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Louisiana Redistricting: A Better Method

by Dean Searcy, Rob Richie, Super Districts // Published April 18, 2011
LAredone

Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal is expected to sign legislation establishing a redistricting plan that distorts partisan representation, breaks up natural communities, underrepresents racial minorities and creates largely noncompetitive races. A modest change would dramatically boost fair representation and give all voters competitive choice.

Here’s the back story. Following the recent 2010 census, states across the country are now required to redrawn their district lines to reapportion representation for Congressional seats. These districts are required to have equal populations as well as comply with Voting Rights Act provisions ensuring racial minorities have fair opportunities to elect candidates of choice.

On April 13th, the Louisiana Senate voted 25-13 to approve the following Congressional redistricting plan. The Louisiana House voted 63-35 for the plan, and Gov. Jindal has announced he will sign the plan.

Here’s how the state capitol Associated Press correspondent Melinda Deslatte described it

The fishing communities and oil industry towns of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes are cut in half. Baton Rouge and its suburbs are divided into three congressional districts. In rural Washington parish, it'll be quicker for residents to drive through Mississippi to get to their congressman than to take Louisiana roads there. But Gov. Bobby Jindal and most of the state's incumbent congressmen got what they wanted from the Louisiana Legislature's three-week redistricting session.

Stephanie Grace of the New Orleans Times Picayune.

In the end, Louisiana's congressional redistricting effort wound up basically where it started, with most current members getting pretty much what they wanted, and freshman Jeff Landry the odd man out. If the U.S. Justice Department rubber stamps the Legislature's plan to reduce Louisiana's seven current congressional seats to six, each of the surviving districts would strongly favor one of Landry's more senior Republican colleagues -- or, in the case of lone Democrat Cedric Richmond, someone just like him. This was the intent of an outline that Landry's colleagues came up with in a Washington Chinese restaurant before the special legislative session convened, and it's the intent of the final map that emerged from a debate that turned "rancorous, contentious, and downright ugly," as the Council for a Better Louisiana put it.

Here’s the plan as expected to be signed into law, followed by information on the racial composition of each district.


The demographic breakdowns for the new plan are as follows:

District

VAP White%

VAP Black%

VAP Asian%

VAP Indian %

VAP Other%

                   1

81.29%

12.20%

2.16%

1.76%

2.60%

                   2

34.48%

59.67%

2.79%

0.54%

2.53%

                   3

73.02%

23.38%

1.47%

0.75%

1.38%

                   4

63.62%

32.65%

1.12%

1.32%

1.30%

                   5

64.04%

33.67%

0.80%

0.76%

0.74%

                   6

73.70%

21.50%

2.34%

0.67%

1.79%

Louisiana

 

65.05%

30.47%

1.78%

0.97%

1.73%

 

At first glance, it is painfully obvious that, if Louisiana continues to use a winner-take-all election system, African Americans will only pass the threshold of participation (50% + 1 in a first-past-the-post system) in a single district. Other minority groups (Asian Americans, Native Americans, and other groups) don’t even come close to having a significant voice when it comes to electing U.S. House members. In a state where white adults make up less than two-thirds of the population, they easily control five of the state’s six seats. Based on reporting of the plan’s likely partisan impact, Republicans likely will win five (83%) out of six seats in a state where Barack Obama won 40% of the vote in 2008. .

Can this be solved? Yes, quite easily. How? With a modest proportional voting system and a single line drawn across the state.

Below is a map drawn by the state legislature, except FairVote has turned the state of Louisiana into two “super-districts”, each using a proportional voting method like choice voting or cumulative voting (see our short video on how that system worked in Illinois state legislative elections here )  to elect three Members of Congress.  


The state, as a whole, would still elect six Members, but would utilize a more equitable system. As proof, by combining districts 1, 2, and 6 into a single super-district and simultaneously combining districts 3, 4, and 5 into another super-district, the demographics become as follows:

 

Super District

VAP White%

VAP Black%

VAP Asian%

VAP Indian %

VAP Other%

1 (1,2,6)

63.26%

31.01%

2.43%

0.99%

2.31%

2 (3,4,5)

66.87%

29.92%

1.13%

0.94%

1.14%

Louisiana

 

65.05%

30.47%

1.78%

0.97%

1.73%

 

Using a three-seat super-district system with proportional voting would not only make demographic voting power for African Americans in each super-district roughly coincide with state-wide rates, it would also allow African Americans to pass the threshold of representation (25% in a proportional voting system with three-seat super-districts) in both super districts. This would grant them the power to elect two like-minded representatives. If you do the math, that’s (2/6) =33.3% of the Louisiana Members directly representing the African American community - -a fair reflection of the statewide African American VAP.  In addition, when considering partisanship, our plan would be likely to result in a far fairer result of four Republicans and two Democrats, with a fighting chance for independents and third parties. Although we don’t have reliable gauges of each party’s strength in federal elections by districts, it’s a near certainty that Republican-leaning voters make up the majority in each super district and Democrats make up more than the threshold of representation – with each super district likely to elect a Democrat with strong African American support, a conservative Republican with strong Republican support and a Democrat or Republican able to win over centrist voters in the district, most probably a conservative-leaning Republican.  

Finally, the geographic contortions of the current plan would not be necessary. Built on the legislative plan, our proposal maintains some creative cartography, but that easily could be changed if working with precinct-level data.

Bottom line: our plan would put voters in charge of their representation. Let’s hope over the coming decade we see more legislators willing to stand up for that basic principle of representative democracy.