Is districting for party or voters?

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Is districting for party or voters?

How do you feel about your vote being worth just one-third of someone else’s? Are you comfortable with that? Or should you demand more equality?

In reviewing discrepancies in the voting population in 2001, the Constitutional Court decided that the population gap between the most crowded and the least crowded electoral districts should not exceed a three-to-one ratio. But it added that after a considerable period, the population deviation base should be lowered to a two-to-one ratio. I believe the time has come for the Constitutional Court to act upon the later emphasis in revising the redistricting guideline.

First of all, according to fair election principles, each vote must carry an equal value. The fair election principle strictly demands equality in elections to uphold the tenet of democracy that each individual is essentially equal. The fair election principle carries absolute and formal meaning in equality, placing no discrimination on citizens’ academic background, assets, and political judgment. A district legislator represents not only the land, but the people of the district. Therefore, the vote of a resident of an electoral district should carry equal weight in selecting a representative of that district.

Second, broad tolerance in population discrepancy among electoral districts undermines the proportional appropriation of legislative seats according to the number of voters, allowing some cities and provinces to have more legislative seats than others. The disproportional appropriation of legislative seats combined with the traditional voting base of political favor institutionalizes excess influence of a certain political party in certain regions.

Third, it is a global trend to restrict population deviation to the minimum in electoral districts. In Britain, electoral boundaries are redistricted close to the equal representation guideline or average vote quota. Since the U.S. Supreme Court landmark decision on “one-person, one-vote” standard, the United States has endeavored to keep population deviations to a minimum. In 1983, the Supreme Court rejected a New Jersey congressional redistricting plan that had a population deviation of only 0.698 percent. France also restricts deviation within 20 percent of average population quota in setting electoral districts. In Germany, electoral districts must not vary more than plus or minus 15 percent from the overall average population of electoral districts. In Japanese parliamentary elections, the deviation in the voting population should not exceed two when the number of voters of the largest electoral district is divided by the number of voters of the smallest electoral district.

Fourth, the argument that rural areas can be better represented and developed when more legislators come from rural areas is not correct in our case. Decisions on interests of rural areas are made mostly by political parties and not individual representatives of the region.

A political party based in the region - not the residents - benefits from loose districting, as what matters to politicians is representation identity from either Gyeongsang or Jeolla Province, not a particular rural area.

According to the global trend to enhance fairness in elections and equal representation, our electoral districts should be restricted to a two-to-one ratio.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

*The author is a law professor of Hongik University.

By Eum Seon-pil
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