Blanchard Says Redistricting Won’t Help Dems as Much as Party-Building

Dr. Ken Blanchard speaks on redistricting at the Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs luncheon, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2015.10.01.
Dr. Ken Blanchard speaks on redistricting at the Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs luncheon, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2015.10.01.

The Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs Committee presented a lunchtime speech today by Dr. Kenneth Blanchard, political science professor at Northern State University, on redistricting. Dr. Blanchard chose a timely topic, given the circulation of an initiative petition seeking to create an independent redistricting committee in South Dakota.

The gist of Dr. Blanchard’s 27-minute speech (most of which I captured on video below—enjoy!) was that no redistricting reform promises great gains for any political party or solid insulation from partisan scheming. Dr. Blanchard fought off his conservative suspicion of reform just enough to avoid recommending that we vote against the pending anti-gerrymandering proposal. He acknowledged that the South Dakota Legislature could stand to have better partisan balance to avoid falling into the sort of one-party corruption he saw while growing up in Democrat-dominated Arkansas. However, he told South Dakota Democrats pinning their hopes for such balance on an independent redistricting commission that they would do better to focus on recruiting candidates and strengthening their party.

Novstrup: Proposal Vulnerable to GOP Sabotage!

Dr. Blanchard said that the intended balance of party representation in the redistricting proposal is reasonable, in that a panel equally balanced among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents would check shenanigans. However, during the Q&A after Dr. Blanchard’s speech, Rep. Al Novstrup (R-3/Aberdeen) questioned whether the ballot measure as written would achieve partisan balance. He noted (as I did on first reading of the proposal in July) that the exact text of the measure says, “No more than three members of the commission shall be members of the same political party.” Rep. Novstrup contended that the Board of Elections, which by its statutory composition is likely to consist of a majority of Republicans, could appoint three Republicans, no Democrats, and six right-leaning Independents. Rep. Novstrup said the specific wording of the initiative could give Republicans an even firmer grip on the redistricting process.

Rep. Novstrup has a clever argument, but he ignores the criteria built into the initiative, specifically the requirement that the IRC start its map-drawing by “creating districts of equal population in a grid-like pattern across the state”and the prohibition on adjusting that grid-like pattern by considering party registration, voting history, or “places of residence of incumbents or candidates.” Even if the Board of Elections excludes one party from the IRC, the IRC would lack the information it would need to rig the map the way Rep. Novstrup and his colleagues can under the current rules.

Of Machines and Men

I asked Dr. Blanchard whether he thought a purely algorithmic method of drawing legislative districts, like the optimally compact hexagonal scheme designed by Brian Olson of, could produce a more fair election map. Cinephile Dr. Blanchard referenced Colossus: The Forbin Project, to show he’s as suspicious of machines as he is of reform.

City councilman Clint Rux noted that Aberdeen has a committee separate from the council itself draw the districts for city elections then submit that map to the council for a straight up-or-down vote. Dr. Blanchard  said he is open to such a model for the state but believes that the Legislature should maintain some control over elections.

Watch the bulk of Dr. Blanchard’s speech:

18 Responses to Blanchard Says Redistricting Won’t Help Dems as Much as Party-Building

  1. I think that he is right that this will not be a boondoggle for Dems, but the real issue is that gerrymandering (for either party in power) is wrong and undemocratic.

  2. Troy Jones

    Besides the fact I can’t get anyone to give me districts that were built to give the GOP partisan advantage which could justify the change, the gist of his argument is the SDDP will be more relevant if the do the hard work of party building and the basics of candidate recruitment, volunteer development and organization, and get out the vote efforts.

    The assertion the process is rigged without real evidence (vs. perception and anecdote) discourages real party development as a sense of “what difference will it make?” creeps in.

  3. mike from iowa

    Troy Jones-typical right wing welfare Queen. Gimme,gimme,gimme.

  4. mike from iowa

    Operation Redmap-wingnuts efforts to take over statehouses started in 2008,before Obama was elected.

    This wingnut strategy was in effect long before 2008. Wingnuts had long talked about attacking women’s rights through statehouse takeovers at least as early as Clinton’s administration.

  5. Troy: Districts 2 and 19?

  6. Oh come on Troy! You are the poster child for disingenuousness.

    District 13 in Sioux Falls was GOP leaning but had a history of electing Democrats – Scott Heidepriem, Bill Thompson, Suzy Blake. So The GOP threw a few thousand more Republicans in to ensure no Democrat could be elected there again.

    District 14 Sioux Falls. Marc Feinstein was getting elected in a GOP district, so the GOP redistricters pulled out a couple of the Democratic precincts to make it more heavily Republican.

    District 9 Sioux Falls. This district had a Democratic registration edge and was electing Democrats, so redistricters pulled out Democratic precincts and spread those precincts around to other districts to dilute them – making District 9 a GOP district.

    District 25 producing competitive races for GOP leader Tim Rave, electing Democrats Dan Ahlers, Oren Sorenson. Redistricters stretched the district all the way down from Dell Rapids and Garretson to the south side of Sioux Falls to pick up more Republicans.

    Frank Kloucek kept winning in his heavily Republican district so the GOP redistricters ran his district into another county where the voters didn’t know him knowing no other Democrat could get elected in that district.

    Districts 26A&B and 28 A&B on the reservations. The total voter registration of these districts is Democratic, so the GOP carved the single-member districts so that Republicans could pick up two seats.

    City of Aberdeen split into two districts instead of 1 and kept that way to dilute Democratic strength there.

    The list goes on, with political considerations being the primary justification for the oddly shaped and unnecessarily divided or stretched districts we have. Your denial, Troy, is mere party flackery/hackery.

  7. Thank you, R, for that much more detailed list. And didn’t the District 9 gerrymandering include some creative drawing to move Lora Hubbel out of 11 and into 9?

  8. Yes, Cory. Besides figuring out ways to get rid of Democrats, the GOP redistricters also look for ways to get rid of Republicans they don’t like, and they got rid of Lora Hubbel. Moving her precinct from one district to another was done for purely political reasons.

    Here’s Troy’s reaction to finding out politics is played by GOP redistricters:

  9. mike from iowa

    In order to have any sway in redistricting,Dems are gonna have to win a majority of seats in the lege(impossible with wingnuts in total control) or hope the federal courts step in and toss gerrymandering out the window and get independent commissions to draw fair districts based solely on population.

  10. Rohrschach,

    That is all sounds good but looking at the numbers, the story is a lot different when you consider reality. About 15 years ago, the Sioux Falls registration was roughly equal. Now the GOP has a 10,552 registration advantage. 36% Dem to 45% Republican. Basically, every district grew by 1,300 Republicans since 2000.

    Frankly, with very little effort, a partisan GOP could have used their big registration advantage in District 10 (1,174), District 11 (2,404), and District 12 (2,215) and turned District 9 in to at least a GOP +1,000 district.

    The Democrats problem isn’t where the lines are drawn but the reality there are too few Democrats in Sioux Falls.

  11. You wanted some districts that the Republican redistricters gamed, and I gave you some examples.

    Your apparent argument that Republicans in charge of redistricting don’t consider politics at all when they unnecessarily create oddly shaped districts, move unfavored incumbents out of their home districts, pack democrats into one side of single-member reservation house districts, and dilute Democratic possibilities in Sioux Falls just doesn’t sell on the blog where facts matter. Maybe on the press release blog you can find some amens to your claim, but I doubt it. And if political considerations really don’t matter to your party – as you suggest, why does the GOP always fight any bill that diminishes its partisan control over the process?

    Troy, when you’re ready to consider reality come back with some valid explanations besides political advantage for the examples I presented and my blog associates here will be glad to discuss your untenable theory, Troy.

    Is it just Democrats in blue states that try to gain redistricting advantage, Troy, and Republicans in red states take the high road? Convince us here at Dakotafreepress that the SD GOP took a principled stand and said no to nationwide GOP redistricting efforts like this one. Tell us who in SD stood up to these people, and why they did it:

  12. Deb Geelsdottir

    “he [Blanchard] told South Dakota Democrats pinning their hopes for such balance on an independent redistricting commission that they would do better to focus on recruiting candidates and strengthening their party.”

    SDDP needs to do both.

  13. mike from iowa

    Here is how wingnuts in Virginia help Dems party building efforts. Nice guys,wingnuts-NOT!

  14. Donald Pay

    Rapid City has been redistricted over several decades to make it nearly impossible for a Democrat to win. The districts used to be split more north+east central/south. Democrats could win in the north+east central district. Now the districts are east/west, which splits the Democratic vote and disenfranchises the poor and minorities, located mostly in North Rapid and Lakota homes.

  15. Give ol’ grudznick a crayon and a map and a hearty payment and I will district it all very fairly for you over a 3 egg breakfast.

  16. I regret my comments and want to flip flop my position.

    I think for a return to relevance of the SDDP is to focus on initiated measures and whining about redistributing lines because it’s the perfect foil for massive losing and you can be a victim.

    Candidate recruitment, fundraising and functional organization is a waste of time.

  17. Donald Pay

    Here’s the point, Troy. What candidate wants to run in a district that he or she has no chance of winning? Sure, someone like me doesn’t mind being a sacrificial lamb just to raise issues and give some people a chance to think they live in a democracy. But most politically astute folks will find other avenues, such as ballot measures or investigative journalism that substitutes for a strong second party.

    I don’t like the idea that a political party is involved in ballot measures. It is a sign of weakness. I’d prefer they do the things you state, but when you live in a one-party state, and that party is corrupt, then folks who oppose that party will find the best route to making change and resisting the corruption of the status quo party.

    Cory and other progressive bloggers and activists have had an incredible amount of success in exposing and fighting Republican corruption and bad Republican policy. In most other states, except perhaps Illinois and New Jersey, where corruption is bipartisan, such repeated illegality, money grubbing and failure among the political elite of your party would have earned them a spot in the landfill of political history. That can’t happen in South Dakota, because real democracy doesn’t exist.

  18. Troy, why not allow that Democrats can do all of the things you list? Are we really obligated to say, “Redistricting reform is bad” because we’re too busy doing other things? Isn’t it possible that encouraging redistricting reform and boosting the party brand, registering voters, and seeking candidates are not mutually exclusive activities?

    Maybe there’s an analogy to recovering from a heart attack. Yes, there are all sorts of big changes we need to make to keep from dying—lose weight, exercise, stop eating at McDonald’s every day. Cutting back on salty pickles only reduces our heart-attack risk by a fraction of a percentage point, much less than a number of actions we can take. But just as Republicans play the margins, so shouldn’t we? Why not toss the pickles? Why not support an independent redistricting commission?