or, Why Redistricting Matters
The Philadelphia Phillies are facing elimination tonight in game 6 of the World Series. One week ago, their ace pitcher led the team to a clear 6-1 rout of the Yankees, but New York came back to win the next three by scores of 3-1, 8-5, and 7-4. Philadelphia won the fifth game 8-6, but they have to win both remaining games to take the Series.
If the Phillies had scored the same number of runs in different games, the Series would be very different. If the Phillies, for instance, could move 3 runs from game 1 to game 2, they'd still have won the first game, 3-1, but they also would have won the second game 4-3. In which case, it'd be the Yankees facing elimination. And indeed, if you drained the Phillies' excess runs from games 1 and 5 and moved them to games two and three, while also moving a few Yankee runs from those games into game 4, one could have engineered a Philadelphia Championship last Monday night.
Of course, the Yankees could plot similar changes. They've outscored the Phillies, and could re-jigger their runs into a five-game Championship (they'd still need five games anyway you slice it, but moving one run each from games 2, 3, and 4 into game 5 would have ended the Series).
Now, the purists will insist that's not how the game of baseball is played. Runs count only in the game in which they are scored. But that's exactly how the game of redistricting works. Voters can be moved from one district to another.
Suppose you're a public official who squeaks by each election, while a friendly official in a neighboring district coasts to victory time and time again. Couldn't you take a few of their voters, who'd be only too happy to vote for you, and ditch some of the malcontents who don't appreciate your candidacies? If you're always drawing 52%-55% of the vote to your neighbor's 72-75%, just by trading a few precincts, you could both get a comfortable 60% without too much trouble. You get to spend more time with your family at election time (without leaving office!) and the voters? They get you to represent them. What's not to like?
A lot, actually, Redistricting is never a benign process. Redistricting can inflate a political majority, deny representation to minorities, and insulate officials from the normal checks on power that elections are supposed to bring. Especially when redistricting is dominated by one political party, as it has been in Illinois for the last three maps, the process can hand an enormous electoral advantage to the side that draws the lines.
Redistricting is a necessary part of governing. Districts should be roughly equal in population, so as people move around, districts should be redrawn. They should also be crafted so that the governing body, as a whole, most accurately reflects the voters, as a whole. But how you draw the lines, how you slice the dirt, can determine who votes for which officials, who can run against which officials, and ultimately who gets to be an official. It's not surprise that officials take a keen interest in redistricting.
Most voters don't seem to follow the process. But it's not too late. Maps get drawn in 2011, after the 2010 census. If you want to learn more about how the process works, the redistricting game, which was put together by the Annenberg Center at the University of Southern California, is a great place to start.