The Libertarian Case for Redistricting Reform

Every 10 years, congressional district boundaries must be redrawn based on incoming census data. It sounds simple enough, but like every politicized process, redistricting decisions are made to benefit an entrenched class of incumbents and the politically powerful.

The practice of “Gerrymandering” dates back to 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Gerry (pronounced “Gary”) Eldridge signed a law enabling his party to redraw district lines such that they would remain in the majority. Oddly-shaped districts, often resembling crooked and lanky salamanders, have been a fixture of American politics ever since.

Redistricting reform is just one issue under the umbrella of the challenges inherent to representative democracy. Someone has to decide where to draw the lines, but who should it be? More importantly, how can we have fair and proper representation at all in a country with 300 million people?

The Founders’ solution was a House of Representatives that grew in size as the country got larger – but only up to a point. The House stopped growing after reaching its current size in the early 1900s. Now, each representative casts votes on behalf of more than 600,000 constituents — a number that keeps growing with the overall population.

Walter Olson, blogging pioneer and senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies, laments the fact that our representatives have become so remote that politics can now only be conducted by mass media.

Politicians are treated more like celebrities than public servants, and the result is an aloof and unresponsive government.

Making matters worse, both major party establishments have entered in an unholy alliance wherein they allow each other to set district boundaries that insulate their preferred candidates from competition (both inside and outside of their party).

Walter says that libertarians and classical liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of politicians selecting their constituents, rather than vice versa.

He recently wrote the lead essay for a @Cato Unbound symposium titled, Why Libertarians — and Others — Should Care About Gerrymandering. He drew on his experience as co-chair of Maryland’s Redistricting Reform Commission. Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan has been a leader on this issue, looking for solutions that can spread to other states. Their recommendations included requirements that districts be compact and contiguous with existing municipal boundaries. That means no snaking segments linking two predominantly Republican or Democratic regions to create safe havens for incumbents.

Walter returns to the show to discuss the challenges of designing a truly representational system of government. Bob will introduce his idea for a Federal representative body of 20,000 members, which need not even be linked to geographical areas.

Is is time for a Constitutional Convention to bring the House of Representatives into the 21st century, or can smaller reforms achieve a similar end?