Monday, November 24, 2008

Democrats Finally Exploit Bug in D.C.'s At-Large Voting Scheme

Because D.C. is a one-party town, the Congress created two at-large City Council seats with the intent of creating at least one minority party member. Every voter gets two votes. The catch is that each party can only nominate one candidate. For years, this worked, as a Republican won the second seat. However, in the last election, a Democrat running as an Independent won. Thus, the City Council will be completely Democratic come January. This completely defeats the intent of this voting rule.

The big question is what took the Democrats so long? They could have always designated an independent as the second Democratic candidate.

The next big question is how to fix it? Two methods come to mind. The first is the Japanese method for multimember districts: give voters only one vote. The problem is that doesn't work for the same reason. The Democrats can nominate two candidates, divide D.C. into two halves and instruct voters in each half to vote for that half's candidate. Thus, the Democrats can hold the two cities. The other alternative is for each party to designate an at-large candidate. Then, the two parties receiving the highest number of votes for all other council seats receive one vote each. In a city dominated by one party, this will have the desired effect of placing a minority party member on the City Council. If the city becomes politically competitive, the effect is a wash, as the balance between the two parties will not be affected.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Anacostia Light Rail: A Solution in Search of a Problem

DDOT initially conceived the Anacostia light rail as a starter system for a network of light rail lines throughout DC. Anacostia was chosen to be first as it would be connected to the rail yard and be relatively inexpensive to build. This was contingent on obtaining CSX's right-of-way to build a (relatively) high-speed connection through Anacostia between the Anacostia and Minnesota Ave. stations. The deal fell through, so DDOT is now reduced to trying to build a light rail line in Anacostia to, well, perhaps show that it can be done. As Greater Greater Washington has pointed out, the latest incarnation will continue an all-too-short (and low speed) distance on Anacostia's streets and maybe will be extended to the 11th St. Bridge. After that, there is simply no plan.

DDOT also assumed away the problem of the ban on overhead wires. Not every light rail line can go on abandoned railroad tracks. In fact, one of the illustrations shows overhead lines on a street. Let's face it, the overhead line ban is not going away. Moreover, given improvements in power storage technology, it may be possible to avoid them completely by having quick charges from short overhead lines integrated into stations.

So, DDOT has to go back to the drawing board. First, it has to find a way to get the CSX right-of-way. Eminent domain is a possibility that hasn't been tried. This may be difficult, as railroads are generally accorded strong property rights. You can't do a lot of things to railroads that you can do to other properties. Still, the line is abandoned, which is the argument that DC will have to use. Second, DC has to solve the overhead wire problem. By doing so, it can reduce construction costs and set an example for other cities to emulate. The Anacostia LRT can be used as a test bed.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Simple Way to Provide a Small Economic Boost - Abolish the Penny

The U.S. mint produces the penny at a loss of about $500m annually. Estimates of the cost to consumers of pennies range from $300m-$1b annually. Remove the penny from circulation and these costs vanish. The government gains $500m annually from not producing pennies. In the current economic climate, every efficiency gained is important.

Source: Wikipedia

CNN's Electoral Coverage

I watched CNN a little bit last night and found some good things, bad things and one bizarre thing about the coverage.

The Good:
  • Lots of experts who had some idea of what they were talking about.
  • Actual votes displayed, both online and on TV.
  • Lots of data.
  • A good explanation of the early returns in Virginia and how McCain was not doing as well as Bush in 2004.
The Bad:
  • Lots of useless or redundant data. Many of the items displayed had common explanations. For example, in one state, only conservatives and Republicans favored McCain, while all other demographics favored Obama. The simple explanation is that conservative Republicans are a minority in the state and in all of the demographics shown.
  • Geographic data not displayed geographically. Several data items were by state, but arrayed by strength along the red-blue axis. Maps would have been far more helpful. They could have zoomed in on some state, while showing the neighbors, if desired. The maps would have, at once, conveyed all of the information.
  • No scales on the "bar" graphs. Presumably, longer red bars meant greater percentages for McCain. Likewise, longer blue bars meant greater percentages for Obama. However, I have no idea what those percentages were.
The bizarre:
  • The reporter present in the studio as a "hologram". This really an exercise in gee-whiz virtual technology that produced no benefit over a remote. Don't for one moment think that Wolf Blitzer was speaking to the "hologram". He was looking at a monitor the whole time.
There you have it, folks. Maybe CNN (or a competitor) should hire me to show how to do these things right.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

My Phone Won't Stop Ringing! I Can't Wait for the Election to be Over

I'm getting political phone calls at the rate of about 1 per hour. Most of them seem to be Republican. Are they trying to get me to vote Democratic? Enough already!