Strolling through the book store, among the new titles on display in the politics section was Ratfucked by David Daley. What could this be about? The subtitle, The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, conjured up images of telepathic lizard men so I passed it by. A little while later, though, I saw the New Yorker’s review and summary which sounds a lot better. It describes a plan to target particular districts in local elections, win control of the state, then aggressively gerrymander the map to ensure future victories as well. Of particular interest, the summary focused on some local Pennsylvania elections and the damned Arlen Specter library. Sounds great, this is worth a read. In fact, the cover image subtitle for the Kindle version, How the Democrats Won the Presidency But Lost America, is much more accurate and less sensational. (The book title is actually stylized Ratfked because the author is a pussy.)
This is my summary of the book, intermixed with some commentary. Gerrymandering isn’t new, it’s been going on for centuries via “packing” and “cracking”, but this is the story of how it went down in 2010 and the long lasting results. If that sounds interesting, I’d recommend the book. Most of the book’s chapters focus on a single state. They are all similar, but still special in their own way. I’ve added some links to online articles referenced by the book. My review is way at the end, past the summary.
The 2008 election was a big turning point. Obama won big, and “down-ballot” Democrats won big with him. The Republicans lost, and the Republican Party was lost. What to do? Devise a plan and take back control. Redraw the maps to maintain control. In short, ratfuck the Democrats. We’re only few pages into the introduction when the author contradicts his own subtitle. This wasn’t a secret plan. “It’s legal, it’s breathtaking, and much of it happened in plain sight.”
The plan was developed by Chris Jankowski and presented to Republican Party interest groups. The Redistricting Majority Project, cleverly shortened to REDMAP, was on. And it was hardly a secret. Karl Rove himself announced it in the Wall Street Journal. The GOP Targets State Legislatures: He who controls redistricting can control Congress. Seriously, go read the article. It’s shorter even than a summary of the book, but lays it all out.
The problem the Democrats were facing, and that the Republicans hoped to capitalize on, is that the critical census year midterm would not go well for team blue. “Presidents almost always lose seats in a midterm election. Democratic turnout always falls in non-presidential years.”
The plan worked. Worked outrageously well, in fact. Republicans in some states control supermajorities of representatives despite collecting less than 50% of the total vote. Of course, there are excuses made, that this is the natural result of demographics. That Democrats have sorted themselves into cities. Ratfucked is a rebuttal of sorts to this line of thinking, laid out in articles such as the Times Upshort column Why Democrats Can’t Win the House. (Having read the Times column, though, it doesn’t exactly deny gerrymandering. In fact, it even calls out the fact that the lines have been fixed.) At least everybody seems to agree that it’s hard to win Congress seats with “wasted” votes.
Part of the problem is the evaporation of independent voters. Voters are more reliably partisan, which makes gerrymandering more effective as well. “If everybody votes reliably Republican or reliably Democratic, then districting becomes everything. How you put the lines together is all that matters.” It’s noted that in California and Illinois, the opposite takes place: Democrats draw the lines to their own benefit. It’s not simply a matter of Republicans being corrupt. Whoever has power is corrupt. How surprising.
“The simple truth is this: America is the only major democracy in the world that allows politicians to pick their own voters.“
The man behind the plan is Chris Jankowski. He got his start as an insurance lobbyist, which provides him with a perspective that others don’t have. Insurance regulation is almost entirely done at the state level. In the wake of the record setting settlement with tobacco companies and another (eventually overturned) $4 million settlement against BMW for selling a repainted car as new, tort reform bubbled up to a priority issue for the insurance industry. “Many states, facing budget deficits and an antipathy to tax increases, used the tobacco money to expand new programs, and corporations naturally feared that they’d be targeted again.” Fighting battles at the local level, Jankowski learned an important lesson. A little money goes a long way. It’s possible to win hundreds of state representative races for less than the cost of a Presidential election.
Operation REDMAP would turn those small wins into big wins. Essentially, Jankowski went around to the big donors, laid out his plan, and explained how he could practically guarantee results. 2010 was a very bad year to be a Democrat. Obama may have won the Nobel Peace Prize for being not Bush, but what else had been accomplished? “Death panels.” The key was to find vulnerable districts and voter sensitive issues.
In Pennsylvania, they picked 20 out of the 203 state districts. One of them was the home of the popular Finance Committee chairman, David Levdansky. But there was somebody in Pennsylvania who wasn’t very popular anymore: Arlen Specter. Specter was a five term senator who also served on the Warren Commission and grilled Anita Hill. He’s actually fairly moderate, and so was expected to lose the 2010 primary and switched parties, hoping to win as a Democrat. That didn’t work. Nobody likes a turn coat. Meanwhile, Levdanksy had voted for a budget which included an Arlen Specter library. In a tough economy, people don’t like to see their tax dollars being spent to honor losers.
As Jankowski says, “Low Democrat turnout and the right wave and you just wipe those people out. Redraw the districts. Boom. So. Arlen Specter library. Done. Everything is context, but you’ve got it.”
Coming in to the 2010 election, Democrats held a slim margin the state house, 102 to 101. Republicans controlled the state senate and would likely win the governorship. After the census, it was likely that a US Congress seat would be lost, requiring a complete redraw of the map. The stakes are very high.
Jankowski wasn’t immediately certain how to defeat Levdanksy. He was popular in his home district. But backed by donor money, Jankowski was able to conduct poll after poll searching for the one issue that would crack the race open. The fucking Arlen Specter library. A relentless barrage of negative advertising featuring almost daily mailers in the weeks leading up to the election painted Levdanksy as an irresponsible spendthrift. His campaign was completely unprepared for the attack and had no response. The ads relied a lot on innuendo and untruths. Dirty campaigning as usual, except perhaps for the scope. In the end, Levdansky lost his seat by 151 votes, 10761 to 10610.
Once the Republicans had control of all state legislature, they could redraw the lines to ensure everlasting success. Look at the results by year. In 2008, aided by Obama, the US Congress delegation was 12-7 Democrats. In the 2010 midterm, Republicans reversed it to 12-7 red team. But in 2012, despite Obama drawing out the blue voters again, Republicans extended their lead to 13-5. (One seat lost in reapportionment.) How? By controlling the districts. “You can even create 12 of 18 districts that are more Republican than the country as a whole in a state that would naturally lean blue. That’s how powerful the lines can be.”
The big story in North Carolina is the role of race. This chapter introduces us to the Voting Rights Act. According to the VRA and the 1986 Supreme Court case Thornburg v. Gingles, minority voters are entitled to a representative of their choice. In short, the congressional delegation should look like the people.
In many Southern states long represented by white Democrats, this led to a Faustian bargain devised by Lee Atwater and Ben Ginsberg. Up until this point, white Democrats controlled redistricting, leaving Republicans and minorities underrepresented. The “unholy alliance” would redraw the lines to pack blacks together in urban “majority-minority” districts. Meanwhile the rural districts get whiter and drift right.
Relevant Washington Post article: GOP Will Aid Civil Rights Groups in Redistricting.
The results are amazing. Nationwide, in the first election after the 1990 census, in 1992, 13 new black representatives were elected, the largest black caucus in a century. At the same time, 12 white Democrats lost. In 1994, another 16 Democrats were defeated, and Republicans took control of the house. Hello Mr. Speaker Newt Gingrich.
This process was even overseen by the Justice Department. While North Carolina could have benefited from a single majority-minority district, the Republicans proposed two. By sacrificing one more seat total, they guaranteed that none of the other seats would be competitive. And this was perfectly fine with Justice. As they explained, “We were not concerned about the political ramifications. If it helped Republicans, so be it. Our job was to help blacks and Latinos get elected.” And so the Republican plan was approved.
Bringing us to 2010, it was time to draw the map again. This time a special consultant was brought in, Tom Hofeller. He was profiled in an Atlantic article, The League of Dangerous Mapmakers. (Another article that serves as a short form of the book here.) There’s a surprising amount of OPSEC involved in making maps that will eventually be a part of the public record. Some advice: “Emails are the tools of the devil.”
In 2010, the plan was to dial up the number of black districts from two to three, further strengthening the lock on the remainder. The trick was to make it look fair. The maps were drawn according to voter registration records. They looked competitive. But the map makers knew that the maps were also drawn to optimize results based on actual voter turnout. “The Republicans knew from their statistical analysis, of course, that the registration advantage was not a statistic which affected the actual performance of the district.”
Results: Even after the bad 2010 election, Democrats controlled 7 of 13 seats. In 2012, Republicans won 9 of 13. In the 3 minority districts, Democrats won with greater than 70 percent of the vote.
What’s the magic technology that makes all this possible? It’s a program called Maptitude, which is demonstrated by William Desmond. He does this on his desktop, not the twice subpoenaed and imaged laptop he used for the Arizona redistricting. The software itself is just a tool, but it allows the import of a vast array of demographic data that’s accurate down to voting blocks of only a few people. (Desmond worked for a consulting company, and we’ll get to Arizona in a few chapters, but he got his start working for the Obama campaign in 2008, developing targeted marketing. He’s not one of the Republican map fixers.)
Daley (the author) requests to cook up a rigged map. “Before I can ask how much time something so complicated and intrusive would take, Desmond has the overlay complete. One more click and he can shade the partisan strength block by block in any color of his choosing.”
Technology has enabled the map makers to draw lines with a precision and accuracy previously unimaginable. And as we move into the future, it will get worse, not better. Predictive models allow a kind of political Moneyball. Make an apparent compromise today in expectation of population change. “You would build districts that the other side could tolerate now, because they don’t know what you know about what it’s going to look like in the future.”
We take a tour of Michigan’s 14th district. It stretches 31 miles in an effort to connect neighborhoods in Pontiac and Detroit. Daley drives along the entirety of the district, from southern tip to northern end, at a garbage dump of all places. Along the way we pass derelict parks and stadiums and a coffee shop under 24 hour protection, but carefully dodge around The Gap and California Pizza Kitchen.
Unfortunately, while there are a few maps, the book has very few pictures, so it’s difficult to really appreciate the described contrast. I would have loved to see the expensive homes lying just across the border. The man who drew the lines in Michigan is Jeff Timmer. As his maps are described to him, he defends them as quirks of geography. And of course, the Voting Rights Act made him do it. Nothing partisan about it.
Remarkable fact: in 2012, the total vote count for Democrats exceeded that of Republicans, but Republicans won an overwhelming 60-39 supermajority in the state house. The US Congressional races fared similarly, turning 52 percent of the vote into 75 percent of the delegation.
Again the map makers worked in secret, operating out of a rented hotel room known as the Bunker. They based their maps off a partisan index that predicted how voters in each proposed district would respond, creating 11 red districts with a safe R+5 to R+11 while sacrificing four blue districts that were packed from D+12 all the way to D+29.
Before the maps were approved, the apportionment board travels the state and talks to the citizens. However, as the one Democrat on the board explains, “But we didn’t have the maps! We went on the road and we didn’t have anything to show. So we didn’t get very good attendance, and they use that as proof that people don’t care.” (Spoiler: people really do care.)
Ohio provides us with our first cautionary tale, that the Republicans may have gone too far and accidentally ratfucked themselves. The guaranteed results in general elections means that many candidates’ only true challenge is the primary. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner was forced to resign as the ultraconservatives rejected any and all compromise. Safer seats lead to more conservative members lead to deeper frustration.
Unintended consequence of the decade: “Ohio’s ratfuck was so complete that even its master designers couldn’t pull it back or control its extremes.”
“The Democrats who jubilantly celebreated victory in Grant Park on election night 2008 believed that the evolving face of America would make the party’s ascent inevitable. ... There’s no demographic advantage big enough to conquer the level of apathy Democratic voters have felt in nonpresidential election years since 2006.” This chapter started off mostly lamenting that team red is winning and team blue thinks they should be winning instead. But then come some uncomfortable truths.
The one man who might have changed things, Democratic congressman John Tanner, didn’t make many friends, even in his own party, with his plan to establish national standards for bipartisan redrawing. “They have deals. ‘Don’t come around here fucking with the maps. I won’t fool with your map if you don’t fool with mine.’” The implication is that no matter how unfair the lines are to the people, there’s always a silver lining for those in power. Who doesn’t like a 70% approval rating?
The Democratic party is losing moderates now too. That special breed of Democrat who likes god and guns, the Blue Dog, is extinct. There’s a complaint here about the coastal elites, who serve as the party’s leadership. Nancy Pelosi does not come from a competitive district. In fact, none of the districts in California are competitive, where incumbents are reelected very nearly 100% of the time with wide margins.
Looking to the future, the Democrats have a plan: Advantage 2020. They’re going to spend a lot of money on down ballot local elections, take control of the states, and fix the maps. It’s only cheating when the other team does it.
Did you know Florida is crazy? Florida is crazy. Nevertheless, in 2010, they passed a referendum (by 63 percent) demanding Fair Districts. The state legislature would still draw the maps, but they had to play nice. How did that work out?
In 2014, Judge Terry Lewis ruled that Republican consultants conspired to manipulate the redistricting. But according to the operatives involved, the judge ruled based on irrelevant circumstantial evidence. “In his fanciful writing he muses as evidence meetings that happened before there was even census data or a redistricting mapping program. What impact could those have had?” Indeed, if they couldn’t discuss the inputs to the process, what was left to talk about? The desired output?
Who rigged the process? What’s the evidence? At one point, a college Republican, Alex, attended an open hall meeting and spoke for about 60 seconds. Later a public map submission came from what was apparently his email address. Six of those districts appeared exactly as drawn in the final map approved by the legislature. The map submitted by Alex also coincidentally exactly matched a map that happened to be drawn by master mapmaker consultant Frank Terraferma, but Frank has no idea how Alex obtained his maps. After all, Frank had no intention of submitting his maps. He only drew them for fun.
Another mapmaker, Pat Bainter, would also say “that their efforts were just for fun, but they were also very highly paid, very active, very obsessed, and very secretive.” Curiously, Bainter is the same man who in a deposition would claim, “I found it very interesting, I never actually completed a map. I found it way too tedious.” but previously sent a secret email justifying population variance up to 5 percent by “preventing retroregression” in minority districts. A small detail for someone who finds mapmaking tedious.
More maps were submitted under other aliases. A secret cabal of mapmakers drew up the maps they liked, then submitted them either via proxies or just using the names of proxies (patsies). All of this came to light after a court challenge. Curiously, at trial, the Republicans developed amnesia. “The fact that they’re on my computer doesn’t tell me how they got there.”
By now the book has fallen into a bit of a pattern. The Republicans won big, then redrew the map in secret. The short chapter doesn’t contribute much except to note that state legislators shown preview copies of the map in progress were explicitly warned about the charade and reassured that their seats were safe. “Public comments on this map may be different than what you hear in this room. Ignore the public comments.”
And then they did something really tricky. They projected low Hispanic voter turnout over the next decade. Thus, in order to create the VRA mandated majority-minority district, they would need to pack even more Hispanics from surrounding areas into a single district.
At long last, we arrive at the promised land. The one state that does things right. The unicorn. Iowa’s districts are drawn by a nonpartisan agency, and everyone is seemingly happy with the results. No packing and cracking here. The whole process is pure as the driven snow. Of course, it helps that Iowa is also as white as the snow. The role of race, and the effect it has on gerrymandering, cannot be overlooked.
Curious fact about Iowa: it’s the eye of the gerrymandering storm. The chair of the Republican State Leadership Council, which funded REDMAP, Kraig Paulsen, is the Speaker of Iowa House. The chair of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Mike Gronstal, is the Majority Leader of the Iowa Senate. The two people in charge of taking control of state legislatures and consequently fucking with the maps both come from the one unfuckable state.
“Politicians, generally speaking, find that if there’s more competition, then they’re more likely to work with one another.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Arizona. In theory, districts are drawn by an independent committee (Two Democratic appointees, two Republican, one independent chair). In practice, the commission chair, Colleen Mathis, was in for a world of hurt. “She would also learn just how few people in Arizona were truly postpartisan. She would be impeached on a party line vote by Arizona’s Republican-led senate and removed from office for ‘gross misconduct in office’ and substantial neglect of duty.’ (The state Supreme Court reinstated her, unanimously, less than three hours later.)”
The fight started when Mathis wanted to select nonpartisan legal counsel to advise the commission. She wanted one firm. The Democrats wanted a different firm. The Republicans wanted another different firm. “They’re stonewalling,” cried the Republicans. The dispute is captured in the Times’s article Arizona Redistricting Panel Is Under Attack, Even Before Its Work Is Done.
The good news was that when the map was finally made, for the first time in 30 years, the Justice Department approved an Arizona map on the first try. Election results in subsequent elections were close, with a 5-4 Congressional delegation edge decided by 161 votes in a close district.
But then the good news dries up. We look closer and see that Republicans were the victim of packing, winning by margins up to 51 percent. It doesn’t help that after winning, senior Democrats were a little too eager to discuss the result, saying, “The maps performed like they were designed.” Supposedly independent commissions change the battleground, not the battle.
In 2000, a state Democratic leader with national ambitions appointed a lackey to the commission with a single priority. Sell out the rest of the state, but guarantee his patron a winnable. Combined with the two Republican appointees, and that was the 3 votes necessary to get it done.
Now we leave the realm of what happened and enter the realm of what to do.
Sam Wang is an election predictor. In 2012, he got the Presidential election just right, but failed at the state level. Or rather, he correctly predicted the total vote, but failed to account for the REDMAP lines. “Wang had gotten the numbers right but the politics wrong.”
Gerrymandering regularly arrives in state and US Supreme Courts, with mixed results. Judges are reluctant to overturn maps without clear evidence of tampering. Maybe the lines of a district look funny, but as noted, the mapmakers usually have plausible deniability on their side. The VRA made them do it. It’s really for the best. And so on. What’s needed is a standard that evaluates election results across a state to detect malfeasance. Wang is on the case.
Lawrence Lessig is another crusader, who started fighting for campaign finance reform but has added gerrymandering to his platform. “Why don’t we try a representative democracy? For 230 years we have not had it. Let’s just try it for once.”
“A solution to gerrymandering is unlikely to come from either of the two parties.“
The good news is that the people care. In states that support the referendum, citizens have voted 60 or even 70 percent in favor of redistricting reform. Making the reforms work is a struggle, as in Florida and Arizona, but it’s a start. Maine, crazy independent state that it is, may experiment with instant runoff voting.
One solution, championed by FairVote, is multi member districts and ranked choice voting. As opposed to the binary red or blue choice offered today, in a three member district voters could mix and match whichever three offered the best compromise.
Or the doomsday scenario. “Clinton loses. Republicans and their appointees control all three branches.” Then apparently we hope they fuck things up so bad even their base turns on them and demands a new electoral system.
Moving beyond the 2010 election, the new maps, and the 2012 election, what has the REDMAP project wrought? Too much conservatism, even for conservatives. The ratfuck has backfired. “With a 247-188 GOP majority, Boehner held the largest Republican House advantage since 1947. Yet he could no longer command it.” Boehner was forced to contend with a motion to vacate the chair brought by Mark Meadows, a fairly new representative from North Carolina. In 2010, his district was represented by Heath Schuler, one of the last of the Blue Dog Democrats. After 2011, however, the Democratic core of 11th district was cracked, creating a new conservative stronghold. Too conservative even for the conservative leadership, as it elected a representative who would brook no compromise.
Even as Republicans gain power, citizens are less pleased with their governance. In Michigan, state House votes tilted 54.7 Democrat to 45.3 Republican, but Republicans managed a 59-51 majority with which they passed an emergency manager law. It was repealed in a referendum, but the state legislature reenacted weeks later. The will of the people on this issue was explicit, yet their representatives disregarded it. (Ultimately resulting in the Flint tainted water disaster.)
The Democratic plan calls to run the blue counterpart to REDMAP in 2020. We can’t rely on that, however. When Democrats are in power, as in Illinois, the maps are just as twisted. In California, an independent commission was opposed by the incumbents. “Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats and Democratic-aligned groups spent millions trying to defeat the initiative. Nevertheless, it passed with more than 61 percent support.” How fixed was California before that? Over the course of 500 state elections, only a single incumbent lost. One. Out of 500. In 2012 alone, 14 Congressmen lost or bowed out of unwinnable contents. Quite a change.
Of course, even in California they tried to pull a Florida. “Democrats met behind closed doors at the party’s Washington, DC, headquarters, hired consultants, drew their ideal districts and presented maps to the panel through proxies who never disclosed their party ties or ‘public interest’ groups created specifically for the purpose.” ProPublica has a lengthy report that could easily have been an entire chapter: How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission.
One final point. Democrats needs to vote in midterm elections. Republicans pulled off REDMAP because blue voters sat it out in 2010. In off years, they focus on party building and laying the groundwork for future wins. “Democrats, in contrast, yearn for a charsimatic hero every four years, have ignored the hard work of party building.”
Complaints that this is how the game is played, but now somebody has changed the rules, are not new or unique to politics. One may recall the scene in Ocean’s Eleven in which Elliot Gould’s character Reuben says, “This sort of thing used to be civilized. You’d hit a guy, he’d whack you, done. But with Benedict... he’ll kill ya, and then he’ll go to work on ya.” It’s a complaint as old as history. Literally. The Histories of Herodotus open with an account of how the Phoenicians stole a Greek king’s daughter, then the Cretans stole Phoenician princess, and so on, back and forth, until Paris stole Helen. But then the Greeks retaliated all out of proportion, launching the Trojan War. Unprecedented escalation is not itself unprecedented.
In Ratfucked, Daley does a good job demonstrating that the 2010 REDMAP program was widespread and effective. The results of the 2012 election bear that out. But he’s less convincing that the difference in degree is so extreme as to be a difference in kind. Which is not to say unconvincing. He’s got a good case. But as ever, I wonder about the evidence that hasn’t been collected and isn’t presented. (Guns, Germs, and Steel anyone?) I think the data is here, it’s just not always presented in the best way.
For a book that’s so focused on stats and results, there’s an unfortunate lack of presentation here. The only diagrams in the book are black and white maps showing the outline of congressional districts. Look how distorted these lines are. It’s effective, but there’s so much more data that can be visualized. How about some pie charts comparing the ratio of votes to congressional representation? The numbers are here in the narrative, but they can be hard to pluck out. Not a single graph is to be found. Not even a table of numbers. It’s a book, not a data dump, but some visuals would go a long way. In a particularly bad example, we are forced to deal with a description of an unseen graph. “Wang draws two curvy lines, which form a bowtie of sorts. Results that land within the bowtie pass muster.” Can I get a picture, please?
The author is an editor at salon.com and obviously left leaning, but he’s usually pretty fair. He treats his Republican subject as people trying to do a job. They’re not comic book villains. It’s obviously a political topic, and it has as its focus a particular election and operation, but it’s not unbalanced. The focus is not on the the Democrats, but their wrongdoings are not overlooked entirely. I think it’s fair to see that even a hardline Republican could read this book and enjoy it, relishing their victory.
I was drawn to the book because the review in the New Yorker mentioned the story of the Arlen Specter library. I would have loved to read stories like that, but they’re hard to find in the later chapters. Pennsylvania is the only chapter that spends considerable time on the campaign marketing that went into the 2010 election. All the other chapters focus on the various results afterwards. In that sense, this book is only half the story of REDMAP. How did the Republicans win so many state legislatures, and importantly, governorships? For example, all I know about Wisconsin is that Scott Walker was elected governor by promising to reduce taxes and spending. Is that the whole story?
It’s a good, easy read. My summary has burned away a lot of the characterization, not to mention a lot of detail. My own Kindle highlights are easily twice as numerous as the quotes included above, to say nothing of the story evolving between the money shots.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Voting Rights Act makes a number of appearances here. In a state that’s 50/50 red/blue and 20% black with 5 congressional representatives, at what cost do we guarantee that 20% of the delegation is black? If the voters are spread homogeneously, it seems unlikely that any black representative will be elected. But if the solution is packing, that can only result in the creation of four red districts. Does that really serve minority interests?
What is the correct metric for creating voting districts? Is it simply population? Is it registered voters? Is it voters of a certain demographic? Is it voters likely to actually show up at the polls and vote? What role should race and age and wealth play?
These are tough questions because it can be gamed either way. In some states, maps were made based on registration while secretly knowing that didn’t match turnout. In other states, maps were drawn according to turnout because that justified even more packing. The Republicans certainly gamed the system, but they could do so because the law tried to dictate certain outcomes. When “fair” and “natural” aren’t the same, which do we choose?
The proposal to combine districts into larger multi representative regions is very interesting. A city and its suburbs might then elect one black and one white Democrat, and one Republican.
Historians may recall that for a century and a half, US Senators were not so much elected as selected by state legislature. The 17th Amendment changed that to direct election. What about a process by which district maps are also voted on by the people? Each party proposes a map and the people vote to select one. I doubt many voters are especially savvy map selectors, but my guess would be that each party would at least make an effort at fairness. It wouldn’t matter which map wins as long as a grossly unfair map is preemptively ruled out as a loser.
Do we even need congressional districts? We don’t redraw state lines after every census. Can we expand the multi member district idea all the way up the state? In populous states that’s probably tricky. I remember the recall election for CA governor and its overwhelming multipage ballot. Trying to pick out 53 names from an even larger list would be a disaster. But at the state level, why not fix the lines to county lines? If one county has more people, then it has more state representatives, just like more populous states in the US Congress.
Very little was said about the unfortunate consequences of our strict two party system. A few gerrymandered districts ended up flipping because a third party candidate stole votes from the expected winner. But these events are dismissed as aberrations, not as a solution. Why can’t we have more parties? The instability they bring makes it harder to rig the map. If a district tilts too blue, it can be challenged by the green. If it tilts too red, it can be challenged by whatever color the libertarians are (black like their souls?).
Another book and theory, very different, but which perhaps explains why America seems to have two parties locked in a death struggle. Review of Albion’s Seed.
Linked inline above, but collected here for convenience.
Ratfucked - Amazon link.
The Influence of Redistricting - New Yorker review
The GOP Targets State Legislatures - Karl Rove lays out the REDMAP plan.
Why Democrats Can’t Win the House - Times Upshot column on demographics and gerrymandering
GOP Will Aid Civil Rights Groups - 1990 Post article about the unholy alliance
The League Of Dangerous Mapmakers - Atlantic article about gerrymandering, almost a short version of the book
How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission - ProPublica shows it’s not just the Republicans playing the game