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Second: get the politicians out of the mapping process. If politicians want to have input, let them testify at public hearings—just because they've been elected to government doesn't mean they're no longer citizens like the rest of us. Remove them and I'm fine with a number of possible remedies—special masters, retired judges, independent commissions, administrative services agencies. Let each state look to their own traditions, priorities and specificities and decide what they'd like best.
People might not always feel like they live in a "good" district in terms of the representation they're receiving, but if they're more involved in the product and the politicians are put on the same playing field, at least they'll feel the maps were arrived at by something like a fair process. I think that could go a long way towards rebuilding trust in our democratic institutions.
The film is avowedly nonpartisan in its choice of talking heads and case studies—I can see why, hopefully it'll inspire more active citizenship across the political spectrum. But are there any political conclusions we ought to draw from the subject? Surely a system designed to preserve power will have some demographic consequences. Would you venture to say that the cost of gerrymandering is, in the aggregate, higher for any one group of voters than others?
I think minority communities usually bear the brunt of the negative effects of gerrymandering. There are certain protections in place via the Voting Rights Act, but those standards really only help communities of such a size that they could control the destiny of a Congressional district. I worry more about small, emergent communities—those that are large enough that they could influence the representation in a district, but not large enough that they could elect the candidate of their choice without help. Those communities—Asian-American, Latino, especially—are often carved into pieces so that incumbents can protect themselves.
This is perhaps a somewhat disingenuous question, but: Watching Arnold Schwarzenegger, who with his money and connections was able to organize a recall vote to have himself installed as Governor of California, talk about the necessity for more democracy while stumping for the Prop 11 redistricting reform recommendation, I wondered, is it possible the Founding Fathers were on to something with their distrust of a pure democracy? We see, in the Yes on Prop 11 ad, that the California Chamber of Commerce was in favor of redistricting reform—presumably because more competitive races means more opportunities for the wealthy to buy influence (especially now, post-Citizens United). Is gerrymandering one way of insulating government from an electorate that's often irrationally mistrusful of it?
Direct democracy is kind of a scary thing! Imagine if every American citizen had to vote on every piece of legislation put into the Congress. It'd be a disaster. There's a certain elegance to our system now, but I think that particular elegance belies a host of inequities roiling under the surface. Our system is the product of very specific historical circumstances but our current historical circumstance is extremely different from that earlier moment. Our democracy needs a tune up, and updating redistricting is a good place to start. Maybe if we get that done, we can think about moving on to other democratic models entirely.