Redistricting: Never Have So Many Spent So Much on So Little

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This week's political money news: California Democrats, including U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are spending big to fight reform of how legislative districts are drawn, a process known as redistricting.

The question is why. The decade-long fight over redistricting reform has been a black hole, sucking in time, money and political energy that would have been better spent on something that -- you know -- matters.

Here's the problem: it doesn't much matter who draws the legislative lines if those people are limited to drawing single-member districts in 21st century California. Voters in this state are so segregated by party -- Californians, like Americans -- are increasingly living among the like-minded -- that it's nearly impossible to draw competitive districts.

The redistricting commission established by Prop 11, an initiative approved by voters in 2008, represents a minor advance in that its establishment eliminates the conflict of interest involved in having state legislators draw their own districts. But expectations that the commission would produce lots of new competitive districts that would elect more moderates and create more space for political compromise are overblown. The commission itself is prohibited from using data on party registration that would allow them to try to create competitive districts.

The only thing stranger than all the money and energy that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and good government types have devoted to fighting for this reform is all the money and energy devoted to fighting against it. The Democrats are putting big money into supporting an initiative this November, Prop 27, which would repeal Prop 11 and abolish the redistricting commission before it does any redistricting, and into opposing Prop 20, which seeks to extend the redistricting commission's mandate to the drawing of Congressional districts too.

They should save their money. And voters can safely ignore both measures. Real reform of legislative elections is needed, but it involves much broader changes in a system, including the establishment of regional districts with multiple members who are elected using some form of proportional representation, which makes every vote count. To understand what that would look like, take a look here.

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