is Morgan Kousser's Colorblind Injustice. This has been criticised by conservatives to whom it implies 'racial gerrymandering', some Democrat fret it locks up minority votes in safe Democrat seats. Has an argument about minority representation ever been raised in the Northern Territory? Could an argument have been made that the placing of Broken Hill in an electorate whose numbers are made up to the south rather than the west reduces the chances of western NSW aboriginals having an MP that they voted for? Some have blamed partisan redistricting for a decline in the competiveness of most Congressional elections, although this has been disputed. Recently the US Supreme Court (brief outline here) has upheld the constitutional validity of Republican partisan redistricting in a case about Texas, although it did enforce some modifications due to the Voting Rights Act. American election law is a massive area, closely entangled with race debates, well covered at the Election law blog which has much more on the Texas decision. In Australia partisan electoral boundaries have a long time been restricted to controversies about the boundaries of electoral zones that allowed for varying enrolment levels, and zonal systems are almost completely defunct. The most famous recent example was the excision of an aboriginal community entirely included within the then marginal National state electorate of Barron River in Queensland and its addition to the safe Labor electorate of Cook. The establishment of electoral administrations as statutory authorities (finally to be done in NSW) has been intended to guard against any suggestion of partisan redistributions but I not aware of any evidence for decades that suggests partisan redistributions have occurred in Australia. Some in the US have looked to the Australian model, but recent referenda in Ohio and California to establish independent commissions to draw electoral boundaries have been defeated and only Iowa and Arizona have independent commissions. Race anxieties may play a role perhaps minorities fear losing 'their' electorates and in California the proposal suffered by being one a package of measures put by Schwarzenegger. Many progressives opposed it on this basis (although Marc Cooper supported it). Many liberals and progressives in the US are reluctant to support reforms such as nonpartisan redistricting because they fear it would be an act of unilateral disarmament when Republicans do not support them, this case is made in the best book on current US politics; Off Center.


Post a Comment

<< Home