The Reform Michigan Government Now (RMGN) plan is filled with all sorts of unintended consequences. The last post spoke of the 50 percent solution that actually shrinks Democratic representation, today we need to look at how the redistricting will actually take place. That is, how does RMGN envision effecting this 50/50 split in representation. Is it really non-partisan? Will their plan reduce partisanship?
Well, let’s start by saying I have my doubts.
The RMGN Structure
The revamped Legislature would consist of 82 seats, split evenly between the parties, according to their base vote caluculation. In terms of size, districts have to be with in +/- 2.5 percent, a range of roughly 87,300 to 91,800. Of these districts a minimum of 18 would be designated as Swing Districts — those seats where a party’s advantage is less than 53%. Swing Districts are required to be balanced numerically, so if the D gets 10, the R gets 10
The idea is pretty clear: create a system where perhaps a quarter of all races would be competitive, and no party would have an intrinsic advantage in the Legislature (even if, as we’ve seen, one party actually has an advantage in the population.)
The shape and size of these districts would be determined by a 9 member commission, with a 4D/4R/1N split.
All this sounds like straight-forward good-government (goo-goo) policy-making? So the question arises: Could you game this system? It may pay to be suspicious
Can you say mischief?
Trouble (or is it fun?) begins with the removal of the redistricting plan from judicial oversight. State judges will have no say, only the federal (and that obviously for Voting Rights Act violations) — any action of the commission can not be challenged.
The redistricting process pitches over the Apol Standards (compact districts, minimizing the crossing of political boundaries. The redistrict process starts with the Voting Rights Act, then the distribution of Swing Districts, then by “communities” and then (only then) by keeping districts compact.
Of course, the commission has to make its decision with a 6-member majority — one member from the other party must go along. And if not? Our last piece of mischief:
Rival plans are decided by lot. And remember, the results cannot be appealed.
The Game’s On.
The above circumstance sets up an opportunity for games playing that rather than reduce partisanship, is almost certain to increase it. To understand, consider this with some basic game theory:
- Both sides create a neutral plan — the Public wins, and we get competitive races. For the party this is a so-so outcome.
- One side creates a neutral plan, the other side creates a partisan plan. The odds of winning are 50-50, but if the partisan plan is the one randomly chosen, the party wins big. Ask yourself, would you gamble all on a 50 percent chance of winning?
- Both sides create partisan plans. The public of course loses, but at least one party walks away happy
Rationally, both parties then would opt for a defensive move, insisting on partisan discipline on the commission, and proposing plans that would fundamentally advantage them in the redistricting. The optimal win would be to create Swing Districts where your party has 53% minus one, and the other side has 50% plus one.
One last word of caution: under redistricting Oakland and Macomb Counties would send 16-17 to the legislature — virtually the entire 18 swing district minimum. Outstate counties like Kent would not only lose representation, but for Democrats, it would almost certainly come at their expense.
So again, who exactly are these people who want to play this game?