Now that’s polarization

Take a look at Boris Shor’s chart, posted at Fivethirtyeight by Andrew Gelman, showing the distribution of Republicans and Democrats on the left-right scale in each state’s legislature.

At the bottom of the chart is California. In no state are Democrats more to the left, Republicans more to the right, or the gap between the two greater. That’s polarization.

I wonder how much is simple difference of the parties’ social bases in such a diverse state, and how much is driven by the minority-veto provisions of the state constitution.

Reformist and reactionary ideas

The LA Times has a list of some proposals for changing how California is governed. Some of them are modern and reformist, even democratizing and citizen-empowering–such as those that have been discussed in the previous thread (now up over 100 comments!) and are supported by newer businesses such as Yahoo and Google. Others are reactionary, such as a part-time legislature or requiring referenda on tax increases, supported by the usual-suspect organizations that are always out for more upward wealth distribution and other means of destroying the commons.

In related matters, this week the Regents of the University of California are meeting, and expected to enact proposals that cave in to the tyranny of the minority that seeks to eviscerate one of the last great public goods this state provides for its people. In fact, the Regents have already granted, unanimously, the UC President the emergency decree powers he needs to impose his draconian fiscal squeeze.

These are critical times for California.

So, it is OK for a “majority” to take away rights

Shame on the California Supreme Court for, by a 6-1 vote, caving. This ruling was entirely expected, of course. It was probably even constitutionally correct, which only reinforces the need we have been discussing for an entirely new constitution.

While the argument that the reversal of a Court-granted right contained in Proposition 8 amounted to a a “revision” rather than an amendment to the constitution always seemed a stretch, its failure to convince the Court reveals the deeper problem: under what model of “good government” can a majority of voters (which might be a quarter or so of registered voters) trump the highest court of the jurisdiction when the issue at hand involves the rights of minority groups?*

There was a time when this state had a reasonably well deserved reputation as progressive. Now it has fallen behind various New England states and Iowa in the most important civil rights issue of the 21st century so far. Indeed, although the Court claims that those marriages performed in the brief era between the first Court ruling and Prop. 8 remain legal, in fact they have been placed in an illogical second-class, and hence potentially vulnerable, position.

* Whereas it takes a two-thirds vote of the legislature to pass a budget.

Now what?

The voters of California, in their wisdom anger, have turned down the ‘Budget Stabilization‘ measure, giving it barely over one third of the vote. The other measures failed by similar wide margins. Except for the stupid one, which of course passed, with nearly three fourths of the vote.

Now what?

The F-word* has been tossed around a lot at faculty discussions.

I suppose we are about to see what emergency powers the Governator has, because an emergency is what the state faces.

One final note: When my wife and I went to vote, about an hour before polls closed, a poll worker actually was excited to see us. He said to his colleagues, actual voters!

* Furloughs.

A very unspecial election

Well, it is almost here. The ‘special’ election that is anything but. A slew of statewide measures that “have to” pass, but probably won’t. Actually, one probably will, and it is the one that shouldn’t: 1F, which docks legislators’ pay during deficits–as though it was politicians’ personal, even venal, motivations that got us into this mess. Rather than, say, their electoral motivations and the constitution’s minority-veto constraints.

This is an election I would like to sit out. But under almost any scenario I can see, the consequences of defeat (especially of 1A) are far worse than this compromise package, negotiated by the Republican Governor, the Democratic legislative majorities, and the few Republican legislators who finally relented from their party’s no-deal-at-any-costs strategy. So duty calls me to the polls. Ugh.

OK, let’s go back to thinking about how the state could be reformed into an actual democracy.

Electoral reform in California

I am responding to popular pressures and opening up the ‘seedbed’ for ideas on electoral reform in California.

Bob points us towards a proposal from the New America Foundation for MMP* in a 360-seat unicameral legislature.

I’ll see how the comments grow and perhaps weigh in as time permits.

* Or “Personalized Full Representation”–ugh on the name, but hooray for the idea!

Justices will hear Prop 8 challenge

The California Supreme Court has granted a hearing on the challenges to Prop 8, which eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Four of the seven justices voted with the majority in the original ruling overturning the state’s previous voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage. Of these four, one voted against yesterday’s 6-1 decision to grant a review of the challenges to Prop. 8. In other words, of the six to vote to grant a review, half were in the previous ruling’s minority. That breakdown of the votes for further review is probably not good news to proponents of equal marriage rights. We won’t know till well into next year, as the hearing is scheduled for March.

Will state justices hear arguments against Prop. 8?

Some signs suggest the State Supreme Court will grant a review of Proposition 8, which took away the right the same court granted earlier this year for same-sex couples of marry.

The case petitioners are seeking to argue before the court is that the proposition amounts to a “revision” rather than an “amendment” to the state constitution, because it strips a fundamental right. I am no legal scholar, so I won’t pretend to assess the legal value of that argument. However, with the decision so recent, and 4-3, and with California justices subject to periodic retention elections (and potentially subject to a recall-election petition), I would not put good money on their being willing to insist on their earlier decision and overturn the measure.

Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has said he believes courts should allow same-sex marriages.

And then there will also be the legal question–if Prop. 8 is not overturned–of whether the marriages performed between the time of the Court’s ruling in spring and the fall election would remain valid.

Yet another interesting angle is that the state’s Attorney General, Jerry Brown, is a proponent of inclusive marriage rights, but his job title would require him to defend the state’s newly enacted constitutional amendment stripping that right if it comes before the court.

California’s uncompetitive districts

It is really hard to over-state just how uncompetitive California’s single-seat legislative districts are.

Here are some stats (calculated by me from the LA Times day-after report, so don’t consider them “official”):

State Assembly (80 districts)
68.59% mean winner’s share
7 (8.8%) uncontested (i.e.winner with 100%)
65.10% mean winner’s share in contested seats
12 (15.0%) won with 55% or less
1 won by less than 50% ((District 10, an open seat in the Sacramento area, apparently won by Republican Jack Sieglock (70,161 votes, 46.92%) over Democrat Allyson Huber (69,136 votes, 49.23%). Libertarian Janice Bonser won around 7%. This one has subsequently narrowed and is not yet called.))
51 (63.4%) won by the Democrat

State delegation to US House (53 districts)
71.06% mean winner’s share
7 (13.2%) uncontested
66.77% mean winner’s share in contested seats
6 (11.3%) won with 55% or less
1 won by under 50% ((And two more with less than 50.1%. The one sub-majority winner would be in District 3 northeast of Sacramento, where Republican Dan Lungren was reelected (117,609 votes, 49%) over Democrat William Dunston (105,288, 44%). An independent won 4% and a Libertarian 2%.))
35 (66.04%) won by the Democrat

State Senate (20 of 40 districts up this year)
64.45% mean winner’s share
none uncontested
4 won with 55% or less
0 won with under 50% (but one at 50.02%)
12 (60%) won by the Democrat

That’s uncompetitive! And unrepresentative: I do not know what the Democrats’ statewide vote was–these sorts of things are largely secret in American democracy–but it wasn’t 66%, or even 60%.

With the outcome of Prop. 11, which would create an “independent” commission to redraw district lines for the Assembly and state Senate, still uncertain (but most likely approved), can anyone convincingly argue that it is possible for an “independent” commission to improve this situation significantly? I have my doubts…

Evidently the footnotes plug-in is not working well with the new Word Press software. Sometimes the footnotes do not appear at all. Sometimes they appear, but with “aa” for each footnote marker, instead of numbers. Sorry; I might be able to fix it–one of these days.

High Speed Rail passed

California Proposition 1A on last week’s ballot passed, 52.2% to 47.8%. This measure allows the state to sell bonds to finance a high-speed rail system. Good news!

If one compares the map of counties in which the measure won or lost with the route map (cool graphics there!), one finds only a loose correlation. Sure, the measure won in the big population centers that would be connected by the rail system (those in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles County). It also won in Kern and Fresno Counties (Bakersfield and Fresno, Central Valley population centers, would have stops), and a few other counties along the route. However, it much of the rest of the Central Valley (including the counties where Sacramento and Modesto, which would have stops, are located), while passing in some locales quite distant from the route (e.g. Mendocino, Monterey, and Santa Barbara). The biggest percentage win was in Modoc County, about as far from any proposed station as one could be and still be in the state. It lost, 52-48, here in San Diego County, which would be on an eventual extension (running close to Ladera Frutal!), but not the preliminary route.

Despite the passage of the bonds, this system is still a long way from being built. But it is a step in the right direction.

Meanwhile, Rip notes that, elsewhere in the country, “It was a big day for many Rail Commuter and Transit Agencies last Tuesday.”

California ballot trivia

I thought I’d offer a little California presidential ballot trivia before the election recedes too far into our memories (and what memories those will be!).

I have noted before how we had such a strong field of minor-party candidates, based on purely objective criteria (name recognition, prior electoral experience, etc.). The field included two former congressmen (former Republican Bob Barr as the Libertarian candidate and former Democrat Cynthia McKinney as the Green candidate) as well as Ralph Nader (here as the Peace and Freedom Party candidate; in most states he is running as an independent).

I did not realize till a few days before the election that we also have Alan Keyes on the ballot. I don’t know if that makes the field stronger still or not, but Keyes certainly is well known. He has sought the Republican nomination in the past.

Further, this marks the second time Keyes and Obama have faced each other. Keyes was the Republican Party’s late “desperation” candidate drafted to run against Obama in his Senate bid in 2004.

Keyes is the candidate of the American Independent Party in California. Normally, I believe this party nominates the same presidential candidate as the Constitution Party. The Constitution Party’s candidate–who is not on this state’s ballot–is Chuck Baldwin, who earlier had received the endorsement of Ron Paul.

Best of all, Alan Keyes is also invoking Joe the Plumber! (Well, you will have to take my word for it; the reference to JTP is now gone from the site.)

Of course, this field also means that three of the six tickets are headed by an African-American.

And, the results for this “strong” field of third-party/independent candidates:

    Alan Keyes (AI) 30,586 0.3%
    Cynthia McKinney (Grn) 28,431 0.2%
    Bob Barr (Lib) 51,096 0.5%
    Ralph Nader (P&F) 80,993 0.8%

A lot of good their prior electoral experience and/or name recognition did them!

California’s redistricting measure: Prop. 11

Once again Californians are being asked at this election, in Proposition 11, whether we want to establish an “independent” commission to redraw legislative district boundaries after each national census. Notwithstanding that this measure is closer than the other 11 propositions on the statewide ballot to my own field of research, I remained undecided on it until today (whereas a decision on most of the others was immediately obvious).

I have decided to vote no, but it is not a decision I make with good feeling, as there are many positive things about the measure. And much wrong with the status quo.

As an advocate of reform away from plurality, I have a difficult time getting excited about tinkering within the framework of a plurality system. That we are debating, in 2008, whether to take drawing of district boundaries out of the hands of self-interested elected legislators, shows how far we have not come in democratic electoral politics.

from Maine westward to the Pacific Ocean, in the last ten years, in no state whatever had there been an honest and fair district apportionment bill passed for the election of members of Congress [except] where two branches of a legislature were divided in political opinion, and one checked the other.

That quotation is from Henry Droop, a passionate advocate of reforms away from plurality, and specifically of the single transferable vote. He wrote those words in 1869. Here we are in 2008, and the words still ring true, other than their needing to be amended by a recognition that in modern times divided partisan control has often resulted in an arguably even worse outcome: the bipartisan incumbent-protection racket, rather than an “honest and fair” bill.

Reforms to put map-drawing in the hands of “independent” agencies were adopted long ago in most plurality jurisdictions. But here we are, still debating it. And here I am, unable to vote for the measure.

There are actually several items in the measure’s favor. First is the obvious fact that legislators’ drawing legislative district lines is a conflict of interest, which we the people should take away. It is a clear “good government” reform. Also arguing in favor is a pragmatic reformer’s long-run view: Progress towards proportional representation (of whatever form) is unlikely so long as there is a claim to be made, such as is made by the proponents of Prop 11, that redistricting reform will result in a more responsive legislature with fewer ‘safe’ members. I suspect that the movement in that direction, while likely positive, is unlikely to be substantial. Maybe the PR movement needs a period of time for discontent about the impact of ‘fair districting’ to sink in before the public will be open to real reform.

Yet another argument in favor of this specific measure is that, unlike past proposals, this one does not include the state’s House of Representatives districts within the purview of the proposed redistricting commission. Of course, I would favor the drawing of House districts on independent criteria, rather than by state legislators–if we must keep plurality election of the House. However, I am not an advocate of unilateral partisan disarmament. A move to independent redistricting in one large and Democratic-dominated state without simultaneous moves by some significant Republican-dominated states risks the future partisan balance of the House. Thus redistricting reform in the House presumably should be done via constitutional amendment or an interstate compact (on the model of the National Popular Vote for the presidency).

The specific measure has some major problems, however. It has an extremely complex procedure designed to keep it free of partisan influence, yet at the same time it allows the leaders of the two major parties in Sacramento to strike names from the short list of candidates for commissioner. ((The text of Prop. 11 may be downloaded from the California Secretary of State‘s Office.))

The commission would be comprised of 14 members, five from each of the two largest parties (based on voter registration) and four who are not registered with either of the two largest parties. Right there, that alone is almost a deal-breaker for me: it entrenches a role in election district-drawing for two parties, not even allowing for the possibility that a third party might one day win a seat or two. If such a party did win a seat or two, this commission would find it easier than a genuinely independent agency to gerrymander the third-party districts out of existence.

The Commission would be granted funds and software with which to draw maps, based on specific (and good–but, as discussed in the comments, potentially contradictory) criteria laid out in the measure. ((The new criteria would also bind the legislature in the drawing of House of Representatives districts.)) A decision on maps for each house of the legislature ((And the State Board of Equalization.)) would have to be taken by nine votes on the Commission, including at least three votes by Commissioners representing each of the major parties and three Commissioners not representing the two major parties.

The appointment process is convoluted, but starts with self-selection in that voters submit applications. The State Auditor ((The State Auditor is selected by the Governor from a pool of three names sent forward by a bicameral Joint Legislative Audit Committee of the state legislature.)) establishes an Applicant Review Panel (ARP), drawn randomly from auditors until there is one name from each major party and one who is registered with another party or nonpartisan. The ARP then screens the applicants, disqualifying those with stipulated conflicts of interest (including having been a candidate to partisan office or a family member of a candidate, and various other disqualifications).

Names are then drawn from the remaining pool to form a short list of 20 from each major party and 20 more who are not registered with a major party. These three groups of 20 are identified in the measure as the “subpools.” This is where the ‘strikes’ come in. The majority and minority party leaders in each house of the state legislature are now each allowed to remove two applicants from each subpool–for a total of 8 possible strikes from the original 60. Then the remaining names go forward to the State Auditor, who draws up the preliminary members of the Commission. The Auditor, however, selects only eight members (3 from each major party and 2 who are not). The remaining six (2 from each major party and 2 not from either major party) are co-opted onto the Commission by the originally selected eight (from the subpools). That feature limits the randomness inherent in the initial creation of the subpools, because if the initial six are comprised in part of members with partisan interest, they then have the ability to stack the rest of the Commission in their favor.

I actually am simplifying what is in the actual text of the measure! I wonder if a less complex process could have been devised? Perhaps even one with less input by top leaders of the partisan duopoly?

One troubling feature of the measure is the absence of any realistic role for the 19.5% of voters registered “Decline to State” [any party affiliation] or the 4.3% registered with parties other than Republican and Democrat. ((Registration figures available from the Secretary of State.)) While voters from this pool of the electorate can submit their names, there is nothing to stop the leaders of the major parties from exercising their ‘strike’ option against anyone who enters the pool and is seen as an advocate for interests beyond those of the two main parties. And there is no representative of voters other than Democrats and Republicans delegated the ‘strike’ authority. In fact, one could doubt whether the legislative leaders are meaningful representatives for this purpose even of the voters who register with their parties.

In essence, the drafters of this initiative are trying to make the process appear to be driven by citizens, ((It is more citizen-driven than the last proposal, for sure. In that one, the line-drawing panel was to be made up of retired judges.)) but were not willing to go as far as something resembling an actual Citizens Assembly. ((Such as the ones that recently proposed entirely new electoral systems in British Columbia and Ontario, or recommended adjustments to the system in the Netherlands.)) It looks to me as if this Commission is so structured as to recreate bipartisan dominance through what only looks like an independent commission. Yet it would be entrenched in the state constitution.

The disenfranchisement of actual independent voters reminds me of another of my favorite passages from Droop’s 1869 essay on electoral reform (part of which is enshrined in the blog’s banner):

a large proportion of the electors who vote for the candidates of the one party or the other really care much more about the country being honestly and wisely governed than about the particular points at issue between the two parties; and if this moderate non-partisan section of the electors had their separate representatives in the assembly, they would be able to mediate between the opposing parties and prevent the one party from pushing their advantage too far, and the other from prolonging a factious opposition.

Indeed, this measure shows–and entrenches–the difficulties those moderate and nonpartisan voters have of gaining representation in a fundamental part of the democratic process: districting. As I indicated above, of course, I doubt that such voters who care, above all, “about the country [or state] being honestly and wisely governed” can ever be fully enfranchised through single-seat districts. And, as I have often argued here, significant electoral reform is unlikely as long as no third parties make breakthroughs into our representative bodies. Californians have before them on Nov. 4 a measure that would make such a breakthrough no more, and perhaps less, likely than it is now, by entrenching a bipartisan dominance over the redistricting process. For these reasons, I will be voting NO on Proposition 11.

Los Angeles City Council hearing on IRV

Via an e-mail from Californians for Electoral Reform:

Thanks to you, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) has taken a quantum leap! Due to the unanimous outpouring of support at yesterday’s City Hall hearing, the Los Angeles City Council could decide to put IRV on the November 2008 ballot TOMORROW (Fri).

And on the off chance that anyone reading this could attend, CFER adds:

…We are Item 11 on the agenda – which means that IRV will be heard anytime between 11:30 am and 1:30 pm (unfortunately, we can’t predict the exact time).

Other CFER news, from a separate message regarding the organization’s recent annual meeting:

We gave Wilma Rule Memorial Awards ((Wilma Rule was a scholar and activist for electoral reform, with whom I coauthored a paper several years ago. She authored several important early pieces on the impact of electoral systems on representation of women.)) to State Senator Tom McClintock for being the only Republican in the legislature to vote for AB 1294, ((McClintock was the Republican office-holder who entered the 2003 replacement election concurrent with then-Governor Gray Davis’s recall, to oppose Arnold Schwarzenegger, and won around 12% of the vote. And, yes, Arnold would have won even with IRV, despite his winning slightly under 50% in the actual plurality contest. Too bad McClintock did not make electoral reform an issue when he had a statewide forum. Instead, repealing the “car tax” is about all he talked about. Still, kudos to him for being a Republican for democracy.)) and to Max Rexroad, conservative Yolo county supervisor, who wrote an editorial in support of AB 1294 in the California FlashReport, an influential Republican web site.