Not All Gerrymanders Are Bad

By: Inoljt,

Attacking gerrymandering these days is as popular as saying Wall Street needs reform. It's a truism; everybody agrees with that "gerrymandering is bad," just as everybody agrees that breathing is good.

Gerrymanders do get pretty ridiculous. Consider Maryland's 3rd congressional district:


Maryland's legislature designed this gerrymander to favor Democrats. And it worked: Maryland is represented by seven Democrats and one Republican.

You can probably go search a few terrible gerrymanders of your own; they're not exactly difficult to find. For the purposes of this post, however, I will be concentrating on one particular gerrymander: Arizona's 2nd congressional district.


To understand why this is a good gerrymander, see below the fold.

Most observers will probably label this example as just another egregious attempt to favor one party or the other. One look at that incredibly strange-looking right arm certainly adds credence to this theory.

Arizona's congressional districts, however, are drawn by an independent redistricting committee, not the state legislature. The purpose of this gerrymander is distinctly different from what most casual observers would first presume.

Take a look at Arizona's Indian reservations:


That brown-colored northeast reservation perfectly matches Arizona's 2nd district. It's the Hopi Indian reservation. Completely encircling it is the Navajo Indian reservation, colored in blue.

The Hopi and Navajo tribes have a long history of conflict and land disputes. Having both tribes represented by one congressman would be inappropriate; Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission therefore gerrymandered its districts to separate the tribes.

The lesson here is not that gerrymandering is good, but that it can be used for good. 99% of gerrymanders are probably bad; the practice badly needs reform. But we ought be wary when labeling anything as universally negative, lest we forget the other 1%.

Tags: Arizona, Congress, Democrats, election analysis, Gerrymandering, Hopi, House of Representatives, Navajo, Politics, Republicans, triusm (all tags)



Re: Not All Gerrymanders Are Bad

I accept your point however I'm not sure why having the Hopi and Navajo have separate reps for a federal seat should matter very much for their land disputes... nor why the Hopi have to be lumped with a district that includes other Arizonians up to the borders of phoenix...

by vecky 2009-11-28 05:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Not All Gerrymanders Are Bad

Another point to make is to look at the voting patterns by county/precinct:

The rep for AZ-02 is Trent Franks (R) and most of his votes come from the Phoenix suburbs: county#AZH02p1

Coconino & Navajo are the two counties that include the Hopi reservation and they were won by, you guessed it - the challenger.

Moreover the total number of votes at stake were < 1000 so it looks like lumping the Hopi reservation with Maricopa and Mohave counties (300K + votes) has drastically hurt turn-out at the Hopi reservation.

So I don't think the argument can be made that the Hopi are being well served and having their interests represented by this gerrymandering...

by vecky 2009-11-28 06:36PM | 0 recs


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