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You Can Go Two Years Without a State Senator

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You Can Go Two Years Without a State Senator

Getty Images/David McNew

The City Council voted to oppose Proposition 11, which would place redistricting authority in the hands of an independent commission.

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Every 10 years, someone points out that certain Californians are about to go two years without anyone representing them in the state Senate. And every 10 years, experts dismiss this as not a big deal.

The lack of representation is produced by the every-10-year redistricting process -- and the fact that state senators serve four year terms.

That means that only half of state senate seats have elections every two years. So the newly determined districts -- set by redistricting -- phase in for the senate, with half of the new districts picking someone in 2012 and the other half in 2014.

In a few places in the state, residents may live in an old district whose senator's four-year term ends in 2012--but their new district may not be scheduled to elect someone until 2014--leaving them without representation. (For the opposite reason, some Californians may have two state senators in 2013 and 2014).

There's nothing nefarious or legally wrong about this, so experts have dismissed it. They shouldn't. This quirk of non-representation for some Californians is an important defect in our legislative elections -- and shows why other countries have moved away from our two-house, single-member-district system.

There would be many changes we could make that would eliminate this problem -- and other problems.

Moving to a unicameral legislature in which everyone was elected on the same schedule would eliminate this problem. (It also would get rid of the antiquated two-house system, which makes it hard to govern because it offers so many dark corners for interests to strangle good ideas and advance bad ones).

Even better: moving away from single-member districts entirely. If California used its regions as districts, it could have multiple members from each region (the exact number would be in proportion to each region's share of the state population).

Since regional boundaries are fairly set, there would be no need for redistricting. And no one would ever go without representation.

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