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Friday, November 11, 2005

Gerken and Elmendorf on Redistricting

Gerken and Elmendorf have a nice post at Balkinization on the failed redistricting efforts in California and Ohio.  They are undoubtedly right that most voters take cues from who supports the ballot proposition -- and usually reach clean partisan conclusions: if you like the backers, you vote in favor; if you identify politically with those who oppose, you vote no.  That is a decent rule of thumb--but many Democrats I know wanted reform badly enough that they ignored the fact that Democrats opposed Prop 77 in California.

Instead,  Gerken and Elmendorf argue that we ought to follow the British Columbians, who gathered a random sample of citizens together to debate electoral reform -- and then put their recommendations to the whole electorate to consider.  In this model, citizens would have cues from their fellow citizens, who deliberated about the issue and came to a thoughtful conclusion.

That sounds nice.  Indeed, citizen deliberation as the source of legitimacy and as a good source of political power is my agenda: I wrote a book arguing in favor of a popular branch of government to help reform our system of direct democracy, after all.  But what Gerken and Elmendorf don't mention is that the deliberative preferences of the random sample of citizens in Canada failed at the ballot box.  Voters rejected the cues from their fellow citizens who spent months hammering out compromises.  I blogged about the Canadian (failed?) experiment months ago here.

In short, once you put deliberative preference back into the simple aggregative political system, you welcome back all its pathologies.  Citizens under the Gerken-Elemendorf model surely would have a voting cue from their fellow citizens--but there is nothing to prevent citizens under their system to rely on their standard partisan cues and to be influenced by advertising and big money.

Posted by Ethan Leib on November 11, 2005 at 02:16 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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