Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Redistricting: Special panel releases redistricting principals

Redistricting MinnesotaIn an order filed on Friday the Special Redistricting Panel released it's redistricting principals. These are the criteria the court will use to actually draw the maps we will be using for the next ten years.

In this post I'm going to look at the principals in the court order and how they compare to the principals from the last redistricting cycle and also the principals submitted by the four intervenors.

First, lets take a look at the principals and what they actually mean before looking at how the different parties put them in order.

Numbering - for both the congressional districts and legislative districts there will be a principal that deals with how the districts should be numbered. This doesn't have any effect on how the districts will be drawn though, so for the purposes of this post I'm going to ignore these principals.

Equal Population - This is the whole reason for redistricting in the first place, so it is clearly the most important principal. Other than the Voting Rights Act, it's also the only principal that needs to be met for a plan to pass federal scrutiny.

For congressional districts this principal is absolute, districts must be exactly equal in population, so the deviations between districts will never be greater than one voter (the state has eight districts, and the statewide population is not evenly divisible by eight, so there will be five districts of 662,991 and three of 662,990).

For legislative districts the state constitution allows a deviation between districts of as much as 5% between the district with the highest population and the district with the lowest.

Voting Rights Act (VRA) - Easily the most misunderstood law as it concerns redistricting, the VRA has yet to be fully litigated so there are many uncertainties about what the law actually means. Additionally, VRA violations in redistricting are never black and white (no pun intended) and are instead decided on a case by case basis with judges asked to consider the "totality of the circumstances."

There are two sections of the Voting Rights Act that effect redistricting, Section 2 and Section 5. Section 2 is the general ban on doing things that will have an adverse effect on minority representation. Section 5 is the requirement that specific jurisdictions (those with a checkered history of voting rights violations) need to get preclearance from the Department of Justice for any changes to voting procedures, of which, new political boundaries is one.

As it relates to Minnesota the VRA will have a negligible impact on the congressional maps, as the greatest level of minority packing you can possibly achieve still falls well short of VRA standards. Not only that, there are precious few areas even on the legislative map that would compel the VRA to come into play in this state.

Simply put, anytime a Minnesota politician makes claims about a map possibly being illegal because of the voting rights act they probably have no idea what they're talking about for two reasons; one, in Minnesota the VRA just doesn't come into play and two, there is absolutely no way for them to know for sure weather a map passes muster without first going through the legal process.

Districts shall be convenient, contiguous and compact - The convenient and contiguous part means districts have to be one whole shape and not split into different geographic areas, and the compact part means that as much as possible they shouldn't have meandering tentacles.

Preserve political subdivisions (cities and counties) - This is self explanatory, as much as possible try not to draw lines through counties and especially cities. In the end though, some cities and counties will have to get divided.

Preserve communities of interest - This is a more nebulous and hard to define principal, but in terms of Minnesota, a good example is the Iron Range, which I think you can make a good case represents a community of interest.

Incumbent fairness - This basically means that an effort will be made to not favor the incumbents of one party or the other and instead try and split the difference. This principal was included in the House Republicans list of principals, but not in their filing of proposed redistricting criteria. It was however in the DFL's filing of proposed criteria, so figure that one out.

So, now that we have some basic terms established, let's see how this cycles redistricting principal's differ from last cycles.

Court Adopted Redistricting Criteria
2011 2001
Equal population Equal population
VRA Contiguous, compact
Contiguous, compact VRA
County, city County, city
Communities Communities
Fairness Fairness
As you can see, things didn't change much. The only difference is that the special panel this time around slotted VRA consideration ahead of the contiguous and compact criteria. This makes sense simply because the VRA is federal law and the contiguous and compact principal is not.

Since this is the only change in the principals from last cycle it's worth looking at what may have driven this reordering. I mentioned earlier that the VRA won't really have much of an impact on how the Minnesota map gets drawn this cycle, but that may not be the case next cycle, when the VRA could have significant implications on how the legislative map gets drawn because of demographic changes already underway.

It may be that the panel is looking forward to that eventuality and wanted to set the precedent this cycle so that it would not be an issue next cycle. And even if that's not what the panel was thinking, it seems likely that's what the effect of this decision will be.

But because the VRA will have such little impact on the map this cycle, the end result of this change is that essentially nothing has changed since last cycle and because of that I expect the eventual map will closely resemble our current map.


Now let's take a look at what the intervening parties proposed redistricting criteria looked like.

Court Adopted Redistricting Criteria
Ritchie (State) Britton Martin (DFL) Hippert (GOP)
Equal population Equal population Equal population Equal population
Contiguous, compact Contiguous Contiguous Contiguous
VRA Communities VRA VRA
County, city Compactness Communities County, city
Communities VRA County, city Communities
County, city Compactness Compactness
There are a few interesting things about how the intervenors criteria differed from the set the court approved. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, representing the State of Minnesota, used the criteria from last cycle. The group headed by Audrey Britton submitted the most abstract list of the group, elevating "communities of interest" ahead of the VRA, which just doesn't make much sense.

But it's the criteria proposed by the two political parties that are the most interesting to me, both in their similarities and their differences. They agree on principals one through three, but they both do something that I like, they break off the compact principal into it's own consideration and slot it further down the list. It's like they've been reading my redistricting posts on the meaninglessness of the compactness principal all along!

The Britton group does this too, but they only do it in order to slot communities of interest ahead of compactness. The DFL and GOP groups take it one step further and slot compactness as the least important (or second least in the case of the DFL) principal.

The other interesting thing about the DFL and GOP filings are the areas in which they differ. The DFL prioritized preserving communities of interest ahead of preserving cities and counties while the GOP did the opposite. I'm not sure what the reasoning was for this move on the part of the DFL, perhaps it's part of their effort to keep districts seven and eight looking similar, and wanting to use the community of interest argument to do it.

In addition to that the DFL filing included the Incumbent fairness principal while the GOP filing did not, even though that principal was part of the GOP's legislative guidelines.

Other than the fact that they slotted compactness at the bottom, the two political parties filings are substantially similar to what the court approved. We move into the next phase now, with the drawing of actual maps.

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