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Opinion

Democracy Works: A better way to fix gerrymandering

Chris Fowler
Penn State
/
Chris Fowler

Gerrymandering is one of the topics we've discussed most on this show, with good reason. But those conversations mostly stopped at the solution of creating independent redistricting commissions to draw electoral maps, taking the process out of partisan-controlled state legislatures. While that's undeniably a good thing, this week's guest argues it's just one part of a bigger solution. An independent nonpartisan commission is not always going to create a nonpartisan map.

Chris Fowler is an associate professor of geography at Penn State and a member of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's Redistricting Advisory Council. His research examines the way our choices about geographic boundaries shape the outcomes we are able to observe. He examine neighborhoods, school catchment areas, electoral districts, metropolitan areas, and labor markets with a focus on how these units of observation reflect the distribution of populations in space.

After the interview, Chris Beem and Candis Watts Smith discuss whether ideas like ranked-choice voting and multi-member districts can take hold in America's political landscape. Regular listeners of the show will not be surprised to hear that Chris is doubtful, while Candis is optimistic.

Episode Transcript

Chris Beem 
From the MccCourtney Institute for Democracy and Penn State University, I'm Chris Beem

Candis Watts Smith
I'm Candis Watts Smith

Jenna Spinelle
I'm Jenna Spinelle, and welcome to Democracy Works. This week, we are revisiting a topic we've talked about several times on the show, which is redistricting and the problem of gerrymandering, but we're going to take a slightly different take on it. This week, our guest is Chris Fowler, who is a professor of geography here at Penn State. And he I think, brings a really interesting perspective about why independent redistricting commissions, while they're certainly a good thing, I don't think he would dispute that, but they're not sort of the be all end all solution to solving this problem of gerrymandering, and creating maps and districts that are more fair. So I'm excited for this conversation. And to hear Chris's perspective on that.

Candis Watts Smith 
I am, too, I mean, you know, we're on the other side of like, voter education week. And, you know, elections matter, but also the process to getting us toward the elections to the elections, who's on the ballot, how did they get there also matter? And I think that now we can like, have a full on conversation with Chris, as a geographer, who is coming at it from a different perspective, and ask kind of a different set of questions, which I think are really helpful to kind of maybe even getting us to think outside of the box about some of the issues at hand and some of the problems at the fore, you know, even just kind of thinking like, it seems obvious that maybe state legislators shouldn't be responsible for redistricting. But then the question is, well, then who should it be? And so, you know, just kind of thinking through Well, what are our common sense notions around who should be responsible? whose interests are involved? And how do we account for that and discount for that and moving forward?

Chris Beem
Yeah, I think it's interesting. I mean, Chris's perspective is not political science. Right. And so he is approaching this as a redistricting question around an entirely different set of criteria. His work is around, you know, how do we define these terms? How do we define a community? How do we define world urban? And those definitions are not merely political, right? They're like, you know, in this neighborhood, do people think about the other side of those train tracks as being in the same neighborhood? Do people think about, do they when they go shopping? Do they go across the river or not? You know, I mean, these are very basic questions, and they're not straightforward.

Candis Watts Smith 
So I guess I have to surprise myself sometimes. And talk about the founders and the Federalist Papers, since you are Michael have an article,

Chris Beem 
It's about time, it's been 20 minutes that we haven't mentioned. Oh, so it's about time somebody does.

Candis Watts Smith 
You know, we have to keep in mind that the founders right, you know, said or whoever wrote the Federalist Papers, you can be on the details on this one, right, is that democracy and freedom are going to produce some, you know, negative externalities that we have to try to use institutions to contain. And here the question then is like, Okay, well, if we assume that an independent group of individuals would be better than legislators who have an incredible number of incentives for re election, but we find that this independent group are also just kind of, they're actually boxed in and similar constraints. And so then the question is, is maybe redistricting is not enough? and independent commissions are not enough that we also have the matter of how, what are our rules around single member or multi member? Do we have first past the post? Or do we have proportional representation? Do we, you know, just kind of do a one majority Aryan voter? Do we do rent choice voting, there are all these other kinds of things that, you know, come along that we probably need to start asking questions about. And, you know, we been working toward little tidbits here and there. And so you know, it's nice to have Jenna's interview with Chris Fowler, where they discuss all of these. And also in part because Jen is such an amazing interviewer asked all the right questions that we get an opportunity to see a lot of the complexities around not just independent, these independent commissioners, but also some of the kind of other accoutrement around election.

Chris Beem 
I have nothing to add to that. So I go, we should go to the interview.

Jenna Spinelle
Yes. Well, thank you, Candis, for those kind words. And I think we'll maybe pick Tap on multi member districts and some of those other nuances in the back half of the show. But for now, let's go to the interview with Chris Fowler.

Jenna Spinelle 
Chris Fowler. Welcome to Democracy Works. Thanks for joining us.

Chris Fowler 
Thanks for having me.

Jenna Spinelle
So you are the first geographer that we've ever had on this show. And I am excited to talk with you about some of your work on redistricting and the approaches that have been taken thus far to try to combat that problem of gerrymandering. But before we get to some of those details, can you just tell us a little bit about your background and your interest in redistricting? how it came onto your radar?

Chris Fowler 
Sure. And I think first, as a geographer, the thing I have to comment on is, it has nothing to do with knowing all the state capitals, nor do I like rocks particularly well, most people when they hear that I'm a geographer immediately assume that I'm a geologist, or that I'm a map geek. And I do actually like rocks a lot. And I am kind of a math geek. But geography is my interest is really on when we draw boundaries around things. What are we able to see? And what aren't we able to see, because where we place those boundaries, shapes, a lot of outcomes. And so my research actually begins with census tracts and school districts and labor markets and metropolitan areas. And how do we define rural? How do we define urban? These are the questions that have guided my research for the last 10 years. And it's actually only recently that I've gotten into redistricting, which for me, is a subset of that larger set of questions. And, you know, redistricting is one of those places where people think a lot about how drawing the boundaries matters. And so my background coming into it is, I think, coming from a broader place, then sort of more the people who come here from politics arrive from a very different mindset about parties and party fairness. Whereas what I'm really beginning from is, are these units of observation, good units for capturing the kinds of things we want to we want to capture. And for me, that that what are we trying to capture is representation of the people living in a democracy? And so it starts from a different place?

Jenna Spinelle 
Is it fair to say that people coming at it from that politics angle you're just describing are focused on the end results, or the outcome, as opposed to the process for getting there that you were just describing,

Chris Fowler 
One of the things I've noticed is a lot of the metrics coming out of Political Science start with this idea of fairness to parties, one party's representation is not proportional to its the votes received. And that's a very different starting point from are we capturing voter preferences using these units of observation. And the big difference there is, I don't really care about fairness to parties, that parties are useful so far, and they describe the preferences of voters. But increasingly, if parties don't describe the preferences of voters, then they're not that useful to me as a metric. So there is a significant difference there. Right?

Jenna Spinelle 
So you know, one of the big reforms we've seen since the 2010 redistricting cycle has been the creation of independent or non partisan redistricting commissions, often led by a sort of a grassroots type of effort through ballot initiatives or through other citizen led processes to take politicians out of the process, or at least reduce their influence, the idea being that if there's, you know, they can't sort of change the rules in their favor or to their party's favor. So what do you make of that approach given? You know, your perspective about the thinking more deeply about the ways that we draw these boundaries?

Chris Fowler 
Well, I mean, I first think that anything that pulls it out of the backroom and brings it into the daylight, and forces people to talk about what their criteria are for drawing things, that's always going to be better. And so, you know, on its face, I'm absolutely in favor of these kinds of independent commissions. I think they're a big improvement. The idea that they're non partisan, though, is, you know, or bipartisan, and those are really problematic because, you know, a lot of these cases the people on that commission are are appointed by the parties themselves. Or they have party affiliations, or they're involved because they're known by the parties. And, you know, you can have people who are trying, honestly to be fair arbitrators. But again, it comes back to this thing. If you're if your effort is geared towards party fairness, then you're going to get a certain subset of the results. And one of the things I'd love to see is independent commissions that are thinking outside the box a little bit. So what can boundaries do to incentivize representation? How can we create districts that force candidates to to serve their constituents that force them to to find Coalition's within the electorate? Who want them represented from them in office? And I think when we fall back to party fairness, when we fall back to, I think, really wrote metrics of proportionality and things like that, it can tell us something, but I think it keeps us from seeing the big picture, which is representation.

Jenna Spinelle 
Is it too late? Do you think to push for some of those types of changes or reforms in the 2020 cycle that's underway right now? Or is it something that we're really going to have to make that the focus, people are concerned about this process, that's like the next iteration between 2020 and 2030?

Chris Fowler 
I would say the latter, I mean, the timeline on these things right now is so tight, particularly with the census data being delivered late, these kinds of things would have to be set up long in advance, some of them require changes to state law or federal law. You know, I think what we can the best we can hope for for 2020 is a bright spotlight, and maps drawn in public and people gain sophistication about what these maps mean, for them. That I think 10 years ago, only a small subset of people thought that much could be gained by drawing the maps one way or another. And I think, I think the realization that this is actually a huge source of power. I think that's out in the open now and that that genies not going back in the bottle. And, you know, I've been on the on calls with fair districts, pa and draw the lines pa and groups like that. And their members a year ago or two years ago, had really crude ideas about not all of them, obviously, but a lot of them had really cool, like, let's, let's draw a fair map. Let's fix this. And if you talk to them, now, they're really getting into the nuance and starting to think about, oh, this is related to, you know, Election Day being a federal holiday, or the motor Voter Registration Act like all these things are tied together in their minds now. And so an educated electorate is a powerful electorate. And so that's this round, it's going to be a spotlight, how do new ideas, you know, all of these ideas depend on the legislature taking action of some sort?

Jenna Spinelle 
To the extent that you can, I guess, discern a fair map? What are some of the things you would look at to try to make sense of that?

Chris Fowler 
Yeah, I mean, that's, that's a great question. And and I think the most important thing to recognize is that my fair map is not your fair map is not, you know, anyone else's fair math, there isn't. I shudder at the idea of people who want a computer algorithm to draw us a map. That is a horrible idea. And and I say that as someone who uses computer algorithms to draw maps, like, this is what I do. And I will tell you straight out that is the worst idea you can imagine. Why? Well, because computers suck. And the nuance that we require is way beyond what a computer can can undertake. And I'll put my finger specifically at the kinds of computer programs we're currently using to draw. You may be familiar with the ensemble programs that the draw 25,000 random maps, and use those to identify what the what a fair map looks like. And then you can compare it to the actual map, this ensemble technology. One of the things that's sort of hardwired into it is a preference for compact districts. Okay. compactness is in the Pennsylvania constitution. Like that should be a good, a lot of Pennsylvanians value that but compactness tends to penalize populations that are clustered. So there's two populations that are clustered in Pennsylvania, African Americans, and Democrats. So a random or fair map drawn with one of these things begins with a baked in bias against African Americans and Democrats. And we can call that a natural map or a fair map because it is compact. But for me, that's not a fair map. Now may be for many other people, and I can accept that our preferences will be different. But for me, to the extent that proportionality captures representation, proportionality matters to me. And so something that bakes in something that's anti purport anti majoritarian anti proportional, that's not great for me. Um, you know, other people see that as sort of a, you know, a handicap that Democrats and African Americans have to bear because they cluster in cities. But for one thing, African Americans are clustered in cities because of some natural process, you know, we've got a whole history of housing segregation, and, you know, you know, go back to redlining and the GI Bill and every other dang thing. And so that settlement pattern isn't neutral. It isn't natural, it isn't fair. And we don't think of it as fair when we talked about segregation. So why would we think of it as fair when we talk about drawing districts?

Jenna Spinelle
So one of the things that I've seen and you bringing up compactness made me think of this, a lot of the sort of anti gerrymandering groups have, you know, they'll come out with ads or things on social media that, you know, show these really funnily districts that have funny shapes to them. I know the most famous one in Pennsylvania was like Donald Duck kicking Goofy, or maybe the other way around, I always get confused, but they sort of make an example of like, look at these weird horribly shaped districts. That's like why gerrymandering is so bad, because it's the, you know, politicians choosing their voters, not the other way around. I wonder if some of that might end up ultimately hindering some of the arguments you're making? Because people are sort of wired to think that like districts it's bad if they look at this like odd misshapen way, when really from what you're saying, that might be according to some other values, the best way to do things?

Chris Fowler 
Yeah, I mean, one of the things to think about is, if you look historically at Pennsylvania, we didn't settle in circles and move outward. That's what a compact compactness as soon as you've got a dense core, and it moves outward from that, that's not how we did it. In Pennsylvania, we went down the valleys. And we went along the rivers, and the small settlements in eastern Pennsylvania merged into the giant eastern seaboard megalopolis. And so this idea that the circle is, you know, our basis for judging quality, that works great in Iowa. It's not so awesome in Pennsylvania, though. So people aren't wrong, the goofy kicking Donald Duck, or whatever it was, you're right, I can't remember which order it is either. was done so politicians could pick their voters, it was done to gain political advantage. And yes, that is a gerrymander, and it's bad. But the other famous one, the Chicago earmuffs was split up an entirely democratic population to provide a majority Hispanic district in a majority African American district, it was done for something that is positive use of the representation. And so to the extent that districts in Pennsylvania curve with the Appalachians because that's how the valleys go, because that's how the municipalities go, because that's how the rivers go, that's a good thing. And that's going to elongate districts away from away from circles, it's going to make them bent. And that's appropriate. And I've been looking at some of the good maps coming out of the mapping contests statewide. And without taking that as a value. People who are drawing good maps are coming up with those districts that you can see the topography of Pennsylvania inside but you can see the canals you can see that, you know, all these things that are based on historical development show up if you're if you're starting from a set of principles that try and keep communities of interest together, because those communities of interest are exactly based on socio economic, historical, geographic things that that look a particular way on the landscape that isn't circular. That doesn't mean that we should just say, okay, when we get goofy kicking Donald, right, that's not it isn't okay. It was done for specifically partisan reasons, and that's appalling. But to get a map that's proportional, so the share of vote roughly equates to share seats in Pennsylvania, you need to gerrymander, you need to I mean, this is this is a thing is gerrymander, always a pejorative term. I don't know a lot of people treat it as such. But to me, it's drawing weird shaped things to achieve a particular goal. And if that goal is net positive for representation, I think it's I think it's fine.

Jenna Spinelle
And you've mentioned this a couple times, it's worth just having you define it a little bit more. So you've been saying representation a lot, but you don't mean I don't take it to mean like the person who is representing the district, right? You think of representation in a more in a broader sense? Is that right? Yeah,

Chris Fowler 
What I'm talking about respect representation. I'm talking about someone in office whose actions legislative actions line up with the electorate's preferences. And I use the word representation because they're all these partisan divides. But when I teach my population geography class at Penn State, I have students from across the political spectrum, and instead of saying, what do you think we should do about immigration? were instantly they drop into their camps? We say, what are the things you could value around immigration? Well, I value lessening suffering, I value national security, I value. You know, bringing people in who has skills we need I, you know, there's a whole set of values that I have my students put an X on a line between zero and 100. Where do you value this, and they don't differ that much. Their policy conclusion is shaped by their party alignment and some political thing. And it's, it's diametrically opposed. But if you look at what they value, it's things in the center, it's mostly indistinguishable. And so I'm a big believer that there's a whole range of things where we have broad policy preferences that are in alignment. And you know, they might adjust a little bit, they're there. But most of the things that our legislators need to be doing are in that category. And unfortunately, we focus on the other things where we are diametrically opposed. And all we can do is talk about those things. We're really at each other's throats. And so when I talk about representation, I'm talking about someone who's finding Coalition's within their electorate, and finding out what the policy preferences of those Coalition's are, and going to the statehouse or going to the Capitol and saying, These are the things my constituents want, who's with me to try and get this done. And so that's representation. And, you know, if I'm, you know, a Republican, I can get representation from a Democrat, if I'm a Democrat, I can get representation of a Republican, they may be off the charts horrible on some other thing for me, but but there are there should be areas where they're seeking to represent my views. And as long as they're doing that, I think we have a democracy. And when they're not, we don't,

Jenna Spinelle 
And I know one of the arguments that the journalist and author David Daly made when he was on the show was that if this mapmaking process has not changed the, you know, basically, a more, the more extreme, the partisan gerrymandering, the more extreme the candidate, the more polarization, it's just this death spiral, vicious cycle, whatever you want to say, it just sort of goes, you know, down and down and down from there. It sounds like you're articulating the other side of that vision and what could happen or maybe a more utopian version of that, where, you know, what happens if things go the other direction, and we take some of these things out of the picture.

Chris Fowler 
And so, you know, it's complicated, but I think there are ways we can do this. And I want to if it's if it's okay, I want to interject here. And so to say, this isn't just but wouldn't it be nice? So when when you come to districting, as a geographic problem, rather than a political problem, districting has two pieces to it, not one. gerrymandering is about borders. But districting. There's two factors. One is borders, and one is scale. So not only where do we put the boundaries between things, but how many things do we have? And so one of the things that I would suggest that's possible, okay, it's been done before it's currently outlawed for congressional districts, although Judge Sotomayor said she was open to it in the in the Richa decision. Is multi member districts, and not just any multi member but three member districts. And the idea here is twofold. One, if we increase the size of districts, then the clustering of populations becomes less salient that by the time you get to 2.1 million people in a district, you're going to have a big geographic area, even if you're Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, okay, maybe a special case here. But for most of Pennsylvania, you're going to have these really big districts. Within those, the clustering of Democrats or African Americans largely washes out because there, there's enough area there that you're getting a population that looks like the population of the Commonwealth as a whole. Okay, so once you have these big districts, they're electing three representatives. And the reason for three is because if one party says, Hey, we're the party of the far left or far right, and we're not, that's that's our ship, that's what we're on, that's our platform, we're doing that the other party is going to crush them to to one. The thing we've learned in geography is that the way to win market share is to move to the center. Okay, and so if one party wants to stake its life on the left or the right, great, but the other party is going to have a two to one advantage. And if neither party can figure this out, if both parties because of their national platforms, because of polarization, if both parties sit there on their ends, then there's room for a party in the middle of a party that says, hey, we think a lot of you have shared values on climate change, or gun control, or prayer in schools, like these are things with massive bipartisan support, like stuff could get done here. And that party is going to be pretty darn attractive. So the reason I talked about this, and it's just one of many things we could do. But what it does is it incentivizes representation. It says, I'm not just going to rely on getting out the vote, I have to win, I have to actually incentivize people to get away from me, gerrymandering isn't going to work with districts that are that big, I'm going to have to take the population of Pennsylvania and try and convince them that I'm doing something for them. And if I can't, then it's not fairness to parties, there's room for third party, it's specifically being made for that party to form in the vacuum created by this polarization. I don't know if it'll work, but it's a it's an idea.

Jenna Spinelle
So every time I hear about multi member districts, it is in conjunction with ranked choice voting. Do you see that? You know, you have to have one to have the other?

Chris Fowler 
Yeah, I mean, if you don't, if you have a at large districts, this is something that states in the south used for many years to exclude blacks from from elections, you can't have it. So I don't like to say rank choice voting, because then you get into this, like horrible minutiae about like the 74 different algorithms that can be used to determine it. Honestly, there's dozens of them that are good enough. And you know, there's a trade off between the really complex ones that are the best, and the ones that are easiest to explain, and the ones that can be done most simply and on election night. There are people who can figure that out. There's a generic general class of voting procedures that allow people's preferences to be to be brought into play and that's absolutely essential and and the thing to know is in a ranked choice voting system. If you have three districts all it takes us 33% of the population to get to get a representative Okay, and excuse me I think I think actually it's 25% of the population in a three district system Okay, that means that sizable minorities whether they're Coalition's of moms or or LGBTQ or Hispanic or whatever people who you know oppose the color purple it doesn't matter Coalition's of a certain size will have a voice and the the role of Coalition's within this rank choice voting thing becomes really critical and that's yet another incentive towards representation. It's like oh, I'm I'm mostly this person, but I do believe in the color purple, or I'm mostly this person, but man, I'm a mom too and I those kinds of things will increase representation and so with rank choice voting, you really get to to push those Coalition's to the front. And I I love that in the context of competitiveness like Is this the classic gerrymandering criteria? Is the district competitive? Well, a 5149 district is competitive, but it has 49% of the people who don't like the representative. If you've got these two polarized parties, that's not great. So if you have Coalition's forming, then you have room for sizable minorities to have their person and you have power for Coalition's to allocate among these minority Coalition's and that's really you know that's powerful

Jenna Spinelle 
Well yeah and speaking of power and incentives I mean some states that have citizen led initiatives might be able to do things similar to what the Independent Redistricting Commission folks did over the past 10 years and use the next 10 years to make a push for passing multi member districts and rank choice voting through ballot measures. But that's not the case. In Pennsylvania, for example, we're where we don't have those processes. So how might you position these types of reforms in a way that would be appealing to legislators or take some of their incentives into account?

Chris Fowler 
So I mean, I think it has to be it has to be a pathway, a long pathway. And so you start by transparency and openness and legislators having to answer for their actions. Probably from there, maybe you go to an open primary system, which sort of takes the legs out from the most extreme candidates, right, you start you start having room to elect someone who's less extreme. So for example, in Ohio, there's a they just had a special election. And there's a guy there who got 18,000 votes in the Republican primary who was in a field of 11. So we got 36%, or something of Republican primary voters. That district always sends a Republican. So those 18,000 people are the only people who chose this person who's going to go represent 750,000. Yeah, no, I don't, I don't think that's democratic. And so what you have to do is figure out okay, what are the small steps that don't immediately threaten the legislature's that get us towards better legislators, who might, you know, ultimately, before thinking enough to do this kind of stuff. And you know, I guess the one thing I want to put out there is, we can't be dogmatic about what our preferences are. Because compactness, competitiveness, majority, minority districts, all of these things that we believe in as signs of a good map are complicated. They can be signs of a good map, they can also be abused. What we need is nuance, subjectivity, stakeholder engagement, those kinds of things are going to get us where we need to go. And so you know, to the degree we can educate ourselves on these subtleties, I think it's, I think it's all to the benefit.

Jenna Spinelle 
Well, thank you for the work that you're doing to help bring some of that nuance and subtlety to our processes here in Pennsylvania. And thank you for joining us today.

Chris Fowler 
It's a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Chris Beem 
Like we said, really interesting perspective. And as I was listening again, the thought occurred to me that Chris's perspective reminds me of Robert Talisse, who is a political theorist, philosopher, who we had on about his book overdoing democracy. And his argument was that if you are always engaged in partisan activities, or you're only engaging with other people, in terms of partisanship, you are overdoing it, you should find ways of interacting with people that are not about politics that are just about other things. And so you can get to know people on a regular on a more, you know, typical way, right, just as people as opposed to Republicans and Democrats anyway, the point is that I think Chris's work does something similar. He says, there's lots of things that people think about when they think about where they live, and it's not merely in terms of their partisan identity.

Candis Watts Smith  
But I think it's also important for us to keep in mind that institutions structure incentives, incentive structure or behavior. So we have a series of rules, laws, institutions that incentivize us to go into one party or the other, my students are always like just, they just are like, why do we only have two parties. And when I asked them, we talk about what their policy preferences are, they want a little bit of this and a little bit of that. And they don't think that either of the parties represent their preferences or their interests, but they choose one, because they must write because they don't want their vote to be wasted. So you know, we tend to think about independence as like dum dums, as like, okay, you really do have partisanship or you're not smart enough to figure out which party is close, more closely aligned. But I think that there is an increasing number of people who wish that things could be different. And that they wish that we had a different kind of institutional setup that would allow for third parties or would allow for, you know, just more choices that are more closely aligned with their preferences. So you know, I think like, some of what Chris is bringing up is, we could, we could, if we have the political will do things differently. But we don't write the political will to do things differently.

Chris Beem 
I think it's really hard to figure out how to change the incentives for politicians and for citizens to change that. It's like you're asking people to ignore their incentives right now. So they can change their incentives for future behavior, I think that's a really difficult thing for it to ask human beings to do.

Candis Watts Smith  
So you know, Chris, for example, brings up the idea of multi member districts. Now, of course, we have to keep in mind the longer history of multi member districts, and why they were like essentially outlawed at the federal level, because white supremacists use this as a means to use serve and diminish black and Latino voter power. And so like, what that means is that, okay, let's say we can think about multi member districts, for example, but it has to come with some other changes so that we don't go back to where we started. So you know, as far as thinking about like, Okay, well, are these things possible? Yeah, they are possible, right? I mean, we talked about, like, feasibility possible within, I don't know, two years or five years, but I don't know, I think that there's something to people or like, the fact that we're on like, this is not a voting 101 class, this is like voting 598 I mean, our listeners are really well attuned to these questions, and more and more people are. So I do think that there is some room for shifting, we really could do things differently.

Chris Beem
I mean, in terms of Chris's argument, he acknowledges explicitly your point about you know, Southern antebellum states using multi member districts as a tool for racial suppression. So therefore he says it has to be combined with rank choice voting. I mean, that combination makes my head hurt. And you know, I do this for a living I can only imagine what some person you know, just doesn't engage these realities or often thinks about it. So I think it's

Candis Watts Smith
Really what I don't buy that absolutely not. Buy I do not buy that argument. I think that on a scale of one to 10 the way that you normally vote you go in you choose a person that's a one rank choice voting on level of difficulty to you know, that if you couldn't get your person that there is a person that you would rather have than some other person that person's number two, and then if you had to choose somebody else, like fine, but not the other person, that's number three. That is a level of difficulty two out of 10

Chris Beem 
I don't know if i mean maybe in the application the actual you know, operation of it, but explaining it to people i think if you say we want to do we want to institute multi member districts and rank choice voting, people are just gonna say,

Candis Watts Smith 
No, no, all you have to do is say, look, you get you're going to get to vote for three people. Here's how we're going to do it. Put 123 the person you like the next person, the third person, keep it moving, or even pumping right so this is the idea where you like get three votes. And you can say I really like this person a lot. I'm giving them three I you know, and then that's it. I don't even like the other two or I like this person to this person when you get through. People are capable of like have you do Tic tock, do you? Do you get on like social media, people can do amazing things on the internet with their phone, we can explain, they could be explained. Rank choice voting, plumping all of the things, we are capable of learning new things. And I think that people tend to make this argument like, Oh, it's too complicated to explain to people, it really isn't, I don't know, don't buy I can't I can't, I'm gonna die on this hill.

Chris Beem 
I think reformers have to be very deliberate about how they make their case and how they push their objectives. I mean, I think, you know, the permutations associated with what kind of rank choice voting, what kind of multi member districts? You know, I mean, there are and then combining them, there are all kinds of, literally, there's probably a dozen ways you can frame that. So I'm just thinking, if you're going to, you know, engage this question of how do we make the structures? How do we improve the procedures around which we organize our politics in a way that improves, not just politics, but also our society at large? We should be very deliberate about that. I guess that's all I would say.

Candis Watts Smith
Yeah. I mean, and I think that that is a point that Chris brings up quite clearly is that there are connected set of issues that have to be dealt with alongside these commissions and redistricting, right, like having a voting holiday. Right? He doesn't mention this. But you know, opting out of registration rather than opting in the right with a two step process to vote other places don't moving away from winner take all I mean, I think even just like winner take all it's like, you get 51% of the vote, and then you get all of it. I think that's odd, right? I think that irritates people. But I think if anything, that people's orientation toward doing something new, I think is highlighted and the fact that people are like, let's just write independent commissions are going to do either, but they're like, it's something different. Right? Right. Right, right. It's something new, let's do something different and something new, because what's been happening were, you know, what is that phrase insanity is doing the same thing over and over and doing something different?

Chris Beem 
And, you know, it could be that you're absolutely right, then in a broader historical framework, we are already seeing these changes in terms of the procedures by which we operate our democracy, and that you know, somebody 50 years from now we'll be able to look back at things like Maine and California and say, See, this is where it started. And it's easy for me to say, Oh, well, those are epiphenomenal. They don't mean anything, but we just don't know. And it is it's interesting to think about that in terms of just how you are almost constrained to think in the short windows because of how elections work. Now, so I mean, it's just a fascinating topic. And it's really, really important. And, Candis, I think you're absolutely right, that this is all driven by deep abiding and bipartisan dissatisfaction with the status quo, we just need to figure out how to, you know, move that in the most productive ways. And obviously, I think, Chris gives us a lot to think about in that regard. So for democracy works, I'm Chris Beem.

Candis Watts Smith 
And I'm Candis Watts Smith. Thanks for listening.