Those Switching Orange County Maps Aren’t a Triumph. They Are a Tragedy

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

On Twitter and Facebook, I see people celebrating that screen shot of two maps of Orange County.

The maps divide the county into Congressional districts. The map on the left shows a mostly red county, with two blue districts, as it was previous to this year’s elections. The second map shows the county all blue.

 

 

 

 

 

Democrats and my fellow anti-Trumpers cheer this historic shift: Orange County has turned blue.

I’m sorry, but I don’t see any cause for celebration in either map.

Because what both maps shows is the tragedy of America’s so-called democracy, and its lack of representation.

The truth is that Orange County should never have been all red, and it now shouldn’t be all blue. It’s a county of more than 3 million people, with many Democrats and Republicans. And all of them deserve some representation.

But Orange County is in the United States, with winner-take-all-elections. What that means that even in very close races – like the ones we’ve just seen in Orange County—the winning party gets all the representation for that district. The losing party, even losing narrowly, gets nothing.

That’s not right.

It’s also a big reason why our politics are so contested and nasty. We look for every edge because of our winner-takes-all system. We don’t just try to turn our people out—we try to discourage the other side’s supporters from turning out. We do this in part because the difference between having all the representation and none is just too darn small.

Orange County is now pretty close to a 50-50 place. So it should have pretty close to 50-50 representation. Just as when Republicans dominated, at say 60-40, it should have had a similar mix of representation.

Our current system, put simply, isn’t representative and thus isn’t very democratic. The good news is that we could do this differently. Modern democracies around the world allot seats proportionally, based on the percentages of the votes parties win.

This requires multi-member districts. Orange County itself could become such a district, with the number of delegates tied to percentage. In that case, we’d see a map that showed real representative democracy—an Orange County that looks like its people, the red and the blue mixed together in a lovely purple.

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