Better political mapping will mediate the extremes

Only slightly more than a third of registered voters will vote in today’s mid-term elections. Even in a presidential year, almost half of legal voters forego their constitutional right.

Recently, a political direct mail piece sat on my kitchen table. My son asked me if I was going to vote for the man on the card. I said yes, but that I really didn’t like him that much.

My son struggled to understand. “Why don’t you just vote for someone else?” The short answer is because I don’t care for the principles of his opponent. The long answer is because our system is broken.

As voters, we are less engaged because we are less consequential than ever before. It’s a fact of life: Where you are less needed, you are less present. Star players show up for every game. Benchwarmers come when they can.

Roughly 80% of Congressmen have nothing to fear on Election Day. Their districts are so convincingly one-sided that the chance of an upset is miniscule. They are, for lack of a better term, shoe-ins. No wonder some stink.

What’s more, seventy some-odd Congressmen are unopposed this fall. Assuming they can scrape themselves off the mattress and find their name on the list, they will win. Their constituents are literally unnecessary. So their constituents are disengaged.

Hope can be defined as having options. When people have few or no promising candidate options, they have no hope in the political system.

We live in a time of political extremes. On one hand, most elections are non-competitive exercises in equivocation. On the other hand, Washington, DC, is hyper-competitive and polarizing. Stalemate and stagnation, gridlock and grandstanding are ubiquitous.

Officeholders from “safe” districts cause the impasses. Think about it: If your home district rewards you for purity and not progress, you have little motivation to solve problems. In fact, it behooves you to leave them wanting for job security’s sake. After all, where will you find another job that pays $174,000 a year to maintain the status quo?

Non-competitive districts are the fruit of two things: one, the tendency of like-minded people to settle near one another; and two, political gerrymandering. No human can stop the former. I have an idea for the latter: block political mapping.

It’s pretty basic and quite achievable in the age geographic information systems. No matter how unique a state’s outline may be, you start on the state line in the most northeastern point of the state. You then start drawing a line to the southwest.

At whatever point the line becomes the diagonal of a rectangle that encapsulates the number of citizens a particular political district is required to have, you stop. That is District 1.

Repeat the process until the state (or county, city, etc.) is divided into equally populated, right-angled rectangles. Only the districts along an irregular border such as a river will not be exact rectangles. But they will still be drawn by a non-partisan computer.

Block mapping will bring more competitive races, and rarely does competition fail to increase quality of life. More competitive elections will force parties and philosophies to put their best, least smelly feet forward. “Good enough” candidates will no longer be good enough to win.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at

4 Responses to “Better political mapping will mediate the extremes”

  1. 1 November 4, 2014 at 20:03

    Good article Kevin. I’m in complete agreement. Hope all is well for you. Also hope that the candidates that each of us don’t really like that much (as I have those too), win and move us in the direction of more office holders with principle. Ray Keller

  2. 2 Cindy Brockwell November 4, 2014 at 20:54

    Informative and right-on column. I lost track of how many times State Sen. Jeff Wentworth tried to take redistricting out of the hands of the Legislature for these very reason.

  3. 3 libertibles November 5, 2014 at 11:36

    Excellent article. It is my prayer that the strides made yesterday by the GOP are fruitful and they avoid their past history of status quo.

  4. 4 John Halloran November 6, 2014 at 06:06

    Kevin, while I agree with you in principle, the unfortunate reality is that the Constitution mandates that the States redraw those boundaries after each census. And the party in power likes to stay in power…

    There are several states that have appointed non-partisan or bi-partisan committees to set those boundaries, to achieve pretty much what you suggest. However, those who are at the extremes have challenged this in court, because, as I stated, they want to stay in power…

    The case is set before the Supreme Court this year. The question is whether or not the State Legislatures can assign this power to a committee which is not represented by the people who elected them. Should be interesting to follow…

    But Texas? Nope… won’t happen… not for a long time. About the only way someone can run is to switch parties and somehow climb their way into power… as Nico LaHood did in Bexar County to become the new DA.

    But let’s keep talking. Maybe some day there will be someone who goes to Austin and Washington DC who will listen…

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