As Congressional districts have been sliced and diced across New York, the New York Times created an easy-to-use interactive map detailing the changes. Enjoy it HERE!
Posts Tagged ‘Redistricting’
Note: This piece was originally published by ProPublica and has been republished with their consent and encouragement.
by Olga Pierce and Jeff Larson ProPublica, Dec. 21, 2011, 3:38 p.m.
This spring, a group of California Democrats gathered at a modern, airy office building just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol. The meeting was House members only 2014 no aides allowed 2014 and the mission was seemingly impossible.
In previous years, the party had used its perennial control of California’s state Legislature to draw district maps that protected Democratic incumbents. But in 2010, California voters put redistricting in the hands of a citizens’ commission where decisions would be guided by public testimony and open debate.
The question facing House Democrats as they met to contemplate the state’s new realities was delicate: How could they influence an avowedly nonpartisan process? Alexis Marks, a House aide who invited members to the meeting, warned the representatives that secrecy was paramount. “Never say anything AT ALL about redistricting 2014 no speculation, no predictions, NOTHING,” Marks wrote in an email. “Anything can come back to haunt you.”
In the weeks that followed, party leaders came up with a plan. Working with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee 2014 a national arm of the party that provides money and support to Democratic candidates 2014 members were told to begin “strategizing about potential future district lines,” according to another email.
The citizens’ commission had pledged to create districts based on testimony from the communities themselves, not from parties or statewide political players. To get around that, Democrats surreptitiously enlisted local voters, elected officials, labor unions and community groups to testify in support of configurations that coincided with the party’s interests.
When they appeared before the commission, those groups identified themselves as ordinary Californians and did not disclose their ties to the party. One woman who purported to represent the Asian community of the San Gabriel Valley was actually a lobbyist who grew up in rural Idaho, and lives in Sacramento.
In one instance, party operatives invented a local group to advocate for the Democrats’ map.
California’s Democratic representatives got much of what they wanted from the 2010 redistricting cycle, especially in the northern part of the state. “Every member of the Northern California Democratic Caucus has a ticket back to DC,” said one enthusiastic memo written as the process was winding down. “This is a huge accomplishment that should be celebrated by advocates throughout the region.”
Statewide, Democrats had been expected to gain at most a seat or two as a result of redistricting. But an internal party projection says that the Democrats will likely pick up six or seven seats in a state where the party’s voter registrations have grown only marginally.
“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”
As part of a national look at redistricting, ProPublica reconstructed the Democrats’ stealth success in California, drawing on internal memos, emails, interviews with participants and map analysis. What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old.
The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.
Democrats acknowledge that they faced a challenge in getting the districts they wanted in densely populated, ethnically diverse Southern California. The citizen commission initially proposed districts that would have endangered the political futures of several Democratic incumbents. Fighting back, some Democrats gathered in Washington and discussed alternatives. These sessions were sometimes heated.
“There was horse-trading throughout the process,” said one senior Democratic aide.
The revised districts were then presented to the commission by plausible-sounding witnesses who had personal ties to Democrats but did not disclose them.
Commissioners declined to discuss the details of specific districts, citing ongoing litigation. But several said in interviews that while they were aware of some attempts to mislead them, they felt they had defused the most egregious attempts.
“When you’ve got so many people reporting to you or making comments to you, some of them are going to be political shills,” said commissioner Stanley Forbes, a farmer and bookstore owner. “We just had to do the best we could in determining what was for real and what wasn’t.”
Democrats acknowledge the meetings described in the emails, but said the gatherings “centered on” informing members about the process. In a statement to ProPublica, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, head of California’s delegation, said that members, “as citizens of the state of California, were well within their rights to make comments and ensure that voices from communities of interest within their neighborhoods were heard by the Commission.”
“The final product voted on by the Commission was entirely out of the hands of the Members,” said Lofgren. “They, like any other Californian, were able to comment but had no control over the process.”
“At no time did the Delegation draw up a statewide map,” Lofgren said. (Read Lofgren’s full statement.)
California’s Republicans were hardly a factor. The national GOP stayed largely on the sidelines, and individual Republicans had limited success influencing the commission.
“Republicans didn’t really do anything,” said Johnson. “They were late to the party, and essentially non-entities in the redistricting process.”
Fed-up voters create a commission
The once-a-decade redistricting process is supposed to ensure that every citizen’s vote counts equally.
In reality, politicians and parties working to advance their own interests often draw lines that make an individual’s vote count less. They create districts dominated by one party or political viewpoint, protecting some candidates (typically incumbents) while dooming others. They can empower a community by grouping its voters in a single district, or disenfranchise it by zigging the lines just so.
Over the decades, few party bosses were better at protecting incumbents than California’s Democrats. No Democratic incumbent has lost a Congressional election in the nation’s most populous state since 2000.
As they drew the lines each decade, California’s party bosses worked in secret. But the oddly shaped districts that emerged from those sessions were visible for all to see. Bruce Cain, a legendary mapmaker who now heads the University of California’s Washington center, once drew an improbable-looking state assembly district that could not be traversed by car. (It crossed several impassable mountains.)
Cain proudly told the story of the district, which was set up for one of the governor’s friends. Cain said he justified the odd shape by saying it pulled together the state’s largest population of endangered condors. “It wasn’t legitimate on any level,” Cain recalled.
The 2010 ballot initiative giving the citizen commission authority over Congressional districts was sold to voters as a game changer. Not surprisingly, it was strenuously opposed by California’s Democrats, who continue to control the Statehouse.
No fewer than 35 Democratic politicians 2014 including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi 2014 and their allies spent a total of $7 million to campaign against the proposition. The effort included mailings from faux community groups that derided the commission’s $1 million annual budget as “bureaucratic waste.” Despite this effort, Californians voted 61 percent to 39 percent to wrest federal redistricting from the hands of state lawmakers.
Immediately, Democrats began organizing to influence the citizen commission. There were numerous opportunities.
According to civics textbooks, the aim of redistricting is to group “communities of interest” so that residents in a city, neighborhood or ethnic group wield political power by voting together. The commission took an expansive view of this concept, ultimately defining a “community of interest” as anything from a neighborhood to workers on the same commute, or even areas sharing “intense beach recreation.”
This gave savvy players an opening to draw up maps that benefited one party or incumbent and then find 2014 or concoct 2014 “communities of interest” that justified them.
Democrats set out to do exactly that.
On March 16, members of the California delegation gathered at Democratic Party offices to discuss how to handle redistricting. They agreed that congressmen from the various regions of California 2014 North, South and Central 2014 would meet separately to “create a plan of action,” according to an email recounting the day’s events by Alexis Marks, the House aide. Among the first tasks, Marks wrote, was determining “how to best organize communities of interest.”
Democrats were already working “BEHIND THE SCENES” to “get info out” about candidates for the job of commission lawyer who were viewed as unfriendly. “I’ll keep you in the loop, but do not broadcast,” Marks wrote.
“The CA delegation has been broken down into regions that will be discussing redistricting at the member level,” read another party email from late March. “Members will be asked to present ideas on both issues” 2014 communities of interest and district lines 2014 “and will be asked to come to some consensus about how to adopt a regional strategy for redistricting.”
Over the next several weeks, California Democrats huddled with Mark Gersh, the party’s top mapmaking guru. Officially, Gersh works with the Foundation for the Future, a nonprofit whose declared goal is “to help Democrats get organized for the fight of the decade; the fight that will determine Democratic fortunes in your state and in Washington, D.C. for years to come: Redistricting!”
The foundation is well funded for this fight. Its supporters include longtime supporters of the Democratic Party: the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees as well as the American Association for Justice (previously known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America). The foundation was launched in 2006 when Nancy Pelosi’s office worked with both groups to start it.
Neither Gersh nor participants would describe in detail what was discussed at the meetings. But from Marks’ emails and other sources, it is clear that California’s Democrats sat down together to discuss mutually agreeable districts that would protect incumbents.
The value of coordinating efforts to influence the commission cannot be overstated. If each Democrat battled separately for the best district, it was likely that one Congress member’s gain would harm countless colleagues. Creating Congressional districts is a lot like a Rubik’s cube: Each change reshapes the entire puzzle. The Democrats’ plan was to deliver synchronized testimony that would herd the commission toward the desired outcomes. If it worked perfectly, the commissioners might not even know they had been influenced.
Over the summer, Marks sent out more than 100 emails about redistricting, according to multiple recipients of the messages. According to House records, Marks earned $112,537 in 2010 in her post as deputy director of the California Democratic delegation. That makes her a federal employee. But although many of the messages were sent during the work day, a spokesman insisted Marks did so in her after-hours role as a political staffer for Democrats. They were sent from a Gmail account. Lofgren’s office did not make Marks available for comment, citing policy that staffers do not speak on the record. Instead, they pointed to Rep. Lofgren’s statement.
Federal employees are not allowed to do campaign work on government time, or use government resources, according to House ethics rules.
The emails alerted staff and legislators when the commission was scheduled to discuss their districts and they encouraged them to have allies testify to “community of interest” lines that supported their maps.
Marks told members they would be asked to raise money for a legal challenge if things didn’t work out. The delegation, she said, was working with Marc Elias, who heads an organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Trust. (The trust shares a website with The Foundation for The Future.)
Last year the trust persuaded the Federal Election Commission to allow members to raise money for redistricting lawsuits without disclosing how the money was spent, how much was raised, and who had given it.
The commission blinds itself
Back in California, the commission was getting organized. Its first task was to pick commissioners. The ballot initiative excluded virtually anyone who had any previous political experience. Run for office? Worked as a staffer or consultant to a political campaign? Given more than $2,000 to a candidate in any year? “Cohabitated” for more than 30 days in the past year with anyone in the previous categories? You’re barred.
More than 36,000 people applied. The state auditor’s office winnowed the applicants to a group of 60 finalists. Each party was allowed to strike 12 applicants without explanation. Then, the state used Bingo-style bouncing balls in a cage to pick eight commissioners 2014 three Republicans, three Democrats and two people whose registration read “decline to state” (California-speak for independent). The randomly selected commissioners then chose six from the remaining finalists to complete the panel.
The result was a commission that included, among others, a farmer, a homemaker, a sports doctor and an architect. Previous redistrictings had been executed by political pros with intimate knowledge of California’s sprawling political geography. The commissioners had little of that expertise 2014 and one of their first acts was to deprive themselves of the data that might have helped them spot partisan manipulation.
The law creating the commission barred it from considering incumbents’ addresses, and instructed it not to draw districts for partisan reasons.
The commissioners decided to go further, agreeing not to even look at data that would tell them how prospective maps affected the fortunes of Democrats or Republicans. This left the commissioners effectively blind to the sort of influence the Democrats were planning.
One of the mapping consultants working for the commission warned that it would be difficult to competently draft district lines without party data. She was overruled.
The lack of political data was “liberating,” said Forbes, the commissioner. “We had no one to please except ourselves, based on our best judgment.”
“I think,” he said, “we did a pretty good job.”
The commission’s judgments on how to draw lines, Forbes and others said, was based on the testimony from citizens about communities of interest.
“We were provided quite a number of maps from various organizations,” said another commissioner, attorney Jodie Filkins-Webber. If the groups were basing their maps on political data to favor one party, “they certainly did not tell us that.”
“Districts could have been drawn based on voter registration,” Filkins-Webber said, “but we would never have known it.”
The commission received a torrent of advice 2014 a total of 30,000 separate pieces of testimony and documents. Records suggest the commission never developed an effective method for organizing it all. The testimony was kept in a jumble of handwritten notes and computer files. The commissioners were often left to recall testimony by memory.
The difficulties in digesting and weighing the reams of often-conflicting testimony enhanced the value of people or groups who came bearing draft maps.
“Other people offered testimony; we offered solutions,” said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, a powerful business group outside Los Angeles that persuaded the commission to adopt its Congressional map for the San Fernando Valley.
How Democrats locked down Northern California
Redistricting is a chess game for people with superb spatial perception. Sometimes, anchoring a single line on a map can make everything fall into place.
According to an internal memo, Democrats recognized early on that they could protect nearly every incumbent in Northern California if they won a few key battles. First, they had to make sure no district crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.Then, they had to draw a new seat that pulled sufficient numbers of Democrats from Contra Costa County into a district that included Republicans from the San Joaquin Valley.
The man with the most to lose was Rep. Jerry McNerney, who represented an octopus-shaped district that had scooped in Democrats from the areas east of San Francisco. McNerney’s prospects seemed particularly dismal. Early in the year, he made The Washington Post’s national list of top 10 likely redistricting victims.
Republicans moved first, attempting to create a district that would keep San Joaquin County whole and pick up conservative territory to the south. But then a previously unknown group calling itself OneSanJoaquin entered the fray.
OneSanJoaquin described itself as a nonprofit, but records show it is not registered as such in any state. It has no identifiable leadership but it does have a Facebook page, called OneSanJoaquin, created by the Google account OneSanJoaquin.
The page was posted in early April, just as the commission began taking testimony. Its entries urged county residents to download maps and deliver pre-packaged testimony.
On the surface, the OneSanJoaquin page seemed to be serving Republicans’ interests. But Democrats were one move ahead and understood that a united valley would inevitably lead to a Democratic-leaning district. (Republicans apparently did not understand that federal voting rights requirements ruled out their proposed district, since it would have interfered with the Latino district to the south. That misconception was encouraged by the maps on the OneSanJoaquin page, which were drawn to make this look possible.)
In fact, the only way to make a district with “one San Joaquin” was to pull in the Democrats in eastern Contra Costa 2014 the far reaches of San Francisco’s Bay-area liberals.
The author of OneSanJoaquin’s maps was not identified on the Facebook page, but ProPublica has learned it was Paul Mitchell, a redistricting consultant hired by McNerney.
Transcripts show that more than a dozen people delivered or sent the canned testimony to the commission, which accepted it without question. There’s no sign that commissioners were aware some of the letters had been downloaded from the mysterious OneSanJoaquin page.
After the commission finished, McNerney announced he was moving to the newly created San Joaquin district to run for re-election. It was a huge improvement for him. In 2010, he barely won his district, beating his opponent by just one point. If the 2010 election were re-run in his new district, he would have won by seven points, according to the Democrats’ internal analysis. (McNerney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.)
Summing up the story, an internal Democratic memo said the GOP had been decisively out-maneuvered “Their hope was to create a Republican Congressional seat,” the memo said. “Their plan backfired.”
“McNerney ends up with safer district than before,” Mitchell’s firm tweeted, after McNerney announced his candidacy in his new district. “Wow! How did he do that?”
An under-funded commission
While players attempting to influence the process were well funded, the commission struggled with a lack of time and money. They responded, in part, by reducing citizens’ opportunities for input.
The budget for the whole map drawing undertaking was just over $1 million. At first, the commission had its public hearings transcribed 2014 then the money ran out and they stopped.
The commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses. Most kept their day jobs at the same time they tried to juggle their roles as commissioners.
It was a grueling schedule, with 35 public hearings taking place over just three months. “I had three days off between” April and August, said Commissioner Filkins-Webber, who maintained her legal practice while serving. “I was working basically on average18 hours a day.”
The commissioners also had to deal with public anger. The Tea Party in California decided to use the hearings as a forum to protest the Voting Rights Act, for instance, and at one hearing got so rowdy that police intervened.
Experts hired by the commission to actually draw the maps were also overworked and underpaid. Half a dozen times the meeting transcripts contain references to map drawers working overnight to prepare maps.
Overwhelmed by the task at hand, the commission decided to essentially shut down public participation halfway through the process. After the first round of drafts, which were widely criticized and abandoned, the commission stopped releasing formal drafts. More importantly, commissioners stopped holding hearings, which meant the next draft was prepared without public input.
The commission moved its meetings to Sacramento, not far from where party bosses had once gathered in secret to set the lines. The commission’s meetings were webcast to the public. But only those with the resources and time could participate.
“You have to ask yourself, who has the money to send people up to Sacramento like that,” said Eugene Lee, voting rights project director at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, which was active in organizing grassroots participation in the redistricting process.
“We didn’t have the money to do that. No way.”
The commission released no further drafts. In July, it made public a “draft final.” Voters had two weeks to submit comments before it became final. Most of those comments came from insiders who had been closely watching the Sacramento meetings.
Southern California Democrats also win
For those who could stay engaged, the Sacramento phase of the commission’s work proved rewarding. One politician who benefited was Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu.
When it appeared that Chu would get an unfavorable district late in the game, a group with ties to the congresswoman went before the commission in Sacramento and convinced the commissioners to draw a favorable map that included her political stronghold, a town called Rosemead. Chu enjoyed broad support in Rosemead, where she was first elected to the school board in 1992 and later served in the state assembly.
The group, which called itself the Asian American Education Institute, worked with Paul Mitchell, the same consultant who helped engineer the triumph of Northern California Democrats.
Records show that crucial last-minute testimony in favor of Chu’s district was delivered by Jennifer Wada, who told commissioners she was representing the institute and the overall Asian-American community. Wada did not mention that she lives and works as a registered lobbyist in Sacramento, 400 miles from the district, or that she grew up in rural Idaho, where most of her family still lives. Wada says she was hired by the institute to “convey their concerns about Asian and Pacific Islander representation” to the commission.
The second witness was Chris Chaffee, who said he was a consultant for the institute and an employee of Redistricting Partners, Mitchell’s firm.
Commissioners accepted this map without asking a basic question: Who, exactly, was the Asian American Education Institute representing?
The group’s tax records show it had no full-time employees. Its website is barebones, and clicking on the “get active” button on the home page leads nowhere, simply returning users to the home page.
There’s another interesting feature of the Web site: the domain name is registered to a man named Bill Wong, a political consultant who has worked on multiple Chu campaigns, as well as her husband’s successful bid for Judy Chu’s old state assembly seat. Chu paid Wong $5,725 for consulting work in 2010, FEC records show. Her husband, Mike Eng, donated $4,500 to the Asian American Education Institute in 2010 and 2011.
The institute, said Wong, “argued to keep communities of interest together. Since Rep. Chu has been a strong advocate for Asian communities, it would make sense for her to represent them.” Wong added that he “discussed redistricting with a number of Asian-American legislators.”
An email obtained by ProPublica shows Amelia Wang, Chu’s chief of staff, telling Chu and Bill Wong about testimony submitted by another Asian group, Coalition of Asian Pacific Americans for Fair Redistricting, which also intervened at the last minute to offer similar maps. In case that didn’t do the trick, Mitchell himself went before the commission, urging the commissioners to accept the maps submitted by the institute (his employer) and the coalition.
And that’s what the commission did, incorporating proposed lines for both groups and drawing a map that included Rosemead in Chu’s new district.
Wang told ProPublica that Chu’s office and the institute “did communicate about keeping communities of interest together, including Rosemead. However, Rep. Chu did not hire Bill Wong for redistricting or to testify on her behalf before the commission.”
“Rep. Chu has represented a united Rosemead city since 2001,” said Wang, “it would have been a tragic mistake to divide it.”
Though the process turned out well for Chu, it didn’t work out so well for the town of South El Monte.
To make room for Rosemead in Chu’s district, South El Monte 2014 85 percent Latino 2014 got bumped into another district across the mountains that is much less Latino, and much more affluent.
The town’s mayor, Luis Aguinaga, say the new lines “don’t make sense.” South El Monte is now split off from sister communities in the San Gabriel Valley 2014 including North El Monte and El Monte.
“We’re always on the same side, always fighting for the same issues,” Aguinaga said. “On this side of the San Gabriel Valley we have a voice. If we’re apart it will be much harder to be heard.”
Other communities lost, too.
Outside Los Angeles, residents of what’s known as Little Saigon begged the commission to undo what they saw as decades of discrimination and put the U.S.’s largest Vietnamese community together in one district. Instead, the community was split in two 2014 a result of testimony by supporters of Rep. Loretta Sanchez, including a former staffer and one of her wedding guests, to get her a safe district. A large section of Little Saigon ended up in a district with Long Beach, a town that is 1 percent Vietnamese.
“Residents who live in Little Saigon share the same needs, but if they’re in two different districts they may not be represented,” said Tri Ta, a City Council member from the area.
“This district is characterized by the Port of Long Beach,” the commission writes in its final report, “one of the world’s busiest seaports and the area’s largest employer.”
“It does not make sense to put the area known as Little Saigon in a district with Long Beach,” Ta said. “The two areas are distinctively different.”
“Congresswoman Sanchez believed strongly throughout the redistricting process that the population growth of the Latino community should be accurately reflected in the newly drawn congressional districts,” said Adrienne Elrod, Sanchez’s Chief of Staff, in a statement, “She’s glad that members of the Orange County community shared her views, and as a result, was pleased to see them take an active role.”
Paul Mitchell, the consultant whose work had such a large impact on the commission’s decisions, said voters benefited from the work done by him and others deeply involved in the process. The commissioners, he said, “knew some of the testimony was being fabricated by outside groups. But what were they to do? They couldn’t create a screen of all testimony and ferret out all the biases.”
The work he did on behalf of his diverse group of clients, he said, “created better maps 2014 regardless of if they came with the additional benefit of helping some local city, union, or incumbent that was the client,” Mitchell said.
“My only regret is that we didn’t do more.”
Corrections: This story originally stated that the Asian population of Long Beach was less than 1 percent. It has been corrected to say that the Vietnamese population of Long Beach is 1 percent. The story also previously stated that Rep. Judy Chu previously served as a state senator. In fact, she served in the state assembly. This story originally stated the commission worked for free, with a small stipend for expenses. It has been corrected to say, the commissioners received $300 per day as compensation and were eligible for reimbursement of travel and out of pocket expenses.
The media is still focusing on the big GOP wins in the House of Representatives. Only a few commentators have noticed the huge gains that Republicans have made at the state level. Here’s some analysis from the Wall Street Journal:
Gains in eight states—including Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin— gave the GOP control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers. Republicans will be in charge there when drawing new congressional maps, something every legislature must do following each 10-year federal census. Minnesota could join the list depending on the outcome of a governor’s race that was still too close to call as of Wednesday evening.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans now hold the largest share of state legislative seats—53%—since 1928. The party added at least 680 seats Tuesday, the largest gain by either party since 1966, the bipartisan group said.
The authority to carve out districts helps create safe congressional seats for the party in charge. Only a handful of states put the redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission.
“We should be able to pick up at least two-dozen seats,” said Frank Donatelli, the chairman of GOPAC, a political-action committee formed in 1979 to fight for state-level Republicans. “We are in better shape than at any time since the 1960s.”
Democrats didn’t gain control of an additional chamber in any state.
H/t to Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post for the following:
“We’re going to be releasing a lot of population data in the coming months,” Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said last week at a meeting with reporters. “There is a potential for confusion.” (See a full schedule below.)
Indeed. For example, the ranks of the nation’s poor rose last year, according to Census statistics released Tuesday.
Those stats come from the American Community Survey, a questionnaire randomly sent on an annual basis to households nationwide. The survey helps determine the status of 40 different topic areas, including annual income, housing levels, educational attainment, family structure, commute times and the number of disabled people.
Some conservative activists and Republican lawmakers wrongly assumed that these questions were part of the 2010 Census forms. But no, the ACS replaced the old census “long form” that was randomly sent to some households in the past. (And yes, skeptics: It is constitutional for the Census Bureau to ask questions beyond a simple count of people.)
In December the Census Bureau will release ACS statistics based on data collected between 2005 and 2009 for geographic areas of all sizes. A third set of ACS data collected between 2007 and 2009 and covering all areas with populations of 20,000 or more will be released in January.
The results of the 10-question decennial census forms completed earlier this year will be released in December, as required by the U.S. Constitution. (Article 1, Section 2 states that “[An] enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of ten years, in such manner as they shall by law direct.”)
The December release will include the nation’s new total population figures and state-by-state congressional apportionment information. Other information on redistricting will be released in February or March.
UPCOMING CENSUS BUREAU RELEASES:
2009 American Community Survey estimates
2010 Census state counts
Census Bureau demographic analysis
2005-2009 American Community Survey estimates
2007-2009 American Community Survey estimates
FEBRUARY TO MARCH:
Redistricting data from the 2010 Census
A July 16th editorial in the Christian Science Monitor discusses the battle over congressional redistricting. The impact that 2010 Census data has on redistricting could be especially disturbing in light of recent concerns over the accuracy of this data:
All eyes are on the US House in this fall’s election, but that’s not the only place where a political earthquake might shake up power.
A mad scramble is also on to influence elections for state legislatures, as well as governors. National political bigwigs and big dollars – record amounts, actually – are focused on these local races.
The reason? This is a census year, and it is these newly elected officials who will use the new population numbers to redraw the boundaries of voter districts. Those districts will then set the contours of power and policy for the next decade.
Republicans see the opportunity for a long-lasting comeback in Washington if they can tip enough statehouses their way, and thus come up with voter districts likely to elect Republicans to Congress again and again. Likewise, Democrats are working hard to defend their mapping turf.
There would be nothing wrong with the mad scramble were it not for the fact that it’s scrambling American democracy. Many state legislatures and governors have gotten increasingly caught up in sophisticated “gerrymandering” of voter districts – shaping “safe” districts according to computer programs that reliably return incumbents to power.
Legislators are selecting their voters, instead of voters selecting their lawmakers.
The US Constitution requires redistricting after every census in order to make districts roughly equal in population, guaranteeing equal representation across the land. It leaves the method up to the states, though, and oh, the self-serving methods that many state politicians have chosen.
The party in power uses technology to account not only for population, but also voter registration data, voting patterns, and the addresses of incumbent lawmakers (in some cases, maps have been refigured so that an incumbent of the opposing party is drawn right out of his or her home district).
Thus are born districts that are no longer competitive, that don’t foster the free exchange of ideas, that hatch more extreme candidates who play to their home base, and that lead to hardened, immovable positions in elected bodies.
The following story comes from OMB Watch:
The Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute convened an advisory board of experts and representatives of good government groups in order to articulate principles for transparent redistricting and to identify barriers to the public and communities who wish to create redistricting plans.
Redistricting is a legally and technically complex process. Access to district creation and analysis software can encourage broad participation by: being widely accessible and easy to use; providing mapping and evaluating tools that help the public to create legal redistricting plans, as well as maps identifying local communities; be accompanied by training materials to assist the public to successfully create and evaluate legal redistricting plans and define community boundaries; have publication capabilities that allow the public to examine maps in situations where there is no access to the software; and promote social networking and allow the public to compare, exchange and comment on both official and community-produced maps.
Two interesting stories from Pennsylvania…one from each side of the state:
From the Philadelphia Inquirer, a story about how now deceased Rep. John Murtha’s House of Reps. seat will likely disappear:
The candidate who succeeds the late Rep. John P. Murtha (D., Pa.) in a special election this spring might not want to buy a home in Washington.
That’s because demographers estimate that Pennsylvania will lose at least one seat in the decennial reapportionment of House seats among the states after the 2010 Census – and some political analysts believe the 12th District would be an easy target for state lawmakers reshuffling boundaries before the 2012 elections.
Murtha’s district, which looks somewhat like a crustacean spread over parts of nine counties, was itself gerrymandered into existence to save his job a decade ago, after the Census determined that Pennsylvania would lose two representatives because of sluggish population growth relative to other states.
Even Republicans – who then controlled the state House, Senate, and governor’s office – did not want to lose Murtha or the billions of dollars he steered to Pennsylvania as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of defense spending.
Murtha, who died at 77 of complications from gallbladder surgery, was buried Tuesday in Johnstown.
IT HAS BEEN almost 10 years since the last redistricting battle was slugged out in City Council, but the wounds are still raw.
That fight, which centered on the Latino composition of upper North Philly’s 7th District and pitted the mayor against the Council president, dragged on so long that Council members went nearly five months without pay.
The final 10-district map featured three twisted, elongated districts that practically define gerrymandering. And during the period without pay, Councilman Rick Mariano took bribes to cover his bills – a decision that landed him in the clink.
“For my colleagues, every time you mention redistricting it’s like a bad toothache,” said Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, who represents the 7th District.
Unsurprisingly, much of Council isn’t exactly excited about revisiting the issue. But next spring, after the 2010 census, they’ll have to redraw the district lines again based on the new population numbers.
The current districts were drawn so each would have about 150,000 residents – or about 10 percent of the city’s population in 2000 – but population shifts inevitably change those numbers, forcing the decennial remap.
After the census numbers are released April 1, 2011, Council must pass a plan and get mayoral approval within six months. If it misses that deadline, Council members’ pay will be withheld – as stated in the Home Rule Charter – which has happened the last two times.
Former Councilman Angel Ortiz, who served as an at-large member during the 1991 and 2001 redistricting debates, said members should buckle their seat belts.
“Rick Mariano threatened to throw me out the window last time,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s going to be a struggle. I think a lot of friendships on City Council may be frayed at the end of this.”
Talking Points Memo observes that it’s been some time since Bachmann — who previously said she would not completely fill out the form and only disclose the number of people in her household — has criticized the census. And that might be because Bachmann’s district could be cut if Minnesota loses one of its eight House seats. State demographers say it’s probable that Minnesota will lose a seat, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune published an editorial this weekend encouraging state residents to participate.
The really fun fact, as I’ve learned from Minnesota experts, is that Bachmann’s district would likely be the first to go if the state lost a seat. The other seats are all fairly regular-shaped, logical districts built around identifiable regions of the state (Minneapolis, St. Paul, the Iron Range, and so on). Bachmann’s district is made of what’s left over after such a process, twisting and turning from a small strip of the Wisconsin border and curving deep into the middle of the state. As such, the obvious course of action if the state loses a seat is to split her district up among its neighbors.
UPI has a bit more on the issue:
“She becomes the most vulnerable just simply because of the shape of her district, because of the likelihood of the political composition of the Legislature next year and because Democrats don’t like her,” David Schultz, an election law expert at Hamline University in St. Paul, said.
10:00 – pretty sure the census bureau dropped the ball on this one because i called back in and the line is dead…either the call is over or more likely the census bureau/call center made some sort of error…
9:55 – KNOCKED OFF THE CALL…did it go dead? my line is still working fine…come on!
9:52 – Question: Why don’t you mention single, unattached people under age 30 as a hard-to-count group?
9:31 – 134 million addresses in the USA. As of now, they are 2% points high, compared to 5% high in the 2000 address…there were more duplicates then.
9:29 – go in pairs, with escorts, in high crime areas (for census enumerators)…
9:28 – safety in america: FBI NAME-CHECK…ALL APPLICANTS UNDERGOING FINGERPRINTING…on criminal history check, any convinces for major crimes such as grand theft, child molestation…etc…”if there are convictions of less serious crimes then the applicant can be hired if they don’t pose a risk to the american public” – With so many people OUT OF WORK who don’t have felonies, why would you hire felons????
9:26 – Over 3.8 million people are being recruited for 1.2 million through 1.4 million people. 700,000 people working for the largest operation, Non-Response Follow Up from May through July 2010.
9:21 – Complete Count Committees forming…who ensures that there is bi-partisan representation on these 9,100 committees (37 in states). But are they bipartisan and independent?
9:20 – 135,000 partner organizations with the 2010 census…here’s one who’s not a partner anymore: ACORN
9:18 – 3 large processing centers open…
9:17 – Grovesy talks about the ad campaign that’s getting started. Starting enumeration in Alaska in January. In March, most of the US population receives their forms. April 1 is Census Day (and April Fools Day…ah)…people should return their forms by this day. Otherwise the door-knockers will come knock knock knocking…some talk of reapportionment. In April 2011 the state-redistricting data for local/regional races is distributed.
9:16 – Grovesy’s giving us a quick history lesson about the Census….founding fathers yadda yadda…yawn
9:15 – Dr. Groves is in da house so to speak for the second operational press briefing (shouldn’t we have more of these?)
9:15 – 2010 Census PR Man Stephen Buckner is on the line…
9:13 – We are still standing by…this hold music is now reminiscent of terrible elevator rides.
9:07 – Kind of enjoying the jazz rendition of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer…on second thought, take as much time as you need to start this call.
9:05 – Come on Grovesy…I’m hungry for answers. (Still waiting for call to begin…)
8:59 – Call should begin shortly…
** CENSUS BUREAU MEDIA ADVISORY **
Census Bureau Director to Provide Update on
Status of 2010 Census Operations
What: U.S. Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves will brief the media on the status of 2010 Census operations. Groves will provide an assessment of the Master Address File, which serves as the source of addresses for mailing and delivering more than 130 million 2010 Census forms next March. He will also provide updates on outreach activities and other logistical operations under way. The briefing will include a question-and-answer session.
When: Monday, Dec. 14, 9 – 10 a.m. (EST)
Where: National Press Club, 13th floor
Fourth Estate Restaurant
529 14th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20045
Members of the media may also participate by telephone. (Please dial-in early to allow time for the operator to place you in the call.)
Here’s an interesting angle about the 2010 Census from a Kansas City Star opinion piece:
How Places With Prisons Falsely Boost “Diversity”
By Marie Sanchez
The 2010 U.S. census will soon be upon us, and by now you may have heard one of the patriotic pitches to comply.
Every breathing soul must be tallied during the massive federal endeavor, the national headcount taken every decade. The census is central to the functioning of our democracy, we’re told.
The data are used to distribute $400 billion in government spending, to compile countless reports on educational needs, to plan for economic development and formulate public policy.
More important, census data have a direct bearing on congressional districts and the Electoral College. The information is crucial to help us uphold the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.
So why, then, is the federal government gearing up to distort this vital set of data by how it accounts for the nation’s booming prison population? Prisoners are counted, not according to their home address but where they are incarcerated.
At a glance, this might not seem like a big deal — until the details of our nation’s 2 million inmates are broken down. Rural communities with large prison populations suddenly appear to be bastions of diversity, while those without prisons continue to see their population numbers slide.
On average, inmates serve for 34 months before returning to their original communities. They never shop, dine, attend school or otherwise become members of the towns and cities where they are warehoused while paying their debt to society.
One distortion this way of counting population causes is what some activists call “prison-based gerrymandering.” Because population figures are used to determine legislative districts, voting power is diluted in some areas and falsely ramped up in others.
The NAACP, no doubt recalling how black people were once considered three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation, was among the first organizations to call for reform. Because 12 percent of black men in their 20s and 30s are in prison at any one time, urban areas lose out on the strength of those uncounted inmates.
But it’s actually rural communities, where prisons are often built, that suffer the most from the distortions. Peter Wagner, a Massachusetts-based advocate for the Prison Policy Initiative, has found 173 counties where more than half of the black population is made up of inmates. Seven state senate districts in New York alone, he argues, would need to be redrawn if inmates were omitted from population figures for the areas where they are doing time.
Local officials in some parts of the country have responsibly attempted to eliminate the distortions. Bravo. The town of Anamosa, Iowa, changed the way it elects city council members after discovering that the population of a state penitentiary created a ward where a candidate got elected on the strength of two write-in votes. His inmate constituency of about 1,300 prisoners was roughly as populous as the town’s other wards.
With census-takers already completing the process of verifying addresses for the spring headcount, it’s too late for the government to change how it plans to conduct the 2010 census. Recording the true home address of inmates would be costly (an estimated $250 million), and many prisons don’t have the information readily available.
What the government can do to help rectify the situation is release the prison data earlier than planned, in time for states to take the information and delete those numbers for redistricting purposes.
Criminals forfeit a lot when they get locked up. They lose the right to vote, in all but two states.
They lose daily interaction with loved ones and the chance to engage in meaningful work. What they shouldn’t lose is the sense that their presence counts.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Philadelphia, PA – October 21, 2009 – Following the upcoming 2010 census reports, states and municipalities will engage in a nationwide legislative redistricting process. But in some parts of the country, the redrawing of district boundaries for partisan advantage has been rampant, which ultimately reduces the impact of individual voters on the election, resulting in lower voter turnout, and less competitive races. The expanded use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has created both new potential for sophisticated gerrymandering and a possible means of implementing unbiased redistricting.
With Redistricting 2011 around the corner, Avencia Incorporated, a Philadelphia-based geographic analysis and software development firm, is releasing the “Redistricting The Nation” (www.redistrictingthenation.com) website to provide the public with better information about the legislative redistricting process and tools that support and encourage fair representation and competitive elections.
The site allows citizens and advocacy groups to:Enter their address (nation-wide) and view the “shape” of their federal, state, and local election districts.Learn who is in charge of drawing the boundaries of their election districts (e.g., independent commissions or elected representatives). Compare the “compactness” scores of their election district to other, similar districts (less compact and unusually shaped districts are more likely to be gerrymandered).Draw new district boundaries on a map and generate compactness scores for the new district. Avencia is also concurrently releasing a revised version of its 2006 study of gerrymandering (“Redraw the Map on Redistricting 2010”). The new study expands the scope and methodology of Avencia’s original “Gerrymandering Index” to include state-level districts, council districts, and political wards for several new cities, and introduces three additional techniques for measuring districts’ compactness. While poor compactness scores do not prove gerrymandering, they are a measurable indication of the practice.
The whitepaper ranks the ten most gerrymandered local, state, and federal districts in the country based on four different measures of compactness. The study reveals some interesting findings. For instance, at the Congressional level, both FL-22 and NC-12 rank high in the study’s Top Ten for all four measures of compactness, while some of the worst offenders at the local level are: Philadelphia, PA-District 7; Miami, FL-District 2; Jacksonville, FL-District 11; Houston, TX-District E; New York, NY-District 4; and Philadelphia, PA-District 5.
Avencia is no stranger to political and election-focused projects. Earlier this month, Avencia and Committee of Seventy, the Philadelphia region’s premier non-partisan government watchdog group, launched a sister website to the “Redistricting The Nation” site, dedicated to raising public awareness in the Greater Philadelphia area about the potential impact of the 2010 census on federal, state, and local election districts, available at www.redistrictingthenation.com/philadelphia. During the November 2008 presidential election, the firm built a Voting Incident Tracking and Mapping web-based application that tracked voting problems in real-time to enable Committee of Seventy’s record-setting 1,000 person volunteer force to respond faster and more efficiently. Avencia also worked for multiple candidates in races to generate campaign walking and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) maps, and most recently generated over 400 campaign financing analysis maps for MapLight.org for their ‘Remote Control’ report.
“It is exciting to be able to leverage our global database of legislative districts and GIS analysis tools to promote good government and nonpartisan redistricting,” said Robert Cheetham, Avencia’s CEO. “It is a process that can be easily manipulated to protect incumbents and discourage competitive races. Our goal with this new site is to both educate the public early in the Census 2010 cycle, and to create software tools that will promote a more open, citizen-driven and transparent redistricting process in 2011.”
Political geography is at the center of several ongoing projects at Avencia. The white paper analysis of compactness of election districts was made possible by Avencia’s Cicero product, a legislative district matching and elected official lookup web API, developed for local governments, unions, businesses, and non-profit political and advocacy organizations to match citizens with their local, state, and national elected officials. Cicero taps a global database of legislative district maps and information about politicians, legislative bodies, and election events. Initially beginning with only a few cities, Avencia has grown the database to include national, state and local legislatures for the United States and several other countries and made an interactive version available to the public.
Avencia is an award-winning, Philadelphia-based geographic analysis and software development firm specializing in the creation of innovative location-based software tools to enhance decision-making processes. Avencia believes these location-based technologies can help promote the emergence of more dynamic, vibrant communities. For more information, visit www.avencia.com
Here’s an interesting forecast on redistricting as a result of the 2010 Census from the Wall Street Journal (click HERE for the full piece):
By Stephanie Simon
The federal government has hired tens of thousands of temporary workers to prepare for the 2010 Census — a population count that could remake the political map even as the foreclosure crisis makes it more difficult to account for millions of dislocated Americans.
Early analysis indicates that Texas will likely be the biggest winner since the prior count a decade ago, picking up three or four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures and Election Data Services Inc., a political-consulting firm. Other states poised to gain at least one seat include Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Florida and Utah.
Population and Representation
Growth in these states is driven by factors including migration from other states, immigration and birth rates. The economic crisis has put the brakes on some of this expansion — Florida just reported its first year-over-year population decline since 1946 — but in general, Sun Belt states have grown faster than others over the past decade.
Since the number of seats in the House is capped at 435, the gains in the South and West have to be offset by losses elsewhere.
New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts and the recession-battered industrial states of Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania each stand to lose a House seat. So does Louisiana, where the population still hasn’t rebounded from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which displaced so many residents that census takers face a difficult task in tallying them all.
A state’s votes in the presidential Electoral College depend on the size of its congressional delegation, so the census will likely tilt the balance of power slightly, with reliably Republican “red states” gaining several votes while Democratic strongholds such as New England lose clout.
The effect in Congress is less clear, said Karl Eschbach, the Texas state demographer. Texas, for instance, is solidly red when it comes to presidential elections. But Democrats have begun to make inroads in the state Legislature, buoyed by a flow of newcomers from more-liberal states such as California. So political analysts believe one or more of Texas’s new seats in Congress may well translate into a Democratic pickup.
Last week, I, Stephen Robert Morse, had the opportunity to interview former Census Director/current Census Bureau consultant Kenneth Prewitt. The following piece is certainly long (5,000+ words), but I think that it will provide many answers for people who have questions about the 2010 Census. If you don’t have the stamina to read such a long piece, I urge you to read the shortened version of this interview on MotherJones.com. Enjoy the following:
6/23/09: Conversation with Kenneth Prewitt, former Director of the U.S. Census Bureau
Interview by Stephen Robert Morse
SRM: When did you arrive back at the Census Bureau?
KP: By arrive back, you mean in the consultant sense?
KP: I have been sworn in, but I haven’t actually started work, so I wouldn’t say that I have arrived back yet. I haven’t done any work yet because I was hoping that the confirmation process [for Robert M. Groves] would play out. I’ve done very little, but I’m probably going to try to get started in the next week or so.
SRM: Do you have to wait for Robert M. Groves’s Senate confirmation before you begin?
KP: No, I don’t have to wait. I just felt like it made more sense to do whatever I could whatever I could with the leadership who will be in place for the duration of the decennial. But no, it’s partly my own schedule and getting free of my obligations here [in New York] and so forth.
SRM: If you’re not running the show right now and Robert Groves isn’t running the show right now, who is running the show at the Census Bureau in Washington?
KP: Well, they’ve got an Acting Director [Tom Mesenbourg] who is running the show, and even if I had been there I wouldn’t be running the show [He laughs!] They have a leadership structure. The Census Bureau is not unfamiliar with acting directors. If you look across any decade, you will find that about 15-20% of the time, it being run by an acting director. So it’s not an unusual structure.
SRM: That’s a good lead-in to another question. Do you think the Director of the Census Bureau should have a fixed term? If so, for how long?
KP: I very strongly think it should be a fixed term. It should be a presidential appointed, Senate confirmed, five-year term, starting in the year 07 or 02 (or 12 or 17), off-cycle of the decennial Census (which takes place in years ending in 0), renewable once without Senate confirmation. And were it to be renewed again, it would go back to the Senate, so it could be a ten-year term with one Senate confirmation. I feel very strongly that it should be a fixed term.
SRM: And do you think the Census Bureau should be an independent agency?
KP: I very strongly feel that it should be an independent agency. It’s a scientific organization. It’s like the National Science Foundation, like NIH, like the Archives Center. It has a statistical responsibility for society and it should be treated as a science institution and like NASA and I think it would be a much stronger institution if it were independent.
SRM: Do you think the Census Bureau has been damaged by partisan activity?
KP: It’s a complicated question because the partisan activity goes back to 1790. [laughs] The first presidential veto, by George Washington, was a veto of Alexander Hamilton’s formula for apportioning the House, and the one that Washington preferred was one that Thomas Jefferson produced, and that was one partisan issue. The apportionment formula that Jefferson produced gave an extra seat to Virginia. Everybody knew what that game was [laughs]. That was partisan. Look, partisan interest in the census is simply nothing new. Has there been damage over that period? Yes, on and off. For example, after the 1920 Census, the House of Representatives was not apportioned. It was simply not apportioned, for ten years. That was a partisan issue. It wasn’t the Census Bureau itself, but it was a Census Bureau product in which the apportionment numbers simply weren’t used.
SRM: How does partisanship affect the census today?
KP: I think the sampling fight, whatever it was, was deeply unfortunate. And it was a partisan fight. And I have written at great length and argued a great length that it shouldn’t have been partisan. The Census Bureau does not know how to be partisan. If it tried to design a census that had a partisan outcome, it wouldn’t know how to do it. How could you predict in three or four or five years before you are doing the decennial census, a design that would benefit this district instead of that district? If you’re trying to count everybody, you wouldn’t know how to torque it in a way. It’s all about a share basis. All apportionment numbers and redistricting numbers are on a share basis, which means that if you do something here, you’re adjusting the entire system, because it’s allocated on a fixed pie, on a share basis. So the actual assertion that the Census Bureau could behave in such a way as to tilt things one way or the other way in the partisan sense, is, on the face of it, a silly charge. It’s the same Census Bureau that’s considered to be incompetent by some people and then some of the same people are saying that this incompetent agency is so clever and so Machiavellian that it can design a census for partisan reasons. It just doesn’t compute. Now, did [accusations of partisanship] damage the census? Yes, it damaged the idea of sampling. As I quip, I like to tell the people I interact with who are against sampling, I say, “Next time you want to go to the doctor for a blood test, don’t say ‘I want you to take out a little bit,’ say ‘Take out all of it!’ How else will you know? Clearly there’s a fundamental sense in which the public and the leadership understand sampling. When you wake up in the morning and you want to find out whether it’s raining, you don’t look out every window of your house, you look out one window. There, you sampled. Etcetera, etcetera. So, the idea that we turned the word sampling into a dirty word and a partisan word is deeply, deeply damaging, not to the Census Bureau, but the idea of fiscal integrity, the idea of how do you have the best count possible. That’s not necessarily an argument for a particular methodology, dual system estimation. It’s a complicated, difficult methodology, and the Census Bureau has now worked on it, and understands that it hasn’t quite gotten it right yet, but the whole thought that this is about something called sampling, goes against a very particular technical methodology, which the U.S. Congress has not shown the patience to try to understand, is unfortunate. On the other hand, every other number we use to govern society, the CPI, all the lagging indicators, unemployment numbers, trade statistics, healthcare, how many people are uninsured, all of those numbers are based on samples.
SRM: After President Obama was elected, you were the frontrunner to become the next Director of the Census Bureau. Even the New York Times endorsed you for this position. Why did you withdraw your name from the running?
KP: By the way, I don’t know what the word “frontrunner” means in that sense. I am aware that my name was mentioned, but who knows who the frontrunner was or was not? I was aware that I was under consideration. At a certain point, I felt it more appropriate and more useful, because I had decided that I was not going to be able to relocate, I have heavy duties at Columbia University, and I wanted to continue those duties. In that sense, I wrote a note that said, “If you are considering me, please don’t.” But I wouldn’t say that I was a nominee who withdrew.
SRM: Why do you think Bob Groves’ confirmation [to become the next director of the U.S. Census Bureau] has been stalled?
KP: I wish I had a good answer to that question. I really do. I see that some people went through last week. I think maybe nineteen people, or some large number of people, went through last week. But why he wasn’t on that list, I don’t know. As I had quickly e-mailed to you, I had gone along on the assumption that everybody was being held out because of the start of the hearings on Sotomayor. But if they are letting some people through but not Bob, I simply don’t have a good explanation for that.
SRM: Do you have any suspicions as to who stalled the nomination?
KP: No, I really don’t. I don’t walk the halls of Congress, where I could learn that. I think I would know if it were knowable, if somebody knew.
SRM: When do you think this will be resolved?
KP: How about six weeks ago? [Laughs] That’s when I thought it would be resolved. I just find it sad, on one level, because somebody doesn’t take the census serious enough to recognize that leadership matters. And leadership does matter. It’s June, for heaven sakes. It’s already too late to improve some things, but it’s going to get increasingly too late to improve anything. And the poor Census Bureau is going to get beaten up for something it didn’t have any say-so in. At the end of the day, nobody’s going to remember that you didn’t have a director [currently there is an acting director] for a year and a half, going on two years. But there was also a long period before Murdoch [Stephen Murdoch, Census Director during the last year of the Bush administration] was appointed and confirmed. That’s a slight exaggeration because the deputy census director had been basically eased out (forced into retirement) and the then-census director Louis Kincannon had said that he would resign. However, he said that he would stay on until a replacement was in place, but once he decided to announce that he would resign, it obviously created a lame duck situation. So it was obviously very difficult for the Census Bureau to move during that period. And it took the Bush Administration a year to find Murdoch and then another six months to get him confirmed, so in that sense there was an 18 month period when you were expecting to have a director and you didn’t have one. Louis was still there for much of it. He’s a very first rate man and a very effective guy but he had already announced that he was leaving, so in terms of planning the decennial, there wasn’t a whole lot that Louis could be doing.
SRM: As we’re now talking about the Census Bureau in the early and mid 2000s, what happened to the 2010 Census? Where did things go wrong? What are your thoughts?
KP: Hermann Habermann, who Louis Kincannon appointed when he was became Director, was a very talented and important Deputy Director (of the Census Bureau). Hermann and Louis both had deep experience within the Census Bureau and both had gone on to do other kinds of things. Louis had gone on to OECD (?) and Hermann had gone on to the United Nations Fiscal Program, so they were real, major professionals and were running, I think, a very good operation. And this is now back in 02, 03, 04. Then there were some money problems, some serious money problems. Not money problems in terms of the Census Bureau’s budget, but it got held up, there were continued resolutions. It had nothing to do with the Census Bureau, they just got chewed up in the process, which meant that there was a period, and I don’t have that period in my mind, but a period in the mid-decade, when they couldn’t actually plan seriously for the decennial, because they didn’t know how much money they were going to have. They didn’t have the kind of money in that year, for example, to do the kind of planning they needed to do. They were really being squeezed financially. Then, after the ’06 election, Hermann was basically eased out by the Commerce Department.
SRM: What does that mean exactly?
KP: He was told that he would be reassigned from being deputy director of the Census Bureau to some other job in the Commerce Department, which was not one he wanted, so in that sense he wasn’t going to be what he thought he was, which was Deputy Director of the Census Bureau. So, that was when Louis Kincannon said “If I can’t have my own Deputy Director, then I myself will resign.” So that’s in ’06 and that was done by the [Bush] Administration for whatever its reasons were. I know what the public reasons were, but I don’t think they were the real reasons.
SRM: What were those reasons?
KP: The public reason was that there had been a laptop issue, and they blamed Hermann for that laptop issue. There were stolen laptops. Look, the proportion of stolen laptops at the Census Bureau that went missing were a tiny percentage of what some other agencies were experiencing. And Hermann was a very responsible civil servant, and when the word came out that he had to let us know what the laptop situation was under the law, blah, blah, blah, he answered forthrightly and quickly, so the Census Bureau took the hit, and for whatever reason they decided to blame him. Ok, now I’m getting all of this back in my mind. So Hermann then leaves and Jay Waite becomes Deputy Director, so essentially Jay Waite was running the decennial census during that time. It was then in that period, then, this is in 06, after the mid-term, when they begin to run into troubles with the handhelds. As I said, Hermann was first-rate and he was managing the contracts. So, they didn’t really have anyone to be managing those contracts, and Jay Waite, who is a very talented man on some operations, he just wasn’t attuned to some of the issues that could come up with the handheld situation, so that one got out of hand.
SRM: So who’s fault was this? Who’s fault was this whole handheld computer debacle?
KP: The Department of Commerce. This is why I think it needs to be an independent agency. They weren’t paying attention to the Census Bureau during the intermediate years. That’s always true. That’s why it has to be independent. Look, who is to blame? That’s a Washington question. Structures are some times to blame, not people. I mean, you can create a structure which makes carrying out a certain task very difficult, not in order to carry that task out, in order to do something else, but the result is unintended consequences. The unintended consequence of getting Hermann Habermann out of the Deputy Director position in those years was not having anyone pay attention to the handheld debacle. The fact that Hermann Habermann was removed on not a very good charge contributed to the fact that nobody was paying attention to the contract, the Harris contract [the $600 million debacle to create handheld computers for the 2010 Census], at the level of detail he needed to be paying attention to for about a year.
SRM: There were reports by the Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and they all said over and over again that the 2010 Census was a very high risk situation. It seems like even after these reports came out that there were opportunities to correct these errors, but nobody listened this advice. Again, who is to blame? Why did this happen? What is the root of these failures?
KP: Well, I don’t know. Whoever it was that doesn’t want Bob Groves…I’m not trying to find somebody to blame. I’m trying to say, what is the situation that leads to these kind of outcomes? All of this starts during the mid-term elections in 06. You had a quasi-leaderless situation in 06-07. Then, you get the handheld fiasco, whatever you want to call it. Then the Secretary of Commerce and the Commerce Department tries to put something together in an emergency situation. But then with Steve Murdoch in the Directorship position, but then there’s an election in 08. But because there’s not a term appointment [for the Census Director], Murdoch is clearly not going to go, so it’s now…
SRM: What are your thoughts on Murdoch and his leadership?
KP: Steve was in a difficult position, because if he had a five-year term, he could have run the Bureau differently than if you think you’re going to be there for a year. That’s why this fixed term really does matter. So the Census Bureau gets jerked around, starting in 06, first by the administration, and then by Congress not acting, and then on budgetary issues and so forth. And suddenly you’re walking up to 2010 and you’ve gone almost four years without a permanent, solid, leadership team in place to do the decennial, because the person who was doing it, Jay Waite, also leaves, and I won’t blame anybody, but he leaves. Murdoch leaves because he had to. Tom Mesenbourg [current acting director of the Census Bureau] who I have a great deal of respect for, a very talented man, becomes Acting Director, but he had never done a decennial, so he’s got to learn on the job. He’s doing a first-rate job of learning on the job, but he had never done a decennial. So you have an agency that no one is actually paying attention to until there’s a problem, and then there’s a lot of rushing around and looking for quote on quote, someone to blame. And now, we’re perpetuating it by letting Bob Groves sit around at his apartment in Washington instead of running the Census Bureau.
SRM: So Bob’s not even going into the office yet?
KP: He can’t. He technically can’t.
SRM: There was a Field Data Collection Automation Task Force, known as the FDCA Task Force, and they made another report to Carlos Gutierrez (Secretary of Commerce) in early 2008 with recommendations on how to improve the collection of field data. What has been done since early 2008, for over a year now?
KP: If that’s the task force I’m thinking of, then I was on it. Our only job was to advise Gutierrez on what to do regarding the handheld computers. And that was the task force that said “Keep them for address canvassing but don’t use them for non-response follow-up. So in that sense, it was acted upon.
SRM: Do you think that it’s surprising that here we are, in the year 2009, and we’re conducting the 2010 Census without using technology for all parts of the operation?
KP: Let me put it as follows. I think the Census Bureau has been a technical innovator, certainly since the start of the 20th Century. After all, it was the first agency to use the Hollerith Card, the old punch card which was married to an adding machine which became IBM. It invented sampling theory in the 1930s. It was the first federal agency to use a major mainframe in the 1950s. It was extremely adept in 2000 in doing intelligent character recognition and data capture using very, very high-tech processes. And I think you can say about 2010, that it was technically innovative in using the handhelds in address canvassing. Who’s to say that they had to use handhelds for non-response follow-up? So, they have been technologically innovative once again, with respect to GPS and address canvassing. I don’t know the results yet, but I hope we’ve come out of this with a much better address list than we had in 2000. We won’t know until we start in the field, but at least one has reason to think it is. So, I think it has been technologically innovative. The fact that you didn’t take the extra step for non-response follow-up doesn’t mean that it’s been technologically stagnant.
SRM: But do these handheld computer devices from the Harris Corporation even work properly? And were they designed properly?
KP: Well, that I’m not in the position to judge. They’re doing quality studies on that right now.
SRM: Do you think that Harris Corp. is a worthy company to receive these contracts?
KP: I need to see how well the devices work. Anybody who gives you an opinion on that is doing it before the data are in.
SRM: I don’t know if you’ve read on MyTwoCensus.com and other blogs, where people have complained about the functionality of these devices.
KP: When you payroll 140,000 people, it’s not hard to find people who are disgruntled. And I’m not saying they’re wrong. I actually talked to people who did the address canvassing work, people I know extremely well, people who had no reason whatsoever not to tell me what was going on, and they had some problems, but they are convinced that they ended the process by producing a much better address list then when they went into it. And that’s the test. Of course there’s always somebody saying “this didn’t work” or “that didn’t work.” But the test is, do we have a better address list? And that’s quality control judgment. I’m not trying to slam your website (MyTwoCensus.com) but you have to appreciate that you are getting a self-selected group of correspondents. But I’m not passing judgment on you, and you shouldn’t pass judgment on the technology until the data are in. What I’m saying is that I don’t think the people who are writing to bloggers are the people producing systematic data.
SRM: I understand that. So, what are the greatest obstacles that remain for the 2010 Census operation?
KP: The old ones. They haven’t changed. One, you’ve got to start with a good address list. If it’s a good one, good. If it’s not, then you can’t have a good census because that’s your frame. And when you send non-response follow-up people, there’s that. Secondly, you’ve got to hope for a decent mail-back response rate, because the workload goes way up and the costs go way up if you don’t have a good mail back response rate. And we simply do not yet know what the response rate is because we haven’t done it yet. But if it’s not in the mid-60s, it’s going to be both budgetarily and operationally very difficult for the Census Bureau. And in 2000, we had expected to be in the low 60s, and we got into the mid to high 60s and that was an enormous boost, and we did it with a first-rate effort. And I think that the people running the advertising campaign right now and all of the outreach are very good professionals and I hope they are successful. But it’s up to the American people to do it. What can the Census Bureau do, other than put it in their mailboxes on schedule. And if they [the American people] don’t send it back in, they have to start knocking on the door. So there is the mail-back response rate and then there’s the willingness to cooperate in non-response follow up, and then there’s the startling problem of the enormous number of undocumented in the country, who will have every reason not to want to cooperate with the federal government.
SRM: What do you think about people like Rep. Michelle Bachmann, who last week, in an interview with The Washington Times, said that she refused to fill out the 2010 Census form?
KP: I think it’s seriously unfortunate when an elected official of the federal government says that I’m going to deliberately break the law. I don’t know what kind of signal she thinks that sends, but if she believes that’s a good signal, I’m sad for the country. She says, incorrectly, because she hasn’t read the law, that the only thing she needed to do is give the number of people who live in her household. If everyone in the country did that, you would have zero quality control. Zero, because you do quality control not only on how many there are, but is the family structure the way you told it is, is the racial composition, is the gender composition? You do quality control on all those other variables, and it means that you’re eliminating the capacity of the Census Bureau to do quality control. I think that it’s deeply, deeply, unfortunate that a member of Congress would, in effect, announce that, and invite other people who feel that way to say, “Well I don’t have to do it either.”
SRM: Do you think this has become a partisan issue?
KP: I have no idea. You asked me what I thought. It’s my opinion of her behavior. I don’t know her motivation.
SRM: Do you think that radio hosts and other prominent people questioning whether people should participate in the 2010 Census would turn this into a partisan issue?
KP: Everything can turn into a partisan issue. Honestly, I can tell you what the consequences are, but in terms of motivation, when you don’t know the people, I don’t know if it’s a partisan or non-partisan issue. I think it’s unfortunate for what it will do to the 2010 Census.
SRM: I’m sure the Mother Jones readers would be very interested in me asking about President Obama’s announcement on Friday, June 19 that gay marriage would now be able to be counted in the 2010 Census. What exactly does that mean and how exactly would that be done?
KP: Here I’m fairly confident that they have not worked out the exact operational procedures yet, because this was not expected when they were designing the questionnaire and designing the procedures, they did not think this was how they would be tabulating it. There isn’t a good answer to your question yet, or at least I haven’t seen it. Look, any time you are doing something with 300 million people, it’s not easy to get it right in different locales, however the question is worded on this now. Relationships in the household are on the short form.
SRM: Will the government be printing new forms now?
KP: No, it’s impossible. You can’t start reprinting new forms now. This stuff is already being printed. It takes a very long time and a lot of forward planning to run something of this magnitude. The idea of reprinting would probably be impossible.
SRM: So how would gay households know that they count?
KP: Well, that’s something that I can’t answer because I haven’t seen anything yet. There will be some serious effort by Census Bureau personnel to create an operational plan that will make it work. I think they will go about this very seriously to make sure there aren’t any errors in the data. They want to get it right. This is who they are and what they do.
SRM: I noticed that Steve Jost (political appointee and former Census Bureau communications director) is back at the Census Bureau, and he was one of your deputies during the Clinton administration. Are you bringing back many people who were formerly there during the a Clinton administration.
KP: Jost is probably the only one. Hundreds of people at the Census Bureau were there during the Clinton administration. The Census Bureau has about five thousand employees, and if they didn’t retire or die, then they were still there in 2000. In terms of political appointees, there’s only 4. The director, the communications director, Steve Jost, the legislative director, and I’m absolutely certain that the person I had as legislative director will not be coming back, and then there’s intergovernmental relations, who deals with governors and mayors, and I’m absolutely certain that person is not coming back. So I think Jost would be the only one.
SRM: What about you? What’s your actual title now?
SRM: Is that a part-time job?
KP: Certainly it’s a part-time job. Good gosh, I’ve got a real job. I’m just a consultant for the Census Bureau.
SRM: Are you the only person that has that title or do other people also have that title?
KP: I bet they have two or three hundred consultants out there doing different kind of work right now. You shouldn’t quote me on that number, but I imagine there’s a very large number of people doing some version of consulting work. You’ve got to imagine how big this is. For example, you may have a consultant who tells you how to make sure the trucks which are delivering the census forms to the data capture centers got an extra driver on April 13th to make sure they arrive on time. OR if they’re going to fingerprint everybody, you may have a consultant who tells you how to count a fingerprint to make sure this all runs smoothly and so forth. It’s big. If you’re going to payroll a million people, you may have consultants to make sure the payroll system is functioning. So don’t make my role something special.
SRM: You are the only person whose role as a consultant has been reported, that’s why I was asking.
KP: Okay, fair enough. Don’t quote me on the number, but I would be very surprised to find out that the number is a very large number of consultants, on all kinds of technical issues and so forth.
SRM: I know it’s early, but what will people say when they look back on the 2010 Census?
KP: I hope they say they pulled off a miracle [laughs].
SRM: Will you need a miracle at this point?
KP: That’s a quip, but I think it’s going to be very, very difficult to do this census in the current environment. That has nothing to do with the Census Bureau’s skill set. It has to do with the American people’s not wanting to be bothered, not answering their mail, not having phone lines anymore because they got cell phones, and the Census Bureau wants to do follow-up on the phone, and they can’t find phone number because they’ve only got the landline number. It has to do with the number of mobile people who would have changed houses between the time you did the address listing and when you knocked on the door. Houses will get torn down and houses will be built. The whole foreclosure crisis is a major crisis because whole hunks of the country are empty when they should be functioning neighborhoods. There are just a host of problems. And then there are the ones we can’t predict. Who knows? Natural disasters, strikes, I can’t tell you what’s going to happen. I know it’s going to be difficult, it’s always difficult to do a serious census. In this current economic and political and general cultural circumstances. Let me ask you a question. Let’s say there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in this country. What percentage of those people do you think will mail a questionnaire back in?
KP: Whatever it is, it’ a low number. So let us say it’s 50%. That’s a 3% undercount before you start. Let us say it’s 25%, then you’ve got an even bigger undercount before you’ve even started.
SRM: So that’s what explains the need for the use of statistical sampling?
KP: That’s one of the reasons we were going to use it, but we can’t. So that just means that you’re doing a census knowing that you are going to miss a very significant proportion of the American population. And you’re obligated to count everyone, that’s just an uphill battle.
SRM: I really appreciate this conversation, and I definitely learned quite a bit. Thank you very much.
KP: It will only get more interesting.
SRM: I hope we can speak again soon. Thank you, goodbye.
The 2010 Census has already been front-page news, igniting angry partisan controversies involving Cabinet nominees, potential third-party contractors and even statistical methodology. Little attention has been paid, however, to the Congressional redistricting that will follow and to the abuses that have become inherent in the process.
In dozens of states across the country, politicians will quite literally be sitting down to select their constituents instead of the other way around. And those constituents will be stuck with those decisions for a decade. This is not the democracy that is taught in civics classes across this great nation.
With that process once again so close at hand, it is more urgent than ever that the American people demand that Congress fix this broken system and curb the abuses of gerrymandering that engineer predetermined political outcomes.
Each state has the authority and responsibility to design a Congressional district map that will best serve its citizens, drawn according to population, geography and federal voting rights laws, including the Voting Rights Act. We share the view of many that these district lines should not, however, be drawn to benefit certain candidates or political parties.
We will introduce legislation this week to reform the redistricting process. The Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act would limit redistricting to once a decade, after census data is available, to be carried out by an independent commission made up of bipartisan appointees. Our legislation will be similar to legislation originally proposed in the 109th Congress and that we sponsored in the 110th Congress.
It will not be easy to convince our colleagues to reform a process that often helps ensure their re-election. The push, therefore, must come from outside organizations and grass-roots approaches. Americans for Redistricting Reform and the groups in it, including the League of Women Voters, the Brennan Center for Justice, U.S. PIRG, the Committee for Economic Development, the Campaign Legal Center and the Republican Main Street Partnership, are strong advocates for fixing our broken system. Other organizations from across the political spectrum have joined us in this fight and will continue to decry the implications of a broken system.
Our Founding Fathers wisely knew the American people needed a legislative body directly responsive to their interests. By their vision, the House of Representatives was to be the only federal entity elected directly by the people (Senators were originally selected by state legislatures). They designed the House’s two-year election cycle to make Members directly and immediately accountable to the electorate.
Over time, however, many involved in the system have learned to manipulate it. Gerrymandered district lines, in effect, silence the voices of those who disagree with them politically. Too often, the process today utilizes advanced mapping technology, along with polling and party affiliation data, to draw district lines that protect incumbents and weaken the voice of each district’s minority party.
The judicial system has effectively sanctioned this culture of gerrymandering with various rulings permitting blatant partisan power grabs. A 2006 Supreme Court ruling essentially gave state legislatures freedom to redistrict anytime they want — even in the middle of a decade — for whatever purpose they want, including pure political gain.
Currently districts are engineered with impunity to protect incumbents, with voters’ voices diluted as they are packed together to achieve partisan ends. The resulting preordained outcome feeds citizen apathy, drives down voter turnout, depresses competition and entrenches incumbents who are protected from real competition and real accountability at the polls. The only serious challenges to these “safe seats” come from the extreme wings of their own parties, only serving to further polarize Congress.
Under this system, many Members of Congress are more beholden to a partisan base than to solution-oriented pragmatism. The outcome is a polarized political atmosphere where few are willing to work together in the political center, where most Americans reside.
Unfortunately, the public outrage that is still mustered over partisan gerrymanders builds and crests as the voters are divvied up by politicians every 10 years. By the time the next census comes along, the public, and even the media, is not paying much attention until it is too late.
America’s disaffected voters have been missing from this movement to reform the process, but their voices will be necessary to change the system. Most Americans today do not realize the negative impact many years of gerrymandering has had on Congress’ ability to accomplish the nation’s common goals.
Even as we face the greatest economic challenges most Americans have ever lived through, polarization and gridlock brought on by gerrymandering has limited Congress’ ability to address the issues with effectiveness, common sense and bipartisanship. The time to act is now, before the next election (the last before the census) is upon us and it is too late. We are asking our colleagues, our allies and the American people to help us to rectify this grave miscarriage of democracy.
In America’s last decennial headcount, Utah was 800 citizens short of gaining a 4th seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. One major factor: Many Mormons from Utah spend time overseas as missionaries and weren’t counted in the 2000 Census. The Salt Lake Tribune reports how that might change this year:
The State Department would be required to team with the Census Bureau to study the best ways to count Americans living oversees under an amendment offered Wednesday by Utah Rep. Jim Matheson.
The House approved Matheson’s amendment on a voice vote, adding it to a State Department budget bill that will now go before the Senate.
The amendment is in reaction to the 2000 census when Utah came about 800 people shy of gaining a fourth U.S. House seat. But the census didn’t count Mormon missionaries in foreign countries, a bone of contention with Utah officials who unsuccessfully sued.
“It is unfair to Utah that the Census Bureau does not count LDS missionaries living overseas,” Matheson said in a statement. “My amendment will put Utah on a path to ultimately get the full representation it deserves.”
The amendment requires the secretary of state, attorney general and the Census Bureau to explore using passports to help overseas Americans vote in elections and be counted in the census, then report back to Congress. The amendment doesn’t set a deadline, making it unclear whether it would have any impact on the upcoming 2010 census, which is far along in the planning stages.
Regardless, Utah is expected to gain at least one House seat once the population figures are tabulated.
Peter King, a long-time GOP Congressman from Long Island, New York, is now the target of Democrats’ redistricting efforts that will take effect in 2012 after the results of the 2010 Census is complete. The New York Post’s Elizabeth Benjamin reports on the story:
Democrats eyeing Peter King’s district for possible 2012 gains
Monday, June 1st 2009, 4:00 AM
Democrats have Pete King in the cross hairs.
The next round of redistricting, in which the congressional lines will be reconfigured based on the 2010 census results, is more than two years away.
Still, Democrats are planning an overhaul of King’s district in hopes of making him easier to beat in 2012.
Democrats have tried unsuccessfully to get rid of King for years.
The outspoken conservative, who was first elected to the House in 1992, has emerged as one of the most visible – and viable – members of the beleaguered state GOP and is often touted as a potential statewide contender.
“It’s an obvious choice because of the population of the area,” he said.
Long Island was once a Republican stronghold, but it has been trending Democratic since the last census.
The number of Democrats has grown faster since the last redistricting, with 16,843 voters added to their ranks since 2001, compared with the Republicans’ 1,336.
King isn’t concerned about being on the Democratic hit list.
“This is dream talk,” he said. “It’s three years from now. I don’t know if I’ll even be alive.”
King, 65, has at times flirted with seeking a statewide office. He ran unsuccessfully for attorney general in 1986 and has been mentioned as a possible candidate for governor or even U.S. senator.
He said he’ll make a decision by Labor Day, but sounds all but certain to seek reelection for his House seat.
New York’s upstate population loss has caused the state to grow more slowly compared with other states.
As a result, it has consistently lost House seats and is poised to lose at least one, and possibly two, in the next redistricting.
The Democrats‘ ability to control redistricting hinges on whether they hold onto the Senate majority next fall.
New York’s House members are increasingly worried that Paterson, with his historically low poll numbers, will drag down the 2010 ticket, returning the state Senate to the GOP.
“If this was 2014, [Paterson] would be able to ride it out,” a congressional source said. “But never underestimate the power of self-interest of members of Congress with redistricting looming.”
One of the many after-effects of the 2010 Census, in addition to funding changes, is redistricting. Thus, both major political parties will be jockeying to ensure that the redistricting process favors their interests. Yesterday, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele called upon Tennessee native John Ryder to spearhead the Republican Party’s redistricting efforts. Here’s the article from the Memphis Flyer about the appointment:
Memphis lawyer John Ryder, who has served as Republican National Committeeman from Tennessee for most of the last two decades, has been named by RNC chairman Michael Steele to chair the party’s national redistricting committee.
Ryder has been the lynchpin of the state Republicans’ redistricting efforts after each of the last two census revisions — in the periods 1989-1994 and 1999-2003 and was instrumental in the party’s deliberatons as far back as 1976.
More than a decade ago, then state Republican chairman Randle Richardson bragged on Ryder’s redistricting expertise during an address to the Shelby County Republican Party steering committee and quipped, “That’s his idea of good sex!” (The modest and somewhat embarrassed Ryder would later contradict that metaphor, claiming propensities that were normal and red-blooded, but Richardson’s remark did summarize the Memphian’s zeal for a subject that many others considered esoteric and difficult.)
Said Steele in announcing the appointment: “I am proud to announce the appointment of John Ryder to this Republican National Committee leadership post. John has been a tireless advocate of Republican principles both in the state of Tennessee and across the country and I look forward to working with him to prepare state parties for redistricting efforts following the 2010 national census.”
Below, check out The Palm Beach Herald’s editorial about putting an end to gerrymandering in the Sunshine State:
Monday, April 27, 2009
Time to end gerrymandering
Last November in Florida, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 650,000, Barack Obama got a record number of votes, but Republicans easily held their ironclad majority in the Legislature. In fact, only one incumbent state lawmaker lost in 2008.
How, you ask? The answer is gerrymandering.
Every 10 years, following the Census, state legislators must adjust the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts. The party in power invariably does so with an eye toward immunizing itself against competitive reelections for the next decade. The next round of redistricting is slated for 2011-12, but voters can reclaim their voice by placing the FairDistrictsFlorida.org constitutional amendment on the 2010 ballot and then passing it.
The amendment would prohibit districts from being “drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.” It would ensure that districts are not drawn to disenfranchise racial or language minorities. Districts would have to follow existing political and geographical boundaries when possible.
Not surprisingly, the only organized opposition to this proposal has come from members of the Legislature. Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, suggested that redistricting reform would give judges too much power over legislators, and that “elected officials are more responsive” to voters. But redistricting rules only have made legislators less beholden to the public. Sen. Haridopolos is in line to lead the next redistricting effort.
The FairDistrictsFlorida.org amendment needs approximately 676,000 signatures to qualify for the 2010 ballot. Ask yourself: should voters pick their elected officials, or should elected officials pick their voters?