District Representation for BOCC

Today's Herald reported that a group from rural Orange County led by farmer Bob Strayhorn and state Rep. Bill Faison is pushing the BOCC to consider district representation. They point out that a large segment of Orange County voters feels that they are not represented under the current system. A petition to that effect with 1252 signatures was delivered to the commissioners.

This has been raised before but the commissioners were unwilling to act. My own thinking is that we should provide voting and representation systems that allow maximum representation of points of view while maintaining one-person/one-vote and effective government.

Cumulative voting could be another option to attain the same ends. Cumulative voting would allow a variety of constituencies to identify themselves and seek better representation. But there are problems with it.

Preference voting which is an arguably better process than cumulative is another possibility.

Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that a BOCC elected primarily by the urban area voters will make a change unless pro-democracy forces in Chapel Hill in Carrboro also take up the cause.

Issues: 

Total votes: 261

Comments

Ruby-
I notice that comments on this topic have appeared on another thread. Perhaps you can consolidate them here.

I'm a little leery about changing things. I like the idea that our current structure gives us commissioners who look at Orange County as a whole. When you get into districts, I wonder/worry about what happens to the big picture. On the other hand, there is no doubt in my mind that some in the county feel disconnected from the towns. I'm wondering what perspectives on what issues they think are missing from the current Board? Are the petitioners mostly focused on lower taxes, more industry and jobs, some reassurance that school merger and a district tax won't happen? Or are there things that they want which we know nothing about? If the latter is the case, then they have a valid point that they are not represented.

I'm wondering what perspectives on what issues they think are missing from the current Board?

Easy question to answer. A perspective that is slightly more representative of the conservative rural values of rural Orange County citizens on all issues.

Paul,
I actually have a lot of sympathy for you folks up there and I've always gotten the feeling that Jacobs and Halkiotis have a lot of sympathy for you too. Did you consider Margaret Brown a friend? Her farmland preservation policy seemed pretty friendly.
What do petitioners want that they are not getting? What do you see coming that you want to stop?

I can really understand the frustration of those folks who don't feel represented in northern Orange. As a progressive, I am also frequently in the political minority.

Rather than district-based voting, I'd prefer one of of the alternatives that Dan mentions such as cumulative or preference voting. That would allow all kinds of political minorities to combine their forces, be they geographic, racial, cultural, etc.

On the other hand, I sometimes wonder about voting districts in Chapel Hill...

Thank you Mr. Newton for using the term RURAL vs. northern Orange.

Ms. Rabinowitz, I live in the Orange Grove/Cane Creek Community which is in the southwest portion of the County and not "up there".

If I could take Mr. Newton's point a step further about convservative viewpoint of the Commissioners. Yes, the commissioners are diverse in physical appearence but that is where it ends. They are not diverse in opinion and political philosophy. Mr. Halkiotis is well left of center. As for Mr. Jacobs if he had true sympathy in rural Orange then he would be in the General Assembly now. The further you got from Chapel Hill the less votes he received in the 50th House primary race. Ms Brown is history and thank goodness for that.

The point is 70% of voters live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro area, so they decide who gets elected to the commission. As was stated in the 1993 county report on how we can improve our county commission a combination of district/at-large commission of 7 would better serve all the citizens and would likely provide all viewpoints at the table.

There is a difference between voting methods, such as cumulative and preference, and representation. Ensuring that residents from the northern section of the county have candidates to choose from would not necessarily be achieved by changing the voting method.

Actually, cumulative voting can guarantee a rural commissioner, assuming that rural voters are united enough on the candidate and bullet vote.

Assuming complete uniformity of vote for rural candidates by rural voters and for urban candidates by urban voters, under the current system you could get in 2006 with three seats open (using Patrick's 70% urban figure):
first place: urban with 70% of vote
second place : urban with 70% of vote
third place : urban with 70% of vote
fourth place : rural with 30% of vote

With cumulative voting under the same assumptions and assuming urban would divide votes and rural would unite them, you would get:
first place 1: rural with 90% of vote (3 votes each for 30% of population)
second place : urban with 70% of vote
third place : urban with 70% of vote
fourth place : urban with 70% of vote
In this scenario it doesn't matter how the urban vote breaks down, as long as the rural is united, they get a seat.

This however does not allow for competition among rural candidates as districts would.

It might be possible to construct a sytem that combined cumulative and preference voting that would solve this problem but I have not heard of one.

Patrick,
I did not mean to slight you down there. Thank you for the correction.
If we do go to district voting, are you sure it will help you? It seems like the Board would always be weighted against you, and that your conservative view would seldom prevail. Also, does it scare you at all that a real progressive might replace one of those horrendously liberal board members we have now?

Assuming that the rural vote would stand together is a fairly large assumption, don't you think? In this county, what are rural voters anyway? The Orange Grove/Cane Creek area has some very progressive residents as do other areas within the rural buffer.

There's also a matter of trust. In order to encourage more minority candidates to enter these races--especially those who do not have personal resources to waste--they need to have some confidence that the larger number of voters in Chapel Hill/Carrboro won't automatically offset any support they have in the rural/conservative communities. Basing a new voting method on a huge assumption of those minority groups hanging together is probably not a huge confidence booster.

I do support these alternative methods Dan but I would rather try them out on state-wide or national elections before we change our local methods.

You're right Terri. To put a reality check on this discussion, we might reflect back to 1996 when Patrick ran against Margaret Brown who he maligns above (and Moses Carey). I don't have the #s handy but my recollection is that Margaret did very well in rural precincts, beating Patrick in many perhaps even his home precinct. The point is that, as Terri said, the idea that there is some unified rural conservative constituency is ridiculous.

Who are rural voters?? The "Rural Buffer" can barely be considered "rural" with 2 acre minimum lot sizes...

Almost half of the county's geographic area is north of the Interstates. Do you think that maybe a few people might live there? Not to mention the southwest quadrant of the county which most people would also consider to be largely rural (and yes, people do live there).

Terri, you missed the point with the current set up no one who is right of center has a chance in hell to get elected. There have been democrats who switched to the republican party in order to get to the big dance in November only to be defeated easily.

Mr. Coleman has bought up my run for office in 96. The straight party voting is what did me in more than anything else. 4 to 1 democrat and the big wave came from the city folks. Now I ask you what impact does the commissioners have on the folks living in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, or Hillsborough? Very little unless you are concerned with your county taxes or have children in the public schools. I remember questions like how would I as a commissioner protect neighboroods in Chapel Hill or Carrboro. Answer was simply, I am running for commissioner not town council or board of aldermen. For a commissioner to tell any town government how to protect the citizens they are elected to represent would be out of line for that commissioner.

I am firm believer in term limits which has not been discussed yet. As for some of the suggestions other than district election from Mr. Coleman. A number of us including you Mr. Coleman have suggested single shotting a person in a multi seat race. This in my opinion has the same effect as Mr. Coleman alternative suggestion above.

P.S. Just think one day a republican will win election to a local office in Orange County, I am sure that scares some you.

I still would like to know what issues rural conservatives feel cheated on. It really does seem to me that as things stand, we elect middle of the road, consensus builders who respect conservative values.
I couldn't agree more that there are many hard-working people out in the county who vote Republican and feel marginalized. I'm from rural Southside Virginia myself (Bush country), and often feel like I'm back home once I venture north past Hillsborough or go west on 54. Back in the days when I did home visits all over this county, I most definitely encountered a frequent feeling of disdain people in the county feel about people who live in Chapel Hill. I'm not sure what the disdain is all about. My guess is that some in the county feel invisible.

Patrick--I really don't care about supporting ideological groups in a small county such as this. I am more concerned about neighborhoods and other geographical structures--such as north/south. For example, my southern neighborhood is going to be overwhelmed with traffic from Chatham Co once the 2 new developments on 15-501 are built. I would like to have a representative on the BOCC who will be proactive in working with Chatham and DOT to limit through traffic (we're in the watershed). Whether that individual is a Democrat or a Republican makes no difference at all to me. In fact, I think there's a term for ensuring political representation by a particular ideological group--gerrymandering.

As to Mary's questions about issues of concern to rural vs urban voters, I would list equalization of school funding at the top of my list. I think that's one issue that crosses between ideological groups but varies widely by rural/urban.

The concept of "district voting" needs to be applied to the Town Council in Chapel Hill as well as to County government. At the moment, with all council members elected to "at-large" seats, many segments of the Chapel Hill community are not adequately represented. The Town Council acts as if it has a mandate from the entire population, when in reality it represents just one constituency. This problem has been very obvious several recent controversial issues.

I would strongly favor apply district voting to both the Town and County governments.

Patrick, my opinion is that it would be a very rare case in which the race would be close enough and enough people would be willing to "single-shot" for it to make a difference. I do not recall that I ever advocated such a strategy. When was it?

All, another conundrum in this debate is how you get elected officials to change the very system that has gotten them elected. This is the same problem that dogs campaign finance reform and why meaningful CFR measures have generally been the result of referenda.

If I remember right, during the merger debates, rural conservatives were pretty happy with Orange County Schools. It was the more liberal folks out in the county who wanted merger. Which brings me to a question: I've been assuming that this petition is a conservative initiative, but now I'm remembering that Liz Brown was advocating for district representation last year too. Is this petition broader based in support than I think?

I recall the 1996 race. At the time, I was the Orange County reporter for the Herald. I crunched the numbers, and it turned out that Mulkey had done better in a commissioner race than any other Republican in more than a decade, both in terms of actual votes and percentage. I wrote this to point out what was obvious then -- that areas outside Chapel Hill and Carrboro were growing, and growing more conservative. There are new houses going in all the time around this county -- little pocket developments no one talks about much, but which bring in new residents who are choosing not to live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, many of whom are more conservative than your average bear.

The Herald is right, eight years later, that increasing suburbanication of the county will change politics in this county, but not in the way they predict. If the pattern matches similar patterns in exurban developments throughout the South in previously rural areas, we're likely to see more staunchly Republican (or, put another way, more conservative) voters in the near future. Statistics on these matters can be found at UNC's Program on Southern Politics, Media, and Public Life ( www.southnow.org ; look especially for the "State of the South" reports .) I can also point you to some books and other recent nonpartisan studies of the subject.

Anyway, what I got for my pains, back in 1996, was a blistering and profane phone call from Margaret Brown's husband, who blissed me out for even mentioning the idea, apparently verboten, that Republicans might gain ground in the county.

I am not a Republican, and I'd just as soon see no Republicans ever elected to anything in Orange County, or in my county of Chatham. But I also believe in facing facts, and the fact is that conservatives and Republicans are going to increase their influence and numbers because of demographics in what is now the rural areas of Orange County, and we progressives can either welcome them into the process in a reasoned and democratic way (as in Dan's suggestions of proportional or preference voting systems), or wait for them to kick down the doors, possessed of a bad attitude.

Amen.

The preference voting method Dan is promoting is also known as instant run-off voting. Here's a good explanation of how it works. http://www.instantrunoff.com/irv.asp

Most references on IRV and preference voting list as benefits:
--simplicity
--fosters coalitions among candidates
--increases probabilities of success for minority and women candidates
--allows individuals to vote for candidates who might not have a choice of winning without that vote being wasted

One of the negative tradeoffs I found listed is that it strengthens a two-party system rather than encouraging alternative parties such as the Greens (although I don't imagine everyone would see that as a negative).

I did not find any analysis of usefulness of IRV/preference voting for bringing parity to constituents with broad ideological differences disseminated throughout a small geographical area.

I think the greatest value to district representation is that it makes people of diverse backgrounds work together in close proximity on elected boards. Sure, it may not allow a less populated area to have complete parity with a more populated one, but it certainly elevates the minority voice in the discussion. We talk a lot about ensuring minority representation in various aspects of public life because we recognize the value of giving some "OOMPH" to that voice. I think it's the same no matter how that minority voice is defined--black v white, rural v urban, women v men, and so forth .

I grew up in a county similar to this one--a heavily populated town on one side of the county coupled with a large geographic, sparsely populated rest of the county. There were many instances of cultural gap that could have been much better addressed had there been someone from our neck of the woods on the county commission, meeting regularly with the "townies."

I think my home county went to district representation in the mid 80's, and I can tell you that it has resulted in better overall governance, better decision making, and better bridges between the different communities.

Mr. Coleman does not recall supporting single shot voting. Let me refresh your memory, July 16, 2004 right here on OP "I just went down to Town Hall and cast a single vote for Margaret Brown" said Dan Coleman. Funny Mr. Coleman how as we get older our memory does not recall statements made just a few months earlier.

Thank you Ms. Badrock for your wonderful remarks about your experience eleswhere with district representation. I think you hit the nail on the head concerning this issue.

Ms. Rabinowitz and others want to know how those in rural area are different than the city folks. Cane Creek Watershed is in the rural area. When OWASA and the folks in the city wanted to limit houses to 1 per 5 acres the commissioner went along with that restiction. Those that own the land within the watershed did not support it . There was a 1 house per 2 acres already in place that the landowners understood the reasoning and accepted. This is just one example of where the will of the city folks was push onto the rural folks. Another example would be the future landfill site. There were enough rural folks mad that the issue of a new site became a no brainer.

Actually, Patrick, my memory is fine. If you reread my 7/16 post, you will find that I did not "suggest" that anyone do anything. All I did was explain my own vote by way of expressing my support for Ms. Brown and my disappointment in the other candidates. In my post above, I state that I have not advocated single-shot voting as a strategy for a campaign or its supporters. That is still, to my the best of my admittedly flagging recollection, correct.

You may think I make a fine distinction between explaining and advocating, but the fact is that I have always tried to be principled in my vote and vote for candidates I believe in rather that the best of the lot (I do confess to voting for John Kerry of the latter category last fall).

I originally read A Single Shot for M. Brown as a recommendation to others to do just that. Perhaps the headline is what threw people off.

Upon rereading it after reading Dan's post above, I can see where Dan may have meant to merely explain how he voted, but clearly many took it as his advice on how to vote.

Duncan, a philosophical question, is it an existential possibility to be a Republican and not be 'possessed of a bad attitude' at all times? I know lots of Republicans (read, my original family). In my extensive probing of the Republican mind, I have concluded that it is their essential bad attitude that separates them from me. (Of course, they believe just the same of me.)
The thing that gives me hope though, is that on an individual basis, the Republicans that I know do seem accepting of individual differences and rights.
Am I ready to draw districts so that we can have a Republican Commissioner now? Anita certainly makes a convincing case.
Patrick, have you done some preliminary sketches of districts? Where is/are the Republican district(s)?

Isn't the idea of districts to get representation on the board from different areas of the county? It's not about which party's candidate is elected. That may or may not be a by-product, but that's all it should be. Please, let's not do any county gerrymandering. Even the prospect of that is the best case against setting up districts.

For those interested in the history of these questions, there is a good overview here.

Thank you Ed! There seems to be an assumption in some posts on this thread that rural=conservative/Republican. I strongly support the idea of adding district representation so that candidates from rural /non-Chapel Hill-Carrboro enclaves have a better chance at being elected, in greater numbers. But if the way the districts are configured becomes a Democrat/Republican or conservative/liberal debate (aka gerrymandering a la Texas), I will switch my support over to the status quo faster than greased lighten'.

Be that as it may, Jamie Daniel did come in first in seven rural precincts last year. It may just turn out that rural=Republican to some extent. At the least, it will make the Republican candidate competitive for that seat. Another reason the Democrats on the BOCC may find a way to avoid making any changes.

Mr. Coleman when you go public that you single shot a person before the election day, you are endorsing the concept in my opinion. Saying one thing and doing another is why Mr. Kerry lost.

My point was that single shot voting is an opposite form of the alternative voting methods you presented at the beginning of this subject.

Ms. Rabinowitz I did draw up some districts in 1993 when I serve on the commissioner appoint committee. They were base on one person one vote and I tried to make them rural and city type districts. I didn't try to split them dem. vs rep. Two rules I abide by was do not spilt a precinct and try to keep the size of each district the same. Those district are moot today because we had another census.

Mr. Coleman makes a good point that there is nothing to move the BOCC to changing our current system. If it happens it will be from outside forces. What that force(s) is I do not know.

My objection to the ideological division of the county is not a desire to keep Republicans or third party candidates out of office. But for many reasons, I think we are better off talking about creating districts by demographic/geographic characteristics rather than presuming that we are dividing by ideology (gerrymandering).

Demographic/geographic divisions (the three urban areas, the rural buffer, southern county, northern county?) would more than likely produce a more diverse commission. However, there might need to be more seats added to the council in order to make any decisions possible.

Did the earlier study make any recommendations for how divisions should be made Patrick? Is there an assumption that if the BOCC election method changes, it would affect town/school district elections also? Are there any counties in NC who use an alternative voting method?

Thanks for the background Dan. Sounds like there's not much of a legal basis for changing the current way of doing things. Have we considered making county elections non-partisan? Would that make Republicans happier?

While there are certainly Republicans who relish the thought of district representation in Orange County (and have even used it as a campaign position), the Republican Party has taken no position on the issue. In fact, the Orange County GOP (unlike the Orange Dems) seems to avoid all local issues (whether it be school merger, district representation, or otherwise).

While some Republicans have been involved in promoting the issue, it seems there have been far more conservative Democrats leading the district representation cause than anyone else. I find it interesting that some "progressives" would seem to agree with the notion of district representation.

While there is certainly no guarantee that district representation on the OCBOCC would result in a Republican commissioner, it does seem like district representation would make conditions more favorable for electing a conservative or moderate commissioner.

A good recent example of that would be the NC House 50 race. Barry Jacobs, dressing up in coveralls and driving a pickup truck to rural Orange County events, didn't fool voters as to his true "progressive" leanings. On the other hand, Bill Faison, who worked hard to establish his own business and owns his own land/horse farm in rural Orange County seemed to relate better with his neighbors and Orange County farmers.

All that being said, Ed Neely makes a good point: "the idea of districts to get representation on the board from different areas of the county". Idealistically speaking, I think he is correct. However, in the end, Orange County is a county for the Democrats and by the Democrats.

No Democrat would risk losing a monopoly of power on the County Commision for the sake of district representation. There is too much at stake.

Bill Faison has nothing to lose by championing the cause at this point. To the folks in rural Orange County, who have thus far been unsuccessful in getting the county commision to even discuss the topic, Faison is a hero. That should be good enough for his 2006 re-election.

However, if the commision refuses to act on district representation, it will be up to Faison to decide whether or not to pursue the issue further with the NC legislature. In which case the issue will most certainly die in committee because the Orange County Democratic caucus (Hackney, Insko, Kinnaird) would most certainly never go for the idea. If they were interested in district representation, they would have already pursued it.

Your "power" theory certainly has history behind it here in Orange County, but Ellie Kinnaird and the Chapel Hill Town Council supported state-wide legislation for alternative voting methods so you may not be as on target as you think. Why don't we give it a shot? I challenge everyone who is reading this thread and thinks district representation is a good idea to write to the commissioners:

http://www.co.orange.nc.us/contact.htm

I would love for district representation to become a reality in Orange County for it's board of county commissioners. I would love to see the monopoly of power that is currently dominated by the Democratic Party to be reduced, or at the very least, move more to the center.

However, just as sure as the sun sets and rises I can count on the issue of district representation to go absolutely nowhere with the BOCC. Realistically speaking, the Democrats that run Orange County enjoy their comfort and will not willingly give it up.

Please resume the comparisons to Texas politics. ;-)

Your characterization that Barry Jacobs is out of touch with conservative Democrats makes me wonder about the Democratic Primary results this summer.
In the 50th district in Orange County, Jacobs carried 53.22%; Faison 40.60%; others 6.18%. Would you consider the votes against Jacobs as votes that we could really consider Republican?

A good question. Here are the numbers I have from the NC House 50 Primary. I downloaded them from the Orange County Board of Elections shortly after election day so they may not be the officially certified numbers but they will be good enough for this discussion. According to these numbers, Jacobs won in Orange County by 664 votes over Faison.

However, when the two southernmost precincts of NC House District 50 (Orange Grove and Coles Store) are removed from the picture, Jacobs only leads by 216 votes. I mention this fact for two reasons:

1) to emphasize the point that the further south one travels in Orange County, political philosophies tend to drift more to the "left" and ...

2) to point out that when the Democratic Party re-gerrymandered NC House District 55 into NC House District 50 (hear that Terri?) in 2003, they purposely added Orange Grove and Coles Store precincts because that would help a more liberal Democrat candidate (such as Barry Jacobs). Because ...

They saw the election results from the NC House 55 General Elections where a newcomer Republican candidate beat an incumbent Democrat candidate in Orange County and took 47% of the vote overall. Not enough to win, but enough to scare the Democrat Party into redrawing the lines.

Would conservative Democrats in the north change their party allegiance if we draw districts?

It is well known that conservative Democrats will vote Republican. I have friends who do not agree with anything the Democratic Party stands for yet are purposely registered as Democrats because they wish to have a vote for the Commissioners.

The Orange County Commissioners know what is at stake by going down the district representation road. That is exactly why we will not be seeing them on it anytime soon. Of course, I would love to be proven wrong! ;-)

I'd be happy to resume the comparisons to Texas politics Paul. The redistricting fiasco Texas went through was based purely on partisan politics--one party trying to take power away from another. To make district representation work here in Orange Co, I think we need to transcend that level of power politics and talk about fair representation for all voters. Forgive my idealism, but I've (almost) always voted for ideas rather than party affiliation.

To make district representation work, we also need to look at voter-owned elections. Voter-owned elections would ensure that candidates from Chapel Hill and large land owners out in the county don't have unfair financial advantage as candidates. If the goal of district representation is to diversify the BOCC beyond just party affiliation.

(Correction: the Chapel Hill Town Council and Ellie Kinnaird endorsed voter owned elections, SB-760, in 2004 but the bill never reached the floor for a vote. I confused this with district representation in an earlier post.)

Paul,
Your characterization that Barry Jacobs is out of touch with conservative Democrats makes me wonder about the Democratic Primary results this summer.
In the 50th district in Orange County, Jacobs carried 53.22%; Faison 40.60%; others 6.18%. Would you consider the votes against Jacobs as votes that we could really consider Republican?
Are you a conservative Democrat? How does that differ from a moderate Republican—or does it? Would conservative Democrats in the north change their party allegiance if we draw districts?

Paul--for the record, I do not approve of gerrymandering regardless of which party initiates it.

Gerrymandering is just a word for the other party's districting plan. There are no districts that are somehow objectively "correct" or "logical." It always just comes down to lines on a map. And some lines favor one party other lines the other.

As for Paul's claim that "the Democratic Party re-gerrymandered NC House District 55" - that redistricting process was Republican sponsored and vehemently opposed by Democrats.

redistricting process was Republican sponsored and vehemently opposed by Democrats

Ballantine, Daughtry, and Stephenson challenged the first maps drawn by the Democrats. They won in 2002 when Judge Jenkins(U) instituted a temporary map of his own. THEN, the Democrats objected to Jenkin's redrawing which was widely characterized as self-contradictory.

The only, and I do mean only, influence a Republican had in redrawing the district maps was Richard Morgan. He was *allowed* to participate because he had a score to settle against other Republicans. He re-drew their districts to make it easier to eliminate his enemies. What good Democrat would stand in the way of Republican infighting? ;-) Morgan has since been kicked off the GOP Executive Committee and shunned by the Republican Party. But still, the maps were mostly drawn by Democrats.

So, yes, there were some Democrats who opposed Republican efforts to oppose the originally Democrat drawn maps.

For as long as I can recall (or at least as long as the most recent bout of redistricting has been going on), the State of North Carolina's Senate, House, and Governor's Mansion has been under firm Democrat control. That doesn't seem likely to change anytime soon.

"As you can see, the playing field now tilts a bit more Democratic than it did in 2002 in the House and Senate. On the other hand, this is nothing like the grotesque gerrymander perpetrated by Democrats in 2001 that led to the Stephenson v. Bartlett case in the first place." - John Hood

It was a Republican lawsuit.

But we are probably in agreement, Paul, that redistricting is a highly partisan process - and the other side hardly ever likes it.

While I agree that to an extent what is and isn't gerrymandering can depend on who didn't draw the line and who did, I do not think it is strictly subjective. Districts drawn more geographically, encompassing an entire community, fall on the less gerrymandering side of the scale. Districts that snake and loop across the state or county, picking up this neighborhood here, leaving out that neighborhood there, can objectively be called gerrymandered by everyone but the most un-objective. Saying it is totally relative is being cynical, in my view, that people can never agree on fair districts.

Ed, that's an interesting point, but what is "fair" or "correct" or "right" about districts that are geographically compact? They are appealing to the cartographer, but do they serve democracy? Or more to the point, whose democracy do they serve?

Lani Guanier (and no doubt many others) have made the point that people who live in inner-city Durham have more in common with people who live in inner-city Greensboro, than they do with suburban Durham County residents. Insisting on geographic compactness may dilute the voting strength of inner-city residents. Is that good or bad? Depends on who is answering the question.

And in that sense, it really is purely subjective.

It was a Republican lawsuit.

But we are probably in agreement, Paul, that redistricting is a highly partisan process - and the other side hardly ever likes it.

It may have been a Republican lawsuit, but it was a "grotesque gerrymander perpetrated by Democrats" in the first place. What were Republicans supposed to do? Nothing? Perhaps get on a plane and fly to Oklahoma in protest like the Democrats did in Texas?

The one aspect that has been alluded to but not said straight forward ... the Orange County Board of Commissioners is a partisan body. Any efforts to initiate district representation on the BOCC in Orange County (like it or not) would have to be an inherently partisan process.

The all Democrat BOCC have already established their "district". Life is great! Why change? Can we expect to see the OC Democratic Party voice their support for the notion of district representation?

Not I think today. ;-)

The only way district representation will occur in Orange County is if Republicans make it happen. They will have to get their house in order first (on both a State and Orange County level) before they can even begin to think about entertaining the notion.
So Democrats shouldn't run out and put their house on the market just yet. Give us another 20 years or so! ;-)

Lani Guanier may be right, which makes the case for district representation of some kind even more compelling. The rural and urban areas of Orange County don't have the option of not working together. We are bedfellows, maybe or not by choice, but certainly by law. As a county, we are required to work together to spend the money generated by property, business, and other taxes, as well as government funding that is allocated by county. If we intrinsically have less in common in terms of needs, opportunities, or whatever, then we need better and broader communication and representation than ever to be sure we understand each other and spend resources wisely and fairly.

Mark, I can understand the tempation to do some social engineering with voting districts, but I would maintain that while there are some theoretical benefits, it is also the root of many problems, as evidenced by the gerrymandering in NC and elsewhere. And I would call these problems, not relative disagreements of values, etc.

For example, a district drawn to concentrate a particular viewpoint or set of values just creates a new, different minority within it of those who do not share this viewpoint. I would argue that it is not constitutional or right or fair to deliberately disenfranchise anyone.

Also, there is more than cartography involved here, and I think you already understand this. Government services are provided in a geographic area. This was one of the reasons Carrboro used to justify annexation. The Board of Alderman wasn't much swayed when the newly annexed residents claimed that they shared more in common with Chapel Hill, were you? And I don't blame you.

Geographic areas also share similar concerns about schools, land use planning, and on and on. Come on, this is the basic division of all governmental territories. We're not going to consider a US Senator from NYC-Los Angelos, are we?

Paul, as for Dems endorsing this sort of change, please see: http://orangepolitics.org/2004/11/electoral-reform-begins-at-home/

Anita, the whole issue is that many in Northern Orange feel that they are not represented. Lani Guanier's approach (cumulative or proportional voting) would ensure that Northern Orange voters truly are represented. District representation would, at best, assure that there is one Northern Orange commissioner (and perhaps not even that) and would also assure that s/he is voted down 4-1 pretty consistently.

Ed, check your facts: The annexation vote was not unanimous. As for government services being geographic, so what? That doesn't mean that there is anything "right" or "wrong" about geographically compact voting districts. Even if geographically compact voting districts are desirable, there are still an almost infinite number of ways to achieve them.

Lines on a map are almost always arbitrary.

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