Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Friday, January 07, 2005

Reason #251 to Abolish the Electoral College

From today's LA Times:

Kerry won 252 electoral votes, but an apparent error by a Minnesota elector reduced his official tally by one vote. When Minnesota's 10 electors officially cast their votes for president in December, one apparently mistakenly entered the name of then-Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Kerry's running mate. So Edwards officially received one vote for president.

Let's try to picture this: you are 1 of the only 535 United States citizens who is actually allowed to vote for the President, you have just one tiny job to do to fulfill your sacred Constitutional duty... and you go ahead and f*ck it up. So what happened? Had the esteemed Elector already forgotten which John was at the top of the ticket in the 6 weeks since the election was held? Was the Minnesota delegation using the butterfly ballot? Did someone forget to darken the oval next to the name?

Can anyone give me a rationale for keeping the Electoral College? And even if you can come up with one (there are many clever political scientists on this blog)... do you truly believe it?

I was in my car, listening to NPR, when I heard that the Senator who joined Representative Stephanie Tubbs in objecting to the counting of Ohio's electoral votes was Barbara Boxer, and I actually cheered. (I talk to my radio sometimes.) It was sweet to hear that a feisty Jewish grandmother from my home state interrupted the joint session of Republican triumphalism to force Congress to address the issue of voting irregularities, if only for a couple of hours. Because even if we abolish the Electoral college, we're going to have to change how we conduct national elections if Americans are going to trust them again.

How sad is it that in our great democracy we permit partisan elections officials in each state to design, distribute, and tally the ballots? How sad is it that we let them handle all registration and eligibility issues for voters as well? (And not just for the national elections, but often for their own jobs as well! Think foxes and henhouses.) And then we are shocked--shocked!--to find, as we saw in Ohio, that they put a few, old voting machines in poorly staffed polling places in the precincts likely to vote against them (ensuring long lines and mechanical failures), while they put lots of fresh new voting machines in the precincts where their supporters live. And we also discover that registration forms for some "enemy" voters mysteriously get lost. Truly, if Bush had proposed a system for electing the Iraqi Governing Council in which the local warlords ran the elections, he would have been laughed out of the White House.

I'm sure that Boxer & Tubbs' (sounds like a good buddy cop movie, huh?) little stunt will be forgotten by tomorrow. I only hope that it signals a willingness on the Democrats' part to finally put this issue of fraudulent or unfair elections processes near the top of their agenda in Washington.

[And on a personal note, my thanks to The Citizens for adding me to their blog!]

38 comments:

The Law Talking Guy said...

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wrote about 20 years ago that EVEN if there were a reason for maintaining the Electoral Vote rule (a state gets a set # of votes based on total of Reps + 2 senators, which it may allocate how it chooses), there was no reason at all for having those votes governed by individual people. The "faithless elector" could be eliminated by switching to a rule where the secretary of state for each state assigns electoral votes according to whatever rules the state has.

The bigger question is whether there is any justification for not having a direct election and a "one person one vote" be the rule for the US Presidency. It's the rule we promote for every other country in the world. The only reasons that can be advanced against this are fundamentally un-democratic. The EV system would not be so bad if it EVs were allocated on a proportional basis to the vote of the public. In that case, there would still be a significant advantage to small states (the allocation of 2 extra votes per state regardless of size favors small states), but much tempered. Under the current system of winner-take-all per state, nearly half the citizens simply have their votes ignored. And, as we saw in 2000, 300 votes in Florida can outweigh the nationwide 500,000 margin of victory for Gore. It is hard to advance any justification for this lunacy. Nothing democratic, anyway.

The standard beef is that "we're a republic, not a democracy." That's how a conservative with a high school education or a couple of college civics classes mentally disposes of the undemocratic aspects of asystem which (not surprisingly) advantages conservatives. That answer is a slogan, not reason or analysis. Here's the real question: because the President represents all 300 million Americans, WHY is it better for him to be more beholden to some than others? Arguments that might justify having a Senate represent certain state interest unequally do not work for a single person.

Raised By Republicans said...

LTG hits the nail on the head here albeit at the end of his comment.

Its not about the perfect policy or system or the most objectively moral policy or system or any such quasi-religious fiddle faddle. This is about who gets represented in what proportion.

Right now, the system over represents rural states. I have a big problem with that mainly because my own background and ideology are more urban/suburban. But I'm not going to say that overrepresenting folks like me is inherently more moral or more democratic.

Of course if we just directly elected the President, no one would get over represented or under represented. But we would have to convince the current beneficiaries of the system to abandone the status quo and that is unlikely.

US West said...

The other really undemocratic thing is districting. Talk about letting the fox in the hen house. Having a partisan body determining voting districts is a scam. So you'd have to fix that as well.

I am still trying to figure out when we starting allowing gerrymandering and why.

Raised By Republicans said...

One other thing:

There is NO SUCH THING AS NON PARTISAN!

You cannot appoint people and hope that just because they aren't registered to one party or another that they don't have a vested interest in seeing one side beat the other.

The solution is not idealistic fantasies about "non-partisan" election officials. The solution is MULTI-partisan. Set a thief to catch a thief! That's what the founding fathers figured anyway. See Federalist 51 in particular.

Dr. Strangelove said...

"Multi-Partisan"... I appreciate that you were careful not to say "Bipartisan." Perhaps the requirement should be that only representatives of approved political parties that hold no seats in congress may sit on the committee. I'm kidding of course, but imagine the Greens, Libertarians, and Natural Law-yers (is that the right word?) drawing up the districts! I'd pay to see that.

But I still strongly disagree with RbR: it is possible to be "non-partisan." While based entirely on anecdotal "evidence," I believe I've found a trend: scientists/engineers generally believe it is possible to be objective and impartial even when you have an initial or personal bias, while sociologists and political scientists think that's a load of donkey's doo-doo.

Let me tell you a little story about that. A scientist friend of mine was being interviewed for jury duty. The case was described to him in general terms and he was asked if he had an opinion about the case and whether he could be unbiased and judge it fairly. He answered that yes, he did have an opinion about it, given the facts he had been told thus far, and yes, this preliminary conjecture would not bias his final judgment--he was very capable of judging the case fairly and impartially after he had heard all the facts.

"It was as if they'd never run across that idea before," he told me incredulously. He was asked to explain his answer more than once, but in the end the judge and attorneys still did not know what to make of it the notion that one could have an opinion and yet be impartial. (He was not selected.)

It worries me that our judges (who are drawn mostly from the social sciences)--the only government officals who really need to be impartial and non-partisan to do their jobs right--have been raised to believe that this is nonsense and not even worth attempting! I wonder if the key is that those who charged with the responsibility for being objective, impartial, and non-partisan must first have been educated in a culture that fosters and expects this behavior.

Scientists know that personal bias can creep into one's work stealthfully--we're not naive about that. That's why the scientific community places such a high value not only on self-checking, but also on peer review. Put a dozen unaffiliated scientists in a room together, and the peer pressure alone would probably be enough to keep them honest, even if they didn't already value the truth for its own sake. It is of course essential to ensure that one's personal finances and career are as disengaged from the results as possible.

While bias still sometimes rears its ugly head (nothing's perfect), this problem can be kept to very low levels if the strong expectation of and belief in objectivity is present. So we might be able to have both non-partisan and multi-partisan panelists provided we use scientists for the former and politicians for the latter.

Dr. Strangelove said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Strangelove said...

Sorry, accidentally pushed the "publish" button twice and got an extra copy. Fixed now.

Raised By Republicans said...

In defense of multi-partism...

Having all the parties that got above a reasonable threshold - say 1% - in the last election have an equal say on the election commission would be an improvement on what we have.

As for engineers' belief in non-partisanship...

I'm related to a large number of engineers. Nearly without exception they all claim to be "independents." And almost without exception they are the most conservative people I know. They are amazed that anyone would disagree with the policies they advocate. They point to mountains of "evidence" and declare that any one who disagrees with them is either a cynic or an idiot. At least social scientists admit the possibility that reasonable people could disagree about something.

If engineers think it is possible to be objective with regard to policy I would ask you what you think the objectively perfect policy is on any one issue? Can you pick a policy in any issue area that 100% of the people would agree on? Or is that you think anyone who would disagree with your policy is simply badly misinformed (this is the view commonly asserted by my "independent" engineer relatives)?

With regard to your friend on jury duty... I guess I would say that the lawyers and judge encountered by your friend were not misunderstanding him or confused. Most engineer types believe that anyone who doesn't agree with them must be ignorant of the evidence or just too stupid to understand the obvious. But I think it is far more likely that the lawyers and judge understood him fine but didn't BELIEVE him. They thought he was either grossly overestimating his own ability to be objective or he was lying to get on the jury to push his own agenda.

Finally, if political scientists, who spend their entire professional lives studying social and political interaction, think that non-partisan officials are an imposibility shouldn't that give you engineering types pause? Or does your belief that all who disagree with you are idiots overwhelm several decades research? ; - )

Now, I'm not some soft brained postmodernist who doesn't believe in objective reality. The outcomes of proccesses and institutional structures are objectively predictable. But people's preferences over those outcomes are subjectively determined.

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR is correct that many questions of public policy are inherently questions of competing interests, and as such there is no "objective" answer. (Should we cut taxes or fix our schools? The answer depends on how much you value education vs. your personal wealth, among other things.) I understand that these are questions of values and I never suggested otherwise.

What I was trying to say is that there are also some things for which objective standards can be formulated, which people can judge in a non-partisan way. Drawing congressional districts so they are sensible and don't particularly favor any party is one such thing; defining and maintaining standards for fair elections are another. As though I had not specifically acknowledged it, RbR points out that people's preferences over those outcomes are subjectively determined. My contention was that, despite these preferences, objectivity and impartiality are still quite possible provided we select people who believe in it and will hold each other to the same high standards.

RbR asked rhetorically if I could, "pick a policy in any issue area that 100% of the people would agree on," and I have to confess to a bit of annoyance that RbR set up a straw man of my argument and knocked it down. It is precisely this kind of "reasoning" that encourages scientists like me to discount the cynical generalizations propounded by those who, "spend their entire professional lives studying social and political interaction."

Well, I should also confess my own sins here. RbR says (and I salute him for this) that he is not, "some soft brained postmodernist who doesn't believe in objective reality." And I have to admit that I carry a chip on my shoulder about such people. That's probably why I got inspired to write a long post about objectivity. My apologies to RbR for tarring him with the same brush. He is much better than that.

And I also have to give him kudos for pointing out that a lot of scientists and engineers who claim to be independent and impartial about politics are actually naive, arrogant, and (usually) conservative. Sadly, this is true. I probably used to be one of them, and it was because of my ignorance. Scientists often complain that non-scientists do not appreciate how complex their fields are--and yet sometimes we make the same grave error underestimating the subtleties of other fields, such as political science. Nostra culpa. (Hey, is that Latin?)

Let me try to explain why engineers/scientists often feel as RbR reports they do. As I said at the outset (and as RbR agrees), legislative analysis can be conducted objectively. When you finally pin scientists down on what they mean about their purported "independence" and "objectivity" in politics, this is usually what they retreat to. What they really mean is that are not deliberately ignoring objective analysis in order to pursure their selfish goals.

And you know, it's sometimes sickening just how many policies can be discredited simply by objective analysis. George Bush's so-called "stimulus" package of $300 billion was simply too small to provide any economic stimulus, and the only economists who said it would worked for the Heritage Foundation. And I still think Kerry could not have paid for his whole health care plan just by raising taxes on the top 1% of the population.

It really, really bothers engineers and scientists that even the candidates we support regularly lie. That's why so many of us just give up on the system. I believe that the process of democracy is more important than its outcome, and I think many of us feel similarly--whereas many politicial and social scientists would happily do or say whatever it takes to get what they want, and then smugly claim that such behavior is OK because there's no such thing as truth anyhow.

Alas, we sometimes get so frustrated at this culture of deception that we forget that there are some areas where the concept of objective truth doesn't really apply. (And yes, some are just too arrogant to accept that their social science cousins really do have a point there!) Sometimes we forget that, after the analysis is done, there may well remain a political contest of will and values--an emotional argument and a power struggle.

If RbR would like to state specifically that one cannot formulate objective standards for running free and fair elections, and that it is not possible to design an institution that can adhere to these standards, then we will have something worthwhile to argue about. Otherwise, we probably agree and just have our own axes to grind :)

Raised By Republicans said...

"If RbR would like to state specifically that one cannot formulate objective standards for running free and fair elections, and that it is not possible to design an institution that can adhere to these standards, then we will have something worthwhile to argue about. Otherwise, we probably agree and just have our own axes to grind :)"

OK, that is actually what I was trying to get at.

You said, "My contention was that, despite these preferences, objectivity and impartiality are still quite possible provided we select people who believe in it and will hold each other to the same high standards."

This is the basis of any argument between us. I contend that in practical terms this statement is incorrect.

How districts are drawn strongly effects the representation of different segments of society (which is why we all get upset about redistricting in the the first place). People are not fools and recognize this. Therefore, deciding where the district boundaries are drawn becomes a de facto policy issue. It is therefore NOT DIVISIBLE FROM ANY OTHER POLICY DEBATE. In other words, one cannot claim that district boundaries have an objectively identifiable ideal any more than one can claim that there is some objectively ideal tax policy.

All institutional questions (district boundaries, electoral systems, judicial appointment rules, legislative procedure rules etc) have policy implications that interested individuals and groups recognize and anticipate. I assert that the argument against your claim that districting can be made non-partisan applies to all institutional decisions. All such questions are implicitly political and therefore do not have objectively identifiable ideal solutions.

Also, you said "provided we select people who believe in it and will hold each other to the same high standards."

This is a major theme of the Federalist Papers (which I suggest everyone read - see link to the right). In Federalist 51, Madison argues that relying on moral people (you call them "people who believe in it") behaving in a good way because society expects it of them is a recipe for disaster. If the only check on officials' behavior is that society expects good things of them, then sooner or later (and probably sooner) you'll get a real bastard with unchecked power - but I don't think Madison actually says "bastard".

The solution that Madison et al proposed was to forget about trying to find a way to appoint only just rulers/officials (Plato's Golden Guardian types) and instead establish institutions that provide for shared power and mutual accountability. In other words, multi-partism.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Thanks, RbR, for taking the trouble to answer me very specifically! I'll try to do the same. I believe a non-partisan process for drawing electoral districts that works is:

1. Set criteria for drawing districts. Make sure these are standards against which an election plan can be objectively measured (e.g. by statistics), and make sure that these standards are generally agreed to be fair. Let me be clear that there is NOT general agreement in the world about which critiera are best, and I do not claim that this can be decided objectively! This handy document from ACEP (see below) summarizes the different sets of rules used in over a dozen countries. However, in many nations, rules have been found that are generally viewed to be fair enough to lend legitimacy to the process. It helps that this is probably far enough removed from the final outcome that the link to it is unclear.

2. Use non-partisan officials--retired judges, lifetime civil servants, etc.--as most of the committee members. The key is to make sure that, regardless of their histories or personal biases, they have neither been selected by nor are beholden to the particular politicians who will be affected by the redistricting plans, and that they will not benefit personally or financially from the plan. In other words: remove obvious conflicts of interest (the common-sense approach).

3. Make sure the entire process is completely open to the public and the press. That way, if any intentional political bias were to slip in, someone could call them on it right away.

4. The most important point: make sure that everyone knows that the process is supposed to work in this non-partisan way. Of course the committee members will be aware of the effects of their redistricting plans. But they will also know their solemn duty to be objective and adhere to the standards. And in case they are tempted, the nation will be watching them, and they will be watching each other.

Can this work? Let me offer two stories.

Case A. On the one hand, we have Sam Reed, the Republican Secretary of State in Washington State, who certified Democrat Christine Gregoire as the governor-elect after the third and final recount gave her the edge over Republican Dino Rossi, who had been leading at all other times. He could have pulled a Katherine Harris and tried to stop all the recounts, but he did not--and pissed off a lot of top Republicans, according to the press. So even partisans can sometimes value the fairness of the elections process over the political effects of the outcome.

Case B. On the other hand, in 2000, the supposedly impartial U.S. Supreme Court decided Bush v. Gore. ('Nuff said.) But of course we all know that the justices were selected in a very politicized process which practically required them to be associated with a political party and buddies with a previous President--so they don't meet #2--and they deliberated in secret--so they don't meet #3. And anyhow, we at least instinctively wanted the least partisan branch of goverment to decide it--we didn't throw it to the legislature! (Yes, I know the Constitution says to do this in some cases. That's irrelevant.)

Where I disagree with RbR is that I believe that people of good conscience can do their duty regardless of their personal bias. Our society honors that behavior. It's what we call being moral or ethical when you swear to uphold your duties to be objective. (And like I said, everyone watching everyone else helps keep you honest too.) Frankly, I think if you believe that this is impossible, we all might as well give up on justice and go home.

BTW, one thing I did not mention was unintentional political bias. The Administration and Cost of Elections Project (ACEP) is a good reference that summarizes elections practices around the world. According to them, most democracies don't let legislatures draw up their own districts any more and now use some form of independent commission instead. But they point out that the resulting plans can be unintentionally biased toward one party. New Zealand deals with this in a way I think RbR would approve of. Their 7-member Representation Commission includes non-partisan members (e.g. the Surveyor-General and the gov't Statistician) to ensure there is no intentional bias in the redistricting plan, and also includes two partisan members (1 from governing party, 1 from opposition) to eliminate any egregious unintentional bias.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I should have been more clear in the second-to-last paragraph. Where I disagree with RbR is that I believe that people of good conscience can do their duty, regardless of their personal bias, in the process outlined in #1-4 above.

Raised By Republicans said...

OK,

Criteria 1: Set criteria for drawing districts.

This is a political question. Since the criteria will determine the boundaries, debates about what criteria are used are implicitly debates about who gets represented and so are implicity questions about policy. No objective criteria that "everyone will agree is fair" exist. The basice principle I'm applying in my arguments is something called "backwards induction." That is people can observe a chain of events (say several rounds of decision making), determine the possible final outcomes and act in the first event or round in the way most likely to lead to their most prefered outcome.

Criteria 2: Use non-partisan officials--retired judges, lifetime civil servants, etc.--as most of the committee members

I have a big problem with this. You seem to be either assuming that whole categories of people can be determined to "non-partisan" or you are assuming an appointments board (or appointed by our dear Governor!?) or election process which would be obviously vulnerable to partisan interference.

LTG will confirm I believe that most judges are more conservative than the average person in California. Consider that in most states judges are elected! Also, career civil servants are famous for being significantly more left of center as a group than the rest of the population.

In the New Zealand case (which looks a lot like the Australian) I have two questions: Who appoints the "Statician" and who appoints the Surveyor General? This is critical! In Australia, the Prime Minister has enormous influence over these things. Would you trust a "statician" appointed by Tom Delay to be objective? What if they were appointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger? Bill Clinton? Ted Kennedy?

Criteria 3: Make sure the entire process is completely open to the public and the press. That way, if any intentional political bias were to slip in, someone could call them on it right away.

But what institutional check would you put on them? Just public criticism in the press? That won't do. Politicians will put up with a lot sneering if they get what they want and there is no threat to their job. So some institutional check is needed to back up the public scrutiny. As soon as you establish a system of checks and balances through institutions with official authority, you are working with multipartism rather than "non-partisan" solutions.

Criteria 4: The most important point: make sure that everyone knows that the process is supposed to work in this non-partisan way. ... But they will also know their solemn duty to be objective and adhere to the standards.

You would really like Plato's Republic. You think about solving this problem just like Plato did.

Here is the problem with the "tell them its their solemn duty" method. Sure it would work on the boy scouts of the world (like the members of the blog) but would you think it would work on someone like Rumsfeld? Dick Cheney? Bill Clinton? How would you go about establishing a perfect solemnity detector? Telling people repeatedly and loudly to be good is no check at all. In countries where they rely on this exclusively they are in deep deep denial about the vulnerability of their system to partisan interference.

Conclusion: I don't disgree that there are good people who would put aside their own bias for the good of society. But I disagree that this is a broad enough trait or even a trait that can be reliably indentified AHEAD OF TIME in people such that it can be the basis of a form of government (or even part of one).

We are basically having a debate between Plato and the Englightenment's classical Liberal philosphers (Locke, Jefferson, Madison etc). You're Plato. Perhaps I'll type up a post comparing the Republic to the Federalist papers some day (READ THEM EVERYONE!).

As for your Platonic cry that "Frankly, I think if you believe that this is impossible, we all might as well give up on justice and go home." People are neither inherently good or inherently bad (and if they were how would we mortals tell the difference?). They are merely people responding to incentives according to their own preferences (which can often but doesn't always include a sense of community duty).

I think you are, like Plato (so you are in good company), asking the wrong question. Its not about finding those rare people who are perfectly Just all the time. Its about establishing a system of institutions that are more or less crook proof (or at least crook resistant). The Federalist Papers' solution is to "set a thief to catch a thief." That is multipartism.

Raised By Republicans said...

By the way, in case you haven't noticed by now, I can't spell unless I really concentrate or use a spell checker.

Statistician Statistician Statistician....

Dr. Strangelove said...

I appreciate the comparison to Plato, but—-once again—-you made a straw man of my argument. Did you even read what I wrote? In a dozen ways I specifically said that we did not need to find those, "rare people who are perfectly Just all the time." To reduce my argument to saying "we should hire perfect people" is, quite frankly, insulting. What I actually said was that we can (and should) establish a process that will select some of the many people who will act mostly Just, most of the time, when we put them in a favorable situation to do so. I remind you that while they invented multi-partisanism, which I agree is vital for much of our government, the Founding Fathers also felt it was vital (and possible!) to have a reasonably independent judiciary.

In other words, if you: (1) get a reasonable set of measurable standards that most people agree are fair; (2) make sure the board members charged to adhere to those standards are selected in a manner that eliminates as many conflicts of interest as possible (hell, we could even select some of them by lottery, like juries); (3) make the process as transparent to the public and open to scrutiny as possible; and (4) make sure that fair, non-partisan decision-making is held up as the ideal--then this process has a fairly good chance of working out. Many nations have been able to do this, and it works well enough, so your objections are moot.

It is dangerous to preach that people shouldn't even try to be fair and so instead it should be everyone for themselves. It is wrong to say that farsighted, intelligent behavior is impossible, and nobody expects it of them. It is foolish to think that a system wherein everyone only looks out for their own interests is the best system, or even a fair system: that's the fallacy behind the capitalist worship of greed. You cannot create a Just system by telling everyone to act unjustly. In the long-term, I believe that having a fair, legitimate elections process matters more for our democracy than outcome of any election. And I strongly believe this principle, that fairness matters most, is the cornerstone of all liberalism.

I’m starting to wonder if the reason why many political scientists are convinced that everyone will act like in a short-sighted, selfish manner all the time is because that's how they are. All I can say is: thank god they're wrong.

Raised By Republicans said...

Geez! Did you even read what I wrote?

I said "I don't disgree that there are good people who would put aside their own bias for the good of society. But I disagree that this is a broad enough trait or even a trait that can be reliably indentified AHEAD OF TIME in people such that it can be the basis of a form of government (or even part of one)."

In other words I'm NOT saying that people are always bad. I am however saying that we cannot rely on the good behavior of good people without strong institutional checks.

There are two reasons we can't rely on good behavior from good oficials. First, it is not easy to accurately distinguish officials that are mostly unbiased from the officials who are mostly biased. Second, if society makes a mistake and accidently allows a bad official into power without the appropriate institutional checks, things go very bad very quickly.

Another part of my argument that you are ignoring is the part about the inability to divide decisions about district boundaries, electoral rules etc from the policy debates that are the stock and trade of political bias.

I'm not trying to be insulting. What's more I disagree that I'm setting up straw men. I do think critical elements of your process are left unexplained as currently described.

For example you say "make sure that fair, non-partisan decision-making is held up as the ideal" How are we to "make sure?" If you are assuming a strong institutional check (like some multi-partisan oversight board, or a role for another branch of government etc) then great - we have no real disagreement. But in your previous comment you argued that this would be taken care of by making the process open to public scrutiny. But how will scrutiny alone solve the problem? Will bad, biased people be so ashamed when their bias is revealed in the press that they will change?

My objections are not moot. I disagree with your characterization that other nations have systems based on what you have described. The New Zealand (and the similar Australian) systems to which you allude are actually riddled with potential biases (for example the Prime Minister - a partisan - appoints key people). I also contend that the difference between an election commission appointed by members of the two largest parties is not much different from election commissions appointed largely by the sitting Prime Minister, who is after all the partisan in chief. In fact, one could argue that the US system is more likely to be fair becuase it includes a voice for the 2nd place finisher in the last election.

As for the founding fathers' belief in an independent judiciary... They also built in ways to punish wayward judges. Judges may be impeached and appointed judges must be approved by the Senate. Even if such steps are rarely taken, the fact that they are possible influences the strategic behavior of potential and current judges and the people who appoint them.

US West said...

I feel the need to interject here, since my comment about districting sort of set this off. I agree with RBR that there is no full proof-plan. I am, after all, of the social science persuasion.

Let’s look at the Federal Elections Commission as an attempt to create a “non-partisan” body. It was set up in response to Watergate. It is characterized as an “independent regulatory” body whose job, interestingly enough, is to regulate the financing of federal elections. The states do the rest. As such, it can only implement rules established by Congress (a very partisan body these days). There are six members appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. They sit 6 year terms in 2 year cycles with the Chairmanship rotating each year. However, they can be renominated. No more than 3 members can be from the same political party and it takes 4 votes for any actions taken by the commission. The current commission is staffed with 5 men and one woman. Ellen Weintraub is only the 3rd woman to sit on the commission (I’ll say no more).

The Current Chair, Scott E. Thomas has worked at the FEC since he was an intern in 1975! He has been Chair 3 times and made a career out of the FEC. I am not saying this is bad, but careerism on a supposedly non-partisan commission raises questions. However, his ability to be balanced gives me less pause than the current Vice-Chair.

Vice Chair, Michael E. Toner, served as Chief Counsel of the Republican National Committee in 2001 after serving as General Counsel of the Bush-Cheney Transition Team and General Counsel of the Bush-Cheney 2000 Presidential Campaign in Austin, TX. He was also Deputy Counsel at the RNC from 1997-1999. He is perhaps the most blantly partisian member of the current commission, oddly enough, nominated by GW in 2001 and confrimed, oddly enough by a Republican Dominated Senate.

I point all of this out because it is a beautiful illustration of the very debate your two are having. I have no doubt that the commission was set up with all the best intentions of being non-partisan. And all sorts of check were put into place to insure that it would remain so. But 30 years after its establishment we can see an evolution taking place. What is there to stop its evolution into a partisan body? Take a look at GW’s selection of Toner (the only one thus far nominated by this administration). The Democrats on the commission were first selected by Regan or Clinton. The commission has limited control over the conduct of elections, is required to enforce rules passed by a partisan Congress, is beholden to a partisan president for nomination.

It isn’t just about creating some “objective” body. You have to consider the checks and balances in the system. If your inputs are so polarized, then your result will reflect that.
If all your institutions are divided, everyone becomes an ideologue, and all the debate between Plato and Madison is mute. The founding fathers, while smart enough to foresee parties, didn’t foresee a two-party system. Look at George Washington’s papers. He feared parties and refused to align himself. But he had the luxury of being the first, and the system hadn’t evolved. So I agree with RBR that you have to have multi-partisanship. But that means you have to have strong, legitimate 3 parties, not these 3 parties whose agenda’s get soaked up by the 2 larger parties, and not these crazies who come up with silliness just to prove a point.

I think you both fundamentally agree that you some form of less-partisan system is possible, that there are good people trying to do good things, but that there will always be outside influences that even the best organization, plan or policy can’t stop. Humans are humans. And we are fallible. We will pursue our own interests thinking that these are in the best interest of everyone. The road to hell was paved in good intentions.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Not to enter a lover's quarrel (heh, heh) but I have a couple of comments to make. The argument about whether there is, or is not, an ideal policy that can be implemented seems to me to miss the mark a bit. One cannot envision a perfect policy and then argue for its adoption by the powers that be. The word for that is Quixotic.

The political process is, I would contend, inseperable from policymaking. The political system is only capable of producing a limited set of outcomes. The art of politics is not pressing for an idealized system, but figuring out which of the limited set of outcomes might best serve the values one favors, and then figuring out how to get anything done at all.

What Dr. Strangelove suggests is fantasy - the American political system is not going to adopt a bureaucratic solution of the Australian model. The reasons are embedded in the logic of the American system. In a place like Australia, where the aboriginal minority is very small and still marginalized, and where official racism in immigration has promoted a White Australia until quite recently, the bulk of the population is more or less homogeneous and not particularly beset by race or even class distinctions. Other than the predictable oppression of the poor by the rich [which is a single dimension that one can easily measure and correct for] [white] Australians have little reason to fear that an elitist bureaucratic system will systematically disenfranchise anyone. Much of European politics proceeds according to the same basic principles.

By contrast, in the USA, history has produced a different mentality. Massive ethnic, religious, sectional, and class cleavages have resulted in a political system dominated by interest groups and identity politics. The basic assumption of our system is that everyone has, just by virtue of who he or she is, an axe to grind. In such a world, even a purely *random* selection of individuals will produce a group perceived as biased. Little wonder then that Americans tend to solve political problems by electing everyone. Instead of selecting on merit, which appears impossible, we just allow the electorate to reproduce itself in each institution.

It is fascinating to note that at the founding of the republic, the body politic WAS much more homogeneous (white male property owners) and they considered delegation to an electoral college or such not a crazy idea. It is not clear how much social change would be necessary in the United States for this to change.

As George Orwell said half a century ago: "All art is political; the opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." [replace art with 'policymaking']

Dr. Strangelove said...

I keep being accused of wanting an "ideal," "fantasy," or "perfect" system with similarly perfect people. That is not what I wrote and I have been very clear about it. I am not going to debate this anymore if you keep making crude caricatures of my argument!

Allow me to quote a sentence from my previous post: "In other words, if you: (1) get a reasonable set of measurable standards that most people agree are fair; (2) make sure the board members charged to adhere to those standards are selected in a manner that eliminates as many conflicts of interest as possible (hell, we could even select some of them by lottery, like juries); (3) make the process as transparent to the public and open to scrutiny as possible; and (4) make sure that fair, non-partisan decision-making is held up as the ideal--then this process has a fairly good chance of working out." And as evidence that this kind of system really could work, I submit again the successes of other nations using such systems.

RbR tries to discount these systems by noting that they are "riddled with potential biases." So what? I could say that about anything. Again: I never claimed perfection. My point was that these "potential" biases you speak of have thusfar materlialized very little. This is good evidence that their processes are working pretty well to reduce bias.

RbR also tries to discount these systems by saying that they are not actually independent commissions at all. True, there are some political appointees on these commitees--I already noted that with my New Zealand example. That's fine. The sorts of committees these nations have are precisely what I'm talking about. If RbR still thinks they are not, I can only guess it's because he's still got a caricature of my position in his head.

LTG also tries to discount the evidence from other nations by saying (1) it's never going to happen here, and (2) the U.S. is too different from these other countries to make any comparisons.

First, I will remind LTG that I am arguing about what I think should happen, I am not trying to prognosticate what is likely to occur. This seems a common tactic on this blog to try to end arguments--it's been used on me before. (You know, getting rid of the electoral college is also unlikely, but LTG still thought that was worth discussing.)

Second, people use the "U.S. is different" argument all the time when it's convenient to discount comparisons they don't like, but they like to make comparisons when it suits them. Yes, you can find important differences between the U.S. and any nation you like. But here, LTG will have to find reasons to discount comparisons with Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Germany--in fact, most of the world's stable democracies. Sure, all these countries have their quirks, problems, and potential biases. But in the end, their system of drawing electoral districts produces maps of districts significantly more compact, contiguous, and less biased than our system does. QED.

Lastly, RbR writes, "I am however saying that we cannot rely on the good behavior of good people without strong institutional checks." So RbR has now retreated from saying non-partisanship is impossible, to saying instead that it can work provided there are strong institutional checks. And that's just fine. Many nations that use independent commissions require a final up-or-down (no amendments) vote by the legislature--and in all these nations, the courts are there to provide a final check on the process. The key is that there be no direct partisan muddling in the map-drawing process itself.

So why do these systems work better? Of the many reasons I could suggest, one that I think is worth pointing out is that there is a strong expectation of the people of these nations that their commissioners will behave in a neutral, unbiased way (as opposed to the FEC, which is actually bipartisan, not non-partisan, showing again how ineffective bipartisanship can be.) That this attitude is vital was my point in the very first comment I wrote answering this topic. That none of you share it is why LTG is right that this isn't going to happen here any time soon.

Raised By Republicans said...

Dr. Strangelove, you seem to be misunderstood by everyone. I have at least pointed to specific areas in your argument that would benefit from more detail (how do we "make sure"; how do we distinguish the mostly unbiased from the mostly biased? etc). Yet instead of calmly addressing these questions, you accuse all comers of intentionally misquoting you or setting up straw men. If so many of us don't get it, maybe the problem is the explanation.

In the interest of clearing up misunderstandings resulting from ambiguity in my own argument. When I insist on strong institutional checks, I'm restating my belief in the neccessity of a multi-partisan solution as opposed to a purely non-partisan solution which Dr. Strangelove seems to still be advocating.

When Dr. Strangelove says "so what I could say that about any system" he is essentially making my point for me. All systems are vulnerable to manipulation by partisan interests. Therefore any system based on the hope that such manipulation will be minimized more or less without any constraints, is doomed. If Dr. Strangelove is advocating a combination of socio-cultural pressure towards good behavior backed up by institutional contraints on behavior then we have no argument and he is essentially advocating a multi-partisan solution but emphasizing the cultural element in his rhetoric.

Also, I don't know about the others here but I have real doubts about the assertion that places like New Zealand and Australia are relatively free of partisan problems. People often don't notice partisan inference in highly centralized, homogeneous systems. In single party parliamentary governments like one sees usualy in Australia the United Kingdom and pre-electoral reform New Zealand, one doesn't see partisanship because one side thoroughly dominates once they win an election. In the US case you notice more partisanship because losers of elections still have more power (relative to losers in other countries) to complain about, delay and amend policy.

Finally, I agree with Dr. Strangelove that the America is different argument is way over used. I would prefer to argue that the differences between the US and New Zealand or Australia are less than they appear rather than insurmountable.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Dr. Strangelove writes:
"Sure, all these countries [Aus, NZ, etc.] have their quirks, problems, and potential biases. But in the end, their system of drawing electoral districts produces maps of districts significantly more compact, contiguous, and less biased than our system does. QED."

I'm not sure Dr. Strangelove things is *demonstrandum* by the fact that other countries exhibit less gerrymandering. I stated that we have very different political cultures. This is not a rabbit-out-of-a-hat-US-is-different argument, which appears to be the response. Rather, it is a comment that lack of gerrymandering is a symptom of larger political differences. As RbR pointed out, US political culture gives considerably more power to the 'loser' than others, with supermajorities and bicameralism all over the place. I was trying to point out that we have long run our politics in such a way that cuts against empowering bureaucracies.

I mostly wanted to take issue with the false distinction between what can happen and what should happen.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Do you want to see why I lost my temper in the last post? Do you want to see why I complained that, I keep being accused of wanting an "ideal," "fantasy," or "perfect" system with similarly perfect people? Here's why, RbR:

1. In your first comment about redistricting (the one where you said there was "NO SUCH THING AS NON PARTISAN!"), you called the idea of a non-partisan committee an "idealistic fantasy."
2. In your second comment you challenged me to name the "objectively perfect" policy or to name an issue on which "100% of the people agreed."
3. In your third comment, you answered me by saying there I wanted "objectively ideal" district boundaries and you said there were "no objectively identifiable ideal solutions."
4. In your fourth comment you said I wanted a "perfect solemnity detector" and I wanted "rare people who were perfectly Just all the time."
5. FINALLY, in comment #5, you stopped with this mischaracterization... But then, right afterward, LTG chimes in and says that I was advocating a "perfect policy" that was "quixotic" and an "idealistic fantasy."

I couldn't take it anymore. I had done research and I had taken pains to be fairly specific in describing a system that I thought would work reasonably well under reasonable circumstances, modeled after the real-life systems used in a dozen countries. But I felt like all I was getting from you guys was that I was naive. And to get the "idealistic fantasy" thrown back at me again was the last straw.

You did say more important things than that. I answered some but I missed some too. Our argument has wandered from a theoretical discussion of the assertion that non-partisanship was nonexistent to a more concrete discussion of independent committees for electoral redistricting, and in the course of it, some really interesting stuff has come up.

Now because you said I was unclear, I am going to explain myself one more time. I agree that almost everyone has their own bias, their own axe to grind, and they will almost always bring that to the table. What I also believe, however, is that if you give intelligent people measurable standards to adhere to, if you remove as many conflicts of interest as you can, if you make the whole process open to public scrutiny as much as possible, if the people know to be vigilant and watch one another, and if it is expected in the culture that these people have a duty to be non-partisan (e.g. not to advocate for a constituency)... then what comes out of the process is usually a lot less biased than what comes out of partisan (or bipartisan, or multi-partisan) processes--and the whole process feels more legitimate.

One example of such a process is jury selection (OK, they deliberate in private, but the trial is all open, and anyhow it's pretty close.) But the specific example we were talking about was redrawing electoral boundaries. Independent, non-partisan commissions for redistricting have been established in most democracies. They are all different, and some include political appointees, and some do not have final authority (legislature must give thumbs up). But the key is, all you have to do is look at the maps that come out to see that they contain more compact and contiguous districts and they exhibit much less (intentional) political bias. I'm sure you could find an exception to this rule, but 90% of the time, this is true.

OK? This is no idealistic fantasy. There's no illusions that people will always be good and just. No insistence that political questions can be solved objectively. No requirement of perfection. What I do claim is: this model is better for tackling certain problems that fit the profile--problems that can be approached with measurable standards, etc. I do not claim that things like tax policy can be approached in this manner. Those annoying engineers you know, RbR (I hate those people maybe even more than you because I am embarassed by them!), the various Presidential "Blue Ribbon" commissions, and the Supreme Court--they all pretend to independence and impartiality but they really aren't. I KNOW THIS. It bugs the hell out of me too. It's all part of the culture of deception I complained about.

But I think the problem isn't that impartiality is impossible, rather it's because in this country we don't follow the process I have been talking about for setting up independent commissions--and because "bipartisan" is a poor substitute for "non-partisan" when you're trying to be objective. There's lots of examples of where we deviate from the kind of process for appointing independent commissions used elsewhere--the kind I have been describing. I'll just name a few.

a) Our Supreme Court justices are expected by society to have strong political views, and to act on them. They are chosen because they are strong advocates. They are also beholden to a particular political party and President.

b) The President usually appoints all the members of his committees, and there are no standards used to select them (except, maybe, that they gave him money.) The panel usually serves at the pleasure of the president and the members are beholden to him because they want another job once they've finished with this one.

...and I've run out of steam. I'm sure you can think of more. Instead of than saying non-partisanship can never work, I think we should look at places where it already is working (in certain situations only, and not perfectly by any means) and learn from that how to do the non-partisan thing better. And this will improve our democracy.

Raised By Republicans said...

My Dear Dr. Strangelove,

I suppose the excuse, "Well, I typed it all with a smile" will fall flat. So I'll just apologize for upsetting you and leave it at that.

RBR

The Law Talking Guy said...

To quote Dr. Strangelove:
"What I also believe, however, is that if you give intelligent people measurable standards to adhere to, if you remove as many conflicts of interest as you can, if you make the whole process open to public scrutiny as much as possible, if the people know to be vigilant and watch one another, and if it is expected in the culture that these people have a duty to be non-partisan (e.g. not to advocate for a constituency)... then what comes out of the process is usually a lot less biased than what comes out of partisan (or bipartisan, or multi-partisan) processes--and the whole process feels more legitimate."

I have a lot of problems with this statement.
First, it is *not* obvious that this process is going to work better than the give-and-take of open partisanship and adversarial politics.

Second, it is not obvious that this less democratic process will feel more legitimate. To whom and why?

Third, there seems little reason to believe that our political system could produce a good set of appointees. Direct election of senators is a result of the fact that an appointed senate was viewed as illegitimate and a failure.

Fourth, the American political system has been long based on checks and balances of power, with the underlying idea that the 'evils of faction' must be contained within a system of conflicting political powers. It is really inimical to our system to delegate important policymaking to quasi-independent bodies. Think of the base-closing commission? Did it work? The 9/11 commission? The Coastal Commission? We're usually not that pleased with the results. Think of the attempts by progressives in the early 20th century to 'fix' problems with the system through a combination of independent commissions and electoral reforms. Mixed bag. Arnold.

At the risk of generalizing, Dr. Strangelove appears to be sympathetic to the argument that good policy can be arrived at scientifically, and should then be implemented. Yet to the extent such a policy differs from that which a democratic political process would otherwise produce, we have a dilemma. One worth pondering. Churchill's quote about democracy being the "worst system of government, excepting all others" takes on a new meaning. What if we have not yet imagined a political system capable of implementing good policies? What if the real debate isn't "what policy should we adopt" but rather "how can we, or any society for that matter, move towards a political system that actually is capable of better outcomes"

Koala Boy said...

Well, that was a power read for lunch. I can see where Dr Strangelove is coming from in one particular respect which relates to these discussions, independent of the subject matter. The general tone from RBR and to a lesser extent LTG is very aggressive, confrontational, and prone to dressing up opinion as fact. For example, from RBR: "Also, I don't know about the others here but I have real doubts about the assertion that places like New Zealand and Australia are relatively free of partisan problems." Good, I'm glad you have doubts but I have real doubts about your doubts, hence that statement is as useful as a chocolate teapot.

Maybe this is social science training, an excess of testosterone, or maybe it is that republican upbringing :-). There is little room in that style language for recognition of Dr Strangelove's views. If you are simply going to SHOUT everytime you think someone is repeating an arguement you don't like, then this blog becomes a mouthpiece of one with no worth. No wonder Dr. Srangelove feels attacked.

To quote RBR: "Comments? Discussion?"

Dr. Strangelove said...
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Dr. Strangelove said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Dr. Strangelove said...

[sorry, for some reason the line breaks keep getting all screwed up in the final version, but not the preview]

RbR: Thanks. I appreciate that.

LTG: You had 4 criticisms. Let me answer them.

1. No, I suppose it's not obvious that these commissions would produce less biased outcomes. But there is good evidence from many countries that this is what happens, and no one has given any evidence to the contrary.

2. You're right: I used the word "legitimate" incorrectly. I meant to say that the process would feel more fair. Why? Well, ask an Australian if he thinks his redistricting process is fair, then ask a Texan.

3. You're right: if the Congress or the President made appointments, there is little reason to believe that they would make good appointments right now. We have no experience making true non-partisan appointments at the federal level. But there are other choices than straight policial appointments.

Some ideas: we could use a rotating slate of retired judges. We could have civil servants (NOT political appointees) serve as ex officio members by virtue of their positions in the bureaucracy. We might have a bipartisan panel appoint a nominating committee which then, every 7 years maybe, appoints new members to the board (this might be enough of an indirect link to work.) We might use a kind of jury duty or lottery system. Many nations use a combination of some of these methods. If we tried, I bet we could come up with even better methods.

4. I thought the Base Closing commission and the 9/11 commission were examples of bipartisan commissions (not non-partisan) that have been successful! (I'm not sure about the Coastal Commission.) Their recommendations have not all been implemented, but of course that's not relevant.

5. "At the risk of generalizing..." Well, yes, I'm afraid you generalized, and wrongly. I said just the opposite several times. In hopes of getting that message through, here's a few quotations from my previous comments:

(a)Many questions of public policy are inherently questions of competing interests, and as such there is no 'objective' answer. (Should we cut taxes or fix our schools? The answer depends on how much you value education vs. your personal wealth, among other things.) I understand that these are questions of values and I never suggested otherwise.

(b)We sometimes get so frustrated at this culture of deception that we forget that there are some areas where the concept of objective truth doesn't really apply.... Sometimes we forget that, after the analysis is done, there may well remain a political contest of will and values--an emotional argument and a power struggle.

(c)[In my argument there is] no insistence that political questions can be solved objectively... I do not claim that things like tax policy can be approached in this manner.

LTG, you've made this point to me several times and I get it: time to move on. An excellent thing to move on to might be your final question: "how can we, or any society for that matter, move towards a political system that actually is capable of better outcomes" That's a great idea. I hope The Citizens can be all about that.

Raised By Republicans said...

Koala Boy,

"Opinion stated as fact" seems to be a favorite criticism. Usually you combine it with some snide comment about the nature of social sciences.

This blog is supposed to be about opinion stated any way we like (its our blog). And its supposed to be about debate too. Usually, we keep it on a fun, friendly level, but this time it got out of hand and for my role in that I have apologized.

If it I were trying to conduct real social science, I would have spent months carefully collecting data on various measures of and types of electoral commissions and presented it. But I get paid to do social science. I don't get paid to do this. So I'm not going to go out collecting data. Unfortunately, all I have time to do here is make an argument and present a rough sketch of my reasoning. This is venting and recreational. If you want honest to goodness social science you can contact me privately (via our mutual friend) and I'll provide you with some citations.

US West said...

Hey, Strangelove,

I appreciate your work in coming up with a systemso worthy of discussion, and I am not being sarcastic. The Citizens, however, are always good at poking holes in well researched ideas. Welcome to your first round of peer reivew, Bud! And I am writing this with a smile on my face!

Koala Boy said...

Sorry RBR, wasn't trying to be snide if you read it that way. Guess what? It is not easy to read tone in a blog or an email. Maybe this is part of the issue.

I personally don't mind an opinion, but there is only so many times you can hear the same arguement repeated, without that tonal information, especially when it appear -- to me -- to be aggressive.

Yes, it is your blog. Do you want anyone to read it?

The Law Talking Guy said...

To quote Dr. Strangelove:
"You're right: I used the word "legitimate" incorrectly. I meant to say that the process would feel more fair. Why? Well, ask an Australian if he thinks his redistricting process is fair, then ask a Texan."

I don't know if this is the case. 'Fair' is not an easy term to define. Texan Republicans (the majority, btw) probably think it's more fair now than in the last century. We don't really have any data on this. Plainly you prefer the Australian system; that much is clear. However, there are many people who think that the democratic deficit of delegated decisionmaking "feels" unfair.

I am reminded of a quote by California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg (now termed out and running for LA mayor), who was asked by a reporter in 2000 if the Democrats were going to be fair in redistricting. "Yes," he replied. "They screwed us last time, so we're gonna screw 'em this time. That's fair."

Dr. Strangelove said...

"Fair is not an easy term to define." Good point. After reading LTG's post, I thought for quite a while about what "fairness" meant to me, and I couldn't come up with a single definition that was both complete and consistent with modern usage. Finally, grasping at straws, I broke down and took a peek at a dictionary (I hate doing that--it feels so cheesy) to see if it could provide any assistance. Believe it or not, it did...

The word "fair" has several meanings, which can be contradictory, so there simply is no single definition that is both complete and consistent with our usage. (The English language is riddled with such pitfalls... no doubt wars have been started over less! Sometimes I forget this.) The meaning I was using was, impartial; free of favoritism or bias. But it can also mean, consistent with the rules, or even equitable.Here's where I got into trouble. Hertzberg understood he was drawing up a biased map (he admitted it!) but he felt he had every right to do so because that's how the game is played. It was "fair" in the sense of being consistent with the rules, and possibly also it felt equitable to him (to the extent that two wrongs can make a right...?). Likewise, I'll bet that Texas Republicans feel similarly about their own redistricting (and maybe their map is less skewed than the old one given the shift in voters' preferences over there--I don't know).

So having been chastened once again, I will now restate my point. The type of "non-partisan" redistricting process I was talking about would not necessarily "feel more legitimate" nor would it necessarily "feel more fair." Instead, such a process would, "be recognized by most citizens as resulting in a map that exhibits less intentional political bias, thereby creating a more level playing field."

And LTG is correct that some may prefer an uneven playing field, especially if they are in the majority. I have not data to say otherwise. But it occurs to me that "gerrymander" is a derogatory term, which suggests that there are at least some limits to the amount of skewing that most people would find "fair" any sense of the word.

One last note: I'm sure my new re-statement could still stand improvement. I've tried twice and missed the mark each time. But rather than just poking holes in my language, I would ask that The Citizens instead use their considerable intellectual power to find a better way to say it.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Now you've said that a non-partisan process would result in districts with less intentional political bias. I'm willing to buy that. It's nearly a tautology. Underlying this comment is Dr. Strangelove's preference for less intentional political bias. Unintentional political bias may be as pernicious, or even more so, insofar as you can't "correct" it the way Hertzberg proposed to correct the biases imposed by the previous legislature. It's built in.

The solution may take the form of Baker v. Carr, which established the one-man-one-vote principle. Beforehand, state senates were usually by county or some such districting that was one-cow-one-vote. That change absolutely affected representation and is in line with democratic values. A rule that the median income of all districts must be the same might also change things. Or a rule about compactness, say, setting a ratio of border length to area. Those rules constrain choices rather than choose one set of decisionmakers as inherently better than others.

Dr. Strangelove said...

LTG suggests that a "solution" for minimizing unintentional political bias might be to have a specific rule to "constrain choices" for drawing districts, such as a perimeter-to-area ratio. This is also the first step of the process I originally proposed: "1. Set criteria for drawing districts. Make sure these are standards against which an election plan can be objectively measured (e.g. by statistics)..."

LTG also agrees that a non-partisan panel would produce a map with less intentional political bias, thereby leveling the playing field. This point of heated contention is now described as, "nearly a tautology."

OK, so if we'd like to reduce both intentional and unintentional political bias... how about we have a non-partisan panel use measurable criteria to draw up the districts? (If anyone would like to argue that politically biased redistricting is, "more in line with democratic values," I'm interested in hearing it.)

Raised By Republicans said...

The problem with both LTG's interpretation of Baker v. Carr and with Dr. Strangelove's continued instistance that objectively superior critieria can be identified is that both are based on assumptions that their view of democracy and legitimacy is the only correct view.

Consider the system that Baker v. Carr replaced. Bicameral state legislatures were based on a similar system to the bicameral national legislature, that is a lower house based on population and an upper house representing lower levels of government. This results in disproportionate represntation (S. Dakota's cows get represented as much as California's people).

But disproportionate representation is not neccessarily undemocratic. If it were, one could be forced to argue that a regime's democratic credentials depend on the proportionality of its electoral system, implying that only proportional representation systems are democratically legitimate. What's more it implies that Presidential systems are inherently undemocratic because they are the most disproportionate elections around. Because only 1 person can be President, pluralities - even small ones - translate into capturing 100% of the Presidency.

SUGGESTED READING: Making Votes Count by Gary Cox

An aside on PR systems: Not all PR systems are perfectly proportional either locally or nationally. Many have minimum thresholds to prevent the system from being overwhelmed by dozens of small parties (these range from 1% or 2% in Denmark or Italy to 5% in Germany to a de facto 11% in France). Also, most rely on disctricts that have seat magnitudes (the number of seats/district) determined politically some German districts have over 70 seats while others have only a few. Proportionality is more difficult to achieve with small district magnitudes. A handful of democracies rely on a single district for the whole country (the Netherlands and Israel are prominent examples). These systems have their critics as well. Small, geographically concentrated minorities get shut out of such systems.

I am still arguing that it is a philosophical impossibility to identify a set of critieria that are objectively identifiable as being superior/more legitimate/more democratic to many other sets of criteria.

The fact that a group of relatively like-minded liberals can hypothetically agree on a set of criteria by no means indicates that that set of criteria is somehow superior to any other set of criteria.

In fact the changes made by Baker v. Carr and the changes proposed by Dr. Strangelove's non-partisan solution are not even pareto improving (that is they do not make some better off without hurting others). Those on the losing end of such changes could hardly be expected to agree that they are objectively superior systems. All electoral systems screw some segment of society somehow. What Dr. Strangelove is proposing (and what Baker v. Carr did) is nothing more than changing who gets screwed and declaring it a non-partisan or democratically superior solution.

If you want to change the districts around fine, but admit you want to do so because you don't like the representives the current districts produce (a lot of people do like them). In other words, admit that your complaint about the status quo is fundamentally a partisan one.

I'll conclude by saying I see nothing wrong with being partisan (unless you disagree with me of course - ha ha). But seriously, individuals have varied preferences and they should stand up for them.

Dr. Strangelove said...

RbR's post was thoughtful and I could comment on much of what he said, but I'll confine myself to two representative passages.

"I am still arguing that it is a philosophical impossibility to identify a set of critieria that are objectively identifiable as being superior/more legitimate/more democratic to many other sets of criteria."

My goodness. RbR has produced a masterpiece here, and I'm not being sarcastic: it is succinct assertion which illustrates, on so many levels, how much he and I disagree on fundamental principles. In fact, there is so many aspects of the previous statement that I disagree with, in style, substance, and purpose, that it I cannot even begin to enumerate them. So I will not try.

In the course of this debate, I have come to understand that RbR's world-view is more complex, more subtle, more comprehensive, and better thought-out than I had at first assumed. I accept that I do not truly understand it yet. So at this point, I ask only that RbR be willing to acknowledge the same for me. And then I will look forward to lively debates with him in the future. (Though perhaps, if only for a breath of fresh air, on some topic other than electoral redistricting.)

"If you want to change the districts around fine, but admit you want to do so because you don't like the representatives the current districts produce (a lot of people do like them). In other words, admit that your complaint about the status quo is fundamentally a partisan one."

That is not my motivation. I have honestly pondered that possibility for a while, and I am sure. Even if this does not make sense within his world-view, I ask RbR to please accept this.

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That's why I've included a lot of FREE goal setting information on my website, to help folks like you be more successful.

In fact, you can start now, and get a head start on the new year - and the rest of your life.

Think goal setting isn't important? Spend a little time at reaching goals and you'll change your mind.

Have a GREAT day!