From Round to Square (and back)

For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project:

A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again).
*Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Structure, History, and Culture (6m)—Electoral College Politics

One year ago on Round and Square (17 November 2011)—Kanji Mastery: Work 工
Click here for the introduction to the Round and Square series "Structure, History, and Culture"
[a] Districts RF
This is one post in a multi-part series on the American Electoral College. Click below for the others.
Electoral 1       Electoral 2        Electoral 3        Vote!                 Clearing        Electoral 4        Electoral 5          
Electoral 6       Electoral 7        Electoral 8        Electoral 9        Electoral 10   Electoral 11      Electoral 12
Electoral 13     Electoral 14

Yesterday, we paused to contemplate just how difficult an electoral vote by congressional district might be. At first, it seemed very simple. It appeared that it would isolate the "close" places and allow candidates to compete all over the country. It seemed (we should be careful about early assumptions) that it would open up the country to a wider competition for the vote. On second thought, it appears to be almost completely the opposite. A congressional district electoral system seems to close down even the swing states, while opening only tiny portions of the rest of the country. As it turns out, we really had not even begun to see the problems when we considered the 438 congressional districts as though they were states, with definite borders. I thought it was a done deal, but I was wrong.
[b] Imagine RF

You see, states are not gerrymandered.

Congressional districts are not like states. They have comparatively little sense of history, and (as we have discussed) almost no sense of "memorable shape." Close your eyes right now. No, really. Do it. Trust me. Close your eyes. Relax, wherever you are sitting, and let your mind go blank, like a squeaky clean blackboard (or whiteboard). Hum to yourself as you gain peace an harmony with your imaginings.

Just close your eyes.

Can you envision the "shape" of your state? (Oops, you peeked—this is text, pardner, and you need to do a little Derrida catch-up at some point—but let's not dwell on that). For now, just imagine your state. Can you do it?

Yes, of course you can. You see it, sort of, everywhere.

Some states, such as Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Texas, are so entranced by the shapes of their borders that they put them on just about every advertisement that might possibly "work" for consumers. They also make their state high school championship trophies in the shape of their borders. Wisconsinites and Minnesotans are fond of this. No one does it like Texas, though. Texans really like the shape of their state, and plaster it on just about every image that can cause local hearts to go aflutter. They are not the only ones, though. When it comes to state-shape-love, so, too, do Floridians, Mainers, and Georgians (often with an imaginary peach in the middle), and a whole lot of other folks imagine their "homelands" as things with structure—maps of the mind, so to speak. The shape of their states work their ways into their very imaginings of our union of fifty such entities (and then every fourth grader in the country seeks to memorize their capitals...but that is another story for another post.
[c] Memorable RF

States are things—memorable things. 

The great advantage of states is that they are not just things—not only visualizations in the minds of fourth graders memorizing state capitals and a few others who identify with the shape of their sub-federal territory. No, states are more than even that. They are constitutionally mandated and historically structured (not to mention relatively unchanging) things. Like it or not, they are out-there. They don't change...much, and they have their own legal systems, legislative bodies, and, well, histories. Don't kid yourself. This matters. Yes, occasionally a colonial and nationally nascent "Virginia" becomes Virginia-and-West Virginia, but it took a civil war to bring that about.  

With only a few exceptions, states are states. They have continuity. 

Congressional districts have only a little...hardly any, really. They are just fragments of history, continuity, place, and pride.

That is because their borders change every ten years. Some times it is minimal, and (to be fair) large chunks of territory are generally lumped together in the same region, such as Minnesota's seventh and eighth districts (northwest and northeast, respectively). If Minnesota lost a congressional seat because of population loss in the north, it is likely that these two districts would fuse. Even so, they would be north. Mostly like-minded voters would continue to be linked. Mostly. What I am trying to say here, to accommodate the argumentative poli-sci student in the room, is that there is some continuity. I acknowledge that. 
[d] Continuity RF

There is some.

Now let's get to the heart of the matter. There is only some continuity. The reality is that congressional districts are the result of a bunch of beer-bellied (and occasional tea-totaling) legislators who keep changing the boundaries in the hopes of providing a few more votes for their parties. Gerrymandering. It is a ridiculous exercise that takes place in every state (except the ones too small—or, better put—lacking in population) for more than one representative) right after the results from every decade's census comes in. North Dakota doesn't have to worry about such nonsense. It has fewer than 750,000 people (for now). As for the rest, it is a...

It is a circus. 

Do we really need that? Do we really need fifty decennial circuses for, say, Georgia and Oregon to redraw their congressional borders? Well, for the House of Representatives, we do. There are only 435 seats, and the country gets reconfigured by district every ten years. According to our strange blend of state and federal powers, that is up to the state legislatures. The real question for us as we proceed is this. Do we really want to bring presidential politics into the realm of state legislative gerrymandering. Do we really want to take the sphere we call "Georgia" (sixteen electoral votes) and shape the Electoral College on the way that its state legislators draw their fourteen little 750,000-vote units (and two senatorial seats? Do we really want to go there. Think about it. I have my answer.
[e] Entity RF

Nope. I'm throwing my cards on the table. I'm out. Damn. I thought this was going somewhere, and it has come to naught.

Georgia is a thing, an entity. Let us call it state.  

A congressional district is different in kind; it has borders that are redrawn every decade. "State" and "congressional district" are not even close to the same things. We have run into a brick wall again. That frustrating Electoral College just keeps on persisting, despite our attempts to abolish it. This is a whole lot more difficult than I ever would have thought when we started the series two weeks ago (I can't even imagine what the New York Times was thinking yesterday in arguing for the relative "simplicity" of the popular vote). 

We'll pick up from here as we (now) race toward our conclusion tomorrow. This has been a long, red-clay Georgian road, hasn't it? See you tomorrow.

This is one post in a multi-part series on the American Electoral College. Click below for the others.
Electoral 1       Electoral 2        Electoral 3        Vote!                 Clearing        Electoral 4        Electoral 5          
Electoral 6       Electoral 7        Electoral 8        Electoral 9        Electoral 10   Electoral 11      Electoral 12
Electoral 13     Electoral 14

No comments:

Post a Comment