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View Diary: Unrepresentative Democracy − The House of Representatives and the American Vote Not Represented (147 comments)

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  •  gerrymandering and apartheid (27+ / 0-)

    What a lot of people don't realize is that apartheid was kept in place due, not to majority support (even among whites), but the way representatives were apportioned. In fact Apartheid lacked majority white support from the outset. I've seen a lot of cocky diaries and commentary to the effect that demographics mean that Democrats will become increasingly dominant in American politics, and that Republicans will be relegated to a rump party. This is wishful thinking based on not looking carefully enough at how votes translate into representation.

    Here's something from (Nate Silver's old blog) from a few years ago that we should all think a but more carefully about:

    Apartheid was introduced despite the repeatedly demonstrated opposition of a majority of the white electorate. While its racially exclusionary practices, which limited the franchise to white voters(as well as a limited number of mixed race ones between 1936 and 1958) the defenders of South Africa took great pride in arguing that the nation possessed a system that was highly democratic and representative of its voters, the “freest in Africa”. And on paper it was, with a constitution remarkably similar to Australia or Canada. Nevertheless, the election results that brought in Apartheid indicated that the system did an extremely poor job of representing the opinion even of its limited constituency.


    The National Party had taken advantages of one of the quirks of the South African system. The first was that seats were allowed to deviate from the population quota by a margin of 15% in either direction in order to accommodate local boundaries and to limit their geographical size. While an average of around 7200 votes were cast per constituency, the National Party only won 2 seats where more than 7200 votes were cast. The United Party by contrast won more than half its seats in districts where over 8000 votes were cast.

    Secondly, the National Party had the advantage of being an ethnic party in a country in which the ethnic balance favored them. Afrikaners, to whom they focused their appeal, made up 57% of the population, and were furthermore, better distributed for electoral purposes, making up the majority in 98 out of 150 seats. The redistricting that followed the Nationalist victory in 1948 only increased this discrepancy...


    Steve Kornacki had an important article on the very real implications of this for the US:

    And Rachel Maddow also had two amazingly good segments on gerrymandering, on December 12, beginning here:

    •  South African "Democracy" (6+ / 0-)

      It should be understood that when I speak of comparatively liberal and moderate South Africans of the pre-democratic era, practically all of them were very reactionary by modern American and European standards. It is only in comparison to the hardliners of the National Party that they were liberal or moderate.

      The undemocratic nature of the South African system was baked into the 1910 constitution, when the country was united. Because no agreement could be reached on a common franchise, each of the four provinces retained its own system.

      Cape Province had what was known as a "civilisation franchise", which was in theory colour blind. However as this was a property and income based franchise, in practice far more more whites qualified to vote than black South Africans. In the 1890s Cecil Rhodes, as Premier of Caper increased the property qualification when it seemed to many black voters would qualify.

      Natal also had, very much in theory, a property qualification system by which non whites could qualify to vote. Very few actually managed to do so. There was only one black voter on the electoral rolls by the 1930s and a few thousand others of Asian descent.

      Transvaal and the Orange Free State had unambiguous prohibitions on non whites voting.

      Another constitutional provision allowed rural constituencies to have fewer voters than (more English speaking and compartively liberal) urban areas. As this was considered to be part of the bargain made to allow Union to be accomplished, Jan Christiaan Smuts and other (comparatively) moderate Afrikaner political leaders insisted on keeping the smaller rural seats, even when it would

      There was some hostility, particularly in the National Party, to the idea that non white voters had some influence over the result in some Cape districts.
      When The Nationalist General Herzog formed a coalition with General Smuts of the South African Party, in the 1930s, they removed Cape "Native" voters from the common electoral roll (giving them three seats - to elect white representatives, non whites even if qualified to vote were not allowed to serve in Parliament)

      By 1948, the National Party (combining the Purified Nationals who had rejected the United Party of Hertzog and Smuts , the Reunited Nationals who had followed Hertzog out of the United Party in opposition to South African involvement in the Second World War and the allied Afrikaner Party which was formed by Hertzog's followers who had left the Reunited National Party after Hertzog fell out with the Purified Nationalist leader Dr Malan) came to power. It was said that the Nationalists had a majority of seats in the House of Assembly, the United Party (by then led by Smuts) had the majority of votes and the black South Africans were the majority.

      There is no man alive who is sufficiently good to rule the life of the man next door to him. Sir Rhys Hopkin Morris, M.P.

      by Gary J on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 06:21:23 AM PST

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    •  District-packing, (10+ / 0-)

      alluded to in the second paragraph you quote, is alive and well in the US, if not quite so extreme. Here in NY the acceptable margin of deviation is 5%, so you can imagine what that means: Democratic-leaning downstate urban districts (which also often happen to contain large minority populations) are drawn as close to +5% as possible, while sparsely-populated upstate urban districts, which tend to vote GOP,  are drawn as close to -5% as possible.

      Add to this the effect of "prisonmandering", the practice of counting the inmates (most of whom lived downstate in their pre-incarceration lives) of state prisons (most of which are upstate, and fiercely protected as a source of scarce local jobs) as residents of the county in which they are imprisoned, yet are unable to vote, and you've got a system that is operationally not too different from the way votes were apportioned in slave states before the Civil War.

      I'm not sure whether NY would have lost another seat last go-round, if the state had nt been gerrymandered, but it would surely have proportionally more Democratic representation if not for that. And our Democratic governor, who is rightly getting lots of praise today for his SOTS statements on gun control, has been complicit in drawing lines that helped the GOP retain control of our State Senate. Grmmrm.

      "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

      by sidnora on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 06:30:59 AM PST

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      •  Cuomo has been more than complicit (6+ / 0-)

        He wanted the GOP to keep the Senate so he wouldn't have to put his name on anything too liberal when he runs for president.

        •  Yep. That's the reason (0+ / 0-)

          for his complicity.

          It's going to be interesting to see how he threads his way between the sound and fury he unleashed yesterday and the current Senate structure. On gun control, at least, it sounds like he may have decided it's OK to be liberal, and it also sounds like he has the Senate's backing (co-leader is a Democrat, and a very close Cuomo ally). Fine with me.

          "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

          by sidnora on Thu Jan 10, 2013 at 09:02:17 AM PST

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        •  I won't vote for Cuomo (5+ / 0-)

          For all of the reasons you cite.

          My personal favorite for 2016 is Brian Schweitzer. Western governor with solid progresssive ideals. (Arguably more liberal than Presiden Obama.)

          •  I love Brian Schweitzer! (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Laconic Lib

            I even have a photo with him, that the LH took at NN one year. I think he'd make a great nominee.

            Although I was a big fan of Cuomo's father, I have a strong personal dislike of him, and always have. I think he's a thug. A smart thug, but a thug. The fact that we don't have a more progressive governor here can be attributed to the screwed-up condition of the NYS Democratic Party, and a certain former Democratic governor's inability to keep it in his pants.

            "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

            by sidnora on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:27:01 AM PST

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          •  He would be a disaster on global warming (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Laconic Lib

            'Hey I know, let's dig up all the coal in Montana and turn it into oil using a process that is horrendously polluting, and then burn all that fuel!'

            Depending on the scale, that could actually be worse for the environment than the oil shale. Which has already been called the final nail in the coffin for global warming.

            He's also got some other pretty serious issues, but nothing that would stop me from voting for him. That, though, well, I won't vote for anyone who supports something that will, you know, kill off most of the people on earth.

      •  Late to the game, but (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm an Upstater and while Valesky (one of the renegades) is not my Senator, I like and trust him.  He's not conservative, just doesn't want to work with an insular NYC Senate caucus, a group that sounds kind of screwed up and dysfunctional.  I haven't followed all the ins and outs too closely and would like to hear your take on the situation.

        There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

        by slothlax on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 12:24:06 AM PST

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        •  Honestly not quite sure yet. (0+ / 0-)

          I had a good opinion of one of the other "independents", Savino, before this happened. It appears that she's been recruited into the faction by virtue of having a personal relationship with Klein, which does not improve her in my eyes (allowing the relationship to affect her political decisions, not having the relationship in the first place).

           I dislike Cuomo's personal style pretty intensely, and his naked ambition makes him way too bipartisan for my taste, so anytime it appears that they're pulling him further to the left than he would otherwise have gone, I'll give them points. It seems possible that the indie faction may have helped broker the new gun-control laws that Cuomo appears likely to get passed. I'd call that a good thing.

          I want to see how the lines break down when they're dealing with a money issue, fracking, for instance.

          As to the screwed-upness of the caucus, they are that. There are a couple I think should just be booted out of the party, like Felder, if it wouldn't cost us the majority. But I think Stewart-Cousins is an immense improvement as leader, and I wish the indies had given her a chance to prove herself before jumping ship.

          "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."........ "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little." (yeah, same guy.)

          by sidnora on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 08:41:42 AM PST

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          •  It will be interesting (0+ / 0-)

            I was rooting for a Democratic Senate for a long time, but as an upstater, I'm more inclined to be comfortable with the split in the caucus because NYC domination is not something I want.

            I'm also open to fraking.  Strong oversight and regulation, the gas drilling companies have to be a lot more open about potential risks (what chemicals are they using, ect), but I don't see how we can hold off on it forever.  I see resource extraction, generally, to be the most fundamental economic activity.  Managed right, it can do our state a lot of good.  Managed wrong, who knows?

            There is truth on all sides. The question is how much.

            by slothlax on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 12:11:56 PM PST

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