Why Bother Drawing Legislative Districts at All?


Scott Lay reports in his excellent on-line daily missive, The Nooner, that at least two legislative campaigns have located their headquarters outside the legislative district the candidate seeks to represent.

You read that right -- headquarters isn't even in the district!

Here's what's even more noteworthy. No one much cares. As Lay writes: "Do the locations of campaign headquarters really matter? No, only a handful of us geeks know or care where one district stops and another begins..."

This is a cold, hard truth offered almost off-hand. The district lines are random. The state -- and its political elites and good government community -- have put so much energy into the drawing of district lines, and to changing the process to eliminate partisan politics from the consideration.

So why do we bother?

The answer is: we shouldn't.

There is very little connection between legislative districts and the people who represent them and the people who live in them. Most Californians don't know what legislative district they're in. That's because districts don't really matter. We know what town we live in, what county we live in, what region we live in. But assembly district? Who knows?

So why bother? Legislative districts could easily be made to fit boundaries that make sense. A county could be a legislative district. Or an entire region could be a legislative district.

This would require but one change -- permitting districts that elect more than one member. Our system of one-member districts requires all districts to be roughly the same in population -- that's why the state has to be divided up so haphazardly.

But if you made the big regions each a multi-member district, the number of members could be determined by the proportion of that region to the population of the state. And then in each election, the region could elect multiple member districts, through a proportional representation system. So that a party's share of the vote would determine its share of the representation from each multi-member district.

This is the kind of system that most of the world's advanced democracies are moving towards. But not in California, where we still live the fiction that districts matter.

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