Donald Trump is right: This election will be rigged, but not for the reasons he claims and not in California.
Trump warns, without evidence, that huge numbers of undocumented immigrants and dead people will vote. His irresponsible claims of widespread fraud aside, election results are cooked in much of the nation by politicians who draw district boundaries in ways that ensure incumbents and members of the party in power will win.
Outside California, politicians score easy points by jeering at supposedly crazy ideas that originate here. But good-government types in many other states understand that a truly independent redistricting commission is a reform worth copying.
Californians’ votes will matter in several congressional and legislative races on Nov. 8, thanks to Charles Munger Jr. A quirky guy who happens to have a lot of money, Munger concluded rightly that gerrymandered districts are anathema to democracy. And so he funded initiatives in 2008 and 2010 that created the independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, which is responsible for drawing legislative and congressional lines.
Then as now, politicians don’t give up power willingly. Legislators and Gov. Jerry Brown starve the commission by allocating a mere $90,000 annually to fund it and restrict it to no more than one half-time employee, who works from her home in Orangevale. The commission doesn’t have money for an office.
And yet, the commission’s creation is proving to be among this state’s most far-reaching reforms. According to the Cook Political Report, seven of California’s 53 congressional seats could swing either way in this upcoming election. Another six Assembly seats and three Senate seats are competitive.
California’s congressional delegation and the new Legislature will be heavily Democratic. But because of fairly drawn district lines, and the state’s top-two primary system, candidates know that to win they must appeal to independent voters and voters of the opposite parties. No fewer than 18 Democrats in the Legislature, plus several Republicans, will be moderates.
Contrast that with the Texas congressional delegation, which has 25 Republicans and 11 Democrats. Political experts recently concluded that Texas, which for years has been reliably Republican, could swing to either Trump or Hillary Clinton. But only one congressional seat in the Lone Star State is thought to be in doubt.
That one is held by Rep. Will Hurd, a Republican whose district runs 800 gerrymandered miles between San Antonio and El Paso. Hurd’s seat is not the worst example of the dark artwork of Republicans who control redistricting. The Democratic city of Austin, the nation’s 11th largest city and the largest city without its own congressional representative, is chopped up among five Republican members of Congress and one Democrat.
Based on polls, Trump likely will lose on Election Day, perhaps by a landslide. But because Republicans dominate redistricting in several states, they probably will keep control of the House.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced creation of a campaign organization that will focus on redistricting reform, and Barack Obama says he will devote part of his post-presidential time to the effort.
That would be for the good, so long as they advocate for independent commissions that draw lines without regard to party registration or where incumbents live. For guidance, they should study the playbook written by the quirky California Republican Charles Munger Jr., whose money set up California for a fairer and more democratic fight.