Monday, May 21, 2007

Farmers Branch: why not STV?

A judge has ruled that the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch cannot enforce its new ordinance against renting apartments to illegal immigrants. The judgment apparently held that the city created its own way of determining whether or not a resident was legal, a responsibility that belongs only to the federal government.

I would be against this ordinance for a couple of reasons: first, because it seems likely to lead to some harassment of people who are legal, but happen to be Hispanic; second, because if all communities adopt similar ordinances, it probably won't cut the number of illegal immigrants, but it could have a very substantively negative impact on the conditions they and their children live in.

What interests me more, however, was further down in the article:

The federal suit, on behalf of three Latino voters who live in Farmers Branch, claims minorities are underrepresented because of the at-large city council system.

It seeks the creation of single-member districts, in which a city council member is elected to represent a specific section of the city. Both large and small cities with diverse racial makeup use the system, said Rolando Rios, the attorney leading the suit.

Activists say if the method had been in place, at least one Latino candidate would have been elected to the council and could represent the group. All five council members are white men.

This assumes that the only or, at least, primary way to represent a voter is by racially descriptive representation. This may be true on this issue, but as the article notes, all five current members of the council are white men. What about women? What about representation on the basis of nonracial issues?

Instead, the plaintiffs would have the city box itself into a racially charged model of electing its City Council by creating seats "reserved" for Latino voters (much like, of course, the U.S. Congress), at the expense of other forms of representation, and at the expense of "disenfranchising" the minority-majority white population in the "Latino" district.

Why not ask, instead of a district model, for a proportional representation model--in particular, the single transferable vote? STV would maintain the system of citywide representation while representing what voters want to see represented.

This is just, of course, a microcosm of the U.S. system in general: if we just took measures to make things more proportional, there'd be no need for ridiculously gerrymandered districts [warning--PDF] to satisfy someone's exclusive concept of "representation." Then the Texas legislators would never have to go to Oklahoma again!

No comments: