ACBL Redistricting Proposal

by Matthew Kidd

One member, one vote?

At the unit level, each member votes for unit board members. Many units use mail-in ballots. A few units, including the La Jolla unit, hold an annual membership meeting, which in practice significantly favors the unit members who attend unit games because they are more likely to show up at the membership meeting to vote.

At the district level, unit board members are the electors for the district board members and the district representative on the national board. The vote of each elector is weighted according to the unit membership and number of unit board members such that each district member has an equal indirect vote.

Any semblance of fairness disappears at the national level where all significant policy decisions are made. Representation is far from equal. Each district has one vote on the national board of directors (BoD) but district populations, shown in the table below for March 2016, vary from slightly over 3,300 to just over 20,000 (D9 – Florida). The five districts with ~3,500 members have about six time the voting power on a per capita basis as an ACBL member in Florida. The situation isn’t quite as bad as the U.S. Senate where a Wyoming resident has over 60 times the representation as a California resident but it is not a disparity we should tolerate.

Dist Region Pop
9 Florida 20157
7 Carolinas and Georgia area 13640
17 West and southwest states 9255
16 Mexico and most of Texas 8857
21 Northern California and Reno 8770
25 New England 7843
2 Ontario, Manitoba, Bermuda 7667
6 Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. 7129
22 Southern California except LA 6989
10 Mid-South 6654
19 Pacific Northwest (US & Canada) 6632
4 Eastern Pennsylvania area 6624
3 Eastern New York, Northern NJ 6514
1 Eastern Canada 5717
24 New York City 5716
13 Chicago and Wisconsin area 5060
11 Kentucky and Ohio area 4584
14 Iowa and Dakotas area 4025
18 Northern Rockies (US & Canada) 3944
20 Oregon area and Hawaii 3925
12 Michigan and northwest Ohio 3642
8 Illinois area, except Chicago 3538
5 Ohio and Pennsylvania area 3378
23 Los Angeles County 3357
15 Missouri and Kansas area 3312
All U.S., Canada, and Mexico 166929

Redistricting — Squeezing the Square

Redistricting is the logical way to fix the serious representational inequity at the national level. But let’s not stop there. We might as well kill two birds with one stone. Last June Bob Hamman circulated a letter titled Ensuring the Future of Bridge which specified, “streamlining the decision process by reducing the size of the board to say 8 – 12 people,” as the first of eight recommendations. There is also a story running around that Warren Buffet, who is both very wealthy and a bridge player, declined to work with the ACBL, presumably in terms of funding technology or education initiatives, as soon as he learned the size of the ACBL BoD, knowing from long experience that boards of the current size (25) are ineffective.

Board size reduction is no longer just an outsider fantasy. A nine person committee met at the Reno NABC this spring to discuss the matter. The participants supposedly included three national board members, CEO Robert Hartman, the chairman of the board of governors, the ACBL League council, Peter Rank, and three others. The topic was deemed so sensitive that the remaining 22 board members were not even allowed to listen to the proceedings in silence. This secrecy could come back to haunt the committee—people in power seldom vote to eliminate themselves without a clear understanding of the benefit.

Sign outside door of the meeting at the Reno NABC to discuss restructuring the national board of directors

An odd number of board members prevents ties. So let’s shoot for a reduction to nine board members. This is a mathematically pleasing plan. Bridge players can be real squares, a fact curiously echoed in our current number of districts, 25 = 52. After a reduction of 42 = 16 districts, we will be left with a lean mean fighting machine of 32 = 9 board members, representing just nine equally populated districts.

The current district map is shown below.

The target size for our new districts is 18,500 members. To the most reasonable extent possible our new districts should be contiguous and compact, standard criterion for constructing political districts. We should also minimize the disruption, severe though it may be, and try to preserve regional characters. I present the following proposal.

The thought process that went into this proposal is:

  • Leave D9 (Florida) as is. At ~20,000 members it will continue to be underrepresented, but only slightly.
  • Preserved the South by simply combining D10 and D7 to form a ~20,000 member district.
  • Group most of California and all of Nevada together, i.e current D22 (Southern California), D23 (Los Angeles), and D21 (Northern California), and all of Nevada including parts currently belonging to D17 and D18. In particular Las Vegas becomes part of this new district, appropriately as it is the alter ego of Los Angeles and also very much in the orbit of D22 players. The new district would be a little heavy at ~20,000 members so we allow the revised Pacific Northwest district to take a bit more of the northern-most part of California.
  • Combine D16 (~9,000) with D15 (~3,000) and round out with the southwest (Arizona + New Mexico is ~5,000) for about ~17,000 member district.
  • Combine D18, D19, and D20 in an extended Pacific Northwest (~14,500) and scarf up Colorado to form a district with a bit over 17,000 members. Finish the D17 division by including eastern Wyoming, though the state hardly matters because it contains only ~200 ACBL members. Giving a bit more of the northern-most region of California to the district would get us up to ~18,000 members while trimming the slightly large Calvada (California + Nevada), district.
  • Combine D1, D2, and D25 to form the Great Northeast district. This comes in a bit heavy at ~21,000 members. Losing Connecticut and Rhode Island fixes this problem neatly at very near our target district size of 18,500.
  • Combine the lightweight D8, D12, D13, and D14 districts into a single Midwest district. This still comes in light at ~16,000. Including all of Indiana, part of which now belongs to D11, fixes this problem nicely while preserving regional character.
  • Combine the freed Connecticut and Rhode Island (~2,500 together) with D24 (New York City) and D3 (Eastern New York, Northern New Jersey) to reach ~15,000. Take the northern half of Pennsylvania which is densely populated (½ of 5000+ ACBL members) to round out the district.
  • What is left is Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C.) with ~8000 members, the southern half of Pennsylvania (~2000), Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky (together ~5000). This district may come in a bit light but including a small bit of D7 would address the problem while simultaneously addressing the problem of the slightly overweight South district composed of D7 + D10.

Possible consequences

A smaller board would be able to make decisions quicker, including important current issues regarding the budget, transparency, technology issues, addressing the cheating scandal head on, managing the slow crisis of the aging membership, and the marketing of our game to future generations.

The votes of each board member would be more consequential and therefore subject to more intense scrutiny. Board members would be held to a higher level of accountability. Certain long standing abuses, for example the inherent conflict of simultaneously serving on the ACBL BoD and the World Bridge Federation (WBF) Executive Council, as is currently the case for Alvin Levy (D24) and Georgia Heth (D8), and Merlin Vilhauer (D20), might be curtailed and also be less desirable as the BoD work would be more consuming.

Board expenses, which are considerable, would be reduced. Alternatively, it may be possible to meet more often, e.g. at the very large Gatlinburg regional, which would most likely be attended by a majority of the board even without official business to conduct. Fewer board members means fewer technological hold outs. Video conferencing technologies such as Skype may be helpful in holding short meetings between the longer meetings at the NABCs in order to advance business quicker.

Some micro-managing by the board would be eliminated simply because there wouldn’t be time for it.

The board has a lot of committees. Out of necessity non-board members would need to participate in some of those committees. My guess is that many ACBL members would be willing to serve in such a capacity in order to contribute to and influence matters they are passionate about.

District boards would have more work to do because districts would be larger. Moreover, district boards would have to take on some responsibilities currently handled by National BoD members because the National BoD job would be more consuming. For example, D22 national BoD members, Ken Monzingo, currently publishes a newspaper, the Contract Bridge Forum, in addition to serving on the board. On a smaller national board, the responsibility for district level publications would be pushed to the district board.

Currently, the Grass Roots events, the North American Pairs (NAP) and Grand National Teams (GNT), are tied to the concept of a district. Reducing to nine districts would significantly change the nature of those events. I propose tasking district boards to create and periodically redistrict three regions within their district for the purpose of the Grass Roots events. To encourage the districts to do a fair job, one might include a provision to kick the internal districting up to the national BoD for review if say 5% of a district's members sign a petition requesting such.

A sense of urgency

Ken Monzingo has been my national BoD representative for seven years. I think he has been a great bridge administrator and I mean this sincerely. I have been a unit president for four years and this have given me an appreciation for what is required just to keep the show going. I suspect those responsibilities are piled on high and deeper at the district level and I am absolutely sure they are piled on much higher and deeper at the national level.

I am with Ken about half the time on policy issues. What I don’t share with Ken is a rose tinted, platitudinous, view of certain real problems. And I am disappointed with the emotionalism with which he obscures issues where I am very much in agreement with him, because I think the emotionalism is hurting our collective cause.

Let’s get some things done.

Ken is disgusted with pros involved in the high level cheating scandal. I am too. Let’s take action. The ACBL has a detailed Code of Disciplinary Regulations. The video and statistical evidence is overwhelming and the ACBL would have no difficultly acquiring pro bono statistical consulting help from its membership. Throw the book at the cheaters. Expel the offenders for 20 years and make it clear the expulsion will not be commuted to less than 10 years under any circumstance. And ban the offending pairs from playing as a pair for life. Don’t wait for the WBF. Lead in ACBL-land. If the WBF imposes a harsher sentence, fine. In they appear to be leaning towards a weaker sentence, use whatever influence we have to encourage a strong penalty. No need to insinuate that most of the pros are cheating. Just get the job of justice done with all due haste, sending a strong message to the other pros.

Ken thinks we should focus recruitment on the baby boomers rather than the juniors, many of whom are children of pros and therefore likely to be highly polarized about bridge, in other words likely to strongly embrace or reject the game regardless of any ACBL expenditures on them. I largely agree. Let’s get it done. It only takes one motion to reallocate the funds. (I would like to continue volunteer school teaching as much as possible, for which the major cost to the ACBL is supplying the ACBL Bridge Series books which is just a printing expense because the ACBL holds the copyright.)

Transparency is primarily a matter of will rather than resources. Even something as complicated as the ACBLscore+ debacle might be well investigated by a single ACBL member properly empowered by the board and compensated for airfare and week of lodging in Horn Lake. I think it would be easy to get a volunteer from the Bridge Winners community if the board does not want to do the work itself. Let’s get it done.

Ken has raised many concerns about the non-transparent nature the manner in which the ACBL helps fund the WBF, in part through a $1 per ACBL member annual WBF membership paid non-transparently through a "Dues and Subscriptions" board of directors expense on the ACBL annual financial statement. I am more generous than Ken in the extent to which I feel the ACBL should support world bridge. But let’s do it transparency and have the board openly declare what level of funding they feel is appropriate. Again legislative will rather than extensive resources, are required. Let’s get it done

Maybe a smaller board will get it done!

I’m in my forties. I hope there is a national bridge organization, whether the ACBL or a replacement, in another thirty or forty years. I think as an organization we are at a transition point where bolder quicker action needs to replace steady as she leaks. I don’t expect all problems to be quickly solved, for example the technology issues can’t be solved immediately. But let’s get done quickly what we can and hasten that which takes time.

Additional commentary

Bridge Winners has additional commentary.