THE PLANK JULY 29, 2008
I was excited to learn that there will be a redistricting reform initiative, Proposition 11 (full text here--pdf) on the California statewide ballot this fall--taking redistricting duties out of the hands of self-interested politicians strikes me as a pretty good idea. Most objections to redistricting reform are either self-serving (Democrats want to keep the power to draw districts for themselves) or unconvincing (bogus claims that black and Latino politicians need a crooked redistricting process to get elected).
On the other hand, there is one compelling argument against it: The Rube Goldberg-esque process it puts in place for drawing new lines. If Prop 11 passes, districts would be drawn by a panel of 14 random California voters (five Democrats, five Republicans, and four unaffiliated voters) selected by lottery by a panel of three independent auditors (one Democrat, one Republican, one unaffiliated) also selected at random. Now, the state of California has a lot of great qualities, but an electorate free of wacky characters with an interest in politics isn't one of them. Supposedly that panel of three auditors is going to weed out unqualified applicants before conducting the lottery--but it still seems like there's a decent chance you could wind up with, say, Pleasanton resident John Madden drawing interestingly shaped districts with his telestrator while Malibu resident Mel Gibson mumbles conspiracy theories off in the corner. In many respects this would still be preferable to the status quo, so I'll probably vote for the proposition in the end.
My own preferred idea for redistricting reform, which some friends and I devised a few years ago (possibly after a night of heavy drinking), is the "Secret Santa Redistricting Plan", in which each state picks a different state's name out of a hat and draws that state's districts for it. How easy can it be for special interests in Vermont to influence the Nevada legislature? Laugh if you will, but I think it makes more sense than picking 14 random dudes off the street to do the job (or, for that matter, letting politicians do it themselves).