Elimination of Gerrymandering

Elimination of Gerrymandering

This entry is part 6 of 13 in the series Political Reforms

Gerrymandering is an insidious manipulation of district boundaries to predetermine the outcome of elections. It MUST be eliminated to preserve democracy.

Originally published 2004

The problem with gerrymandering is that a political party can use it to engineering the election decision. In effect, they can predetermine the outcome, regardless of how many people vote or who is running. It is an insidious practice that must be eliminated to preserve a true democracy where it still exists, and to restore democracy in those parts of the country where gerrymandering has long since eradicated any semblance of it.

The Problem with Gerrymandering

As a result of gerrymandering, there are currently no more than a dozen states in the U.S. in which elections are still contested — the so-called “battleground states”. In every other state, the outcome of every election is all but predetermined — sometimes a result of genuine inclination of the population, but frequently as a result of gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is all about manipulating the boundaries of your political districts to get the results you want.

We tend to think of gerrymandering as an occasional thing where someone rigs a single district to ensure that they win. That doesn’t seem too bad. But it’s really much worse than that. We’re talking wholesale restructuring of entire states to ensure that the same party always wins in that state.

How Gerrymandering Works

To contrive a simple example, suppose you had a state that was geographically divided by forks of a river into three districts, where each district had one republican and one democrat in it. That would be a fairly balanced system. The President elected by that state would be the one who managed to get just one vote from the opposing side.

Natural Boundaries, evenly divided

In other words, the election would be a crap shoot. That situation is fine for voters. But political parties want something that’s less risky. Enter gerrymandering.

With gerrymandering, you rig the districts so all the democrats are in one district, and you divide the republicans between the remaining two districts. Now, you’re always going to lose one district, but you’re always going to win two! In other words, you’re always the majority party in your state legislature, your party has a majority of legislators in Congress, and your state’s electoral votes always go for your party’s presidential candidate.

Districts rearranged

It goes the other way too, of course. There are states where democrats control the proceedings. But the fact is that the Republican party spent a good 20 years pumping money into state level elections — because redistricting is done by each state. As a result of that manipulation, they have put themselves into a position of power at the national level, ensuring that they will be the majority party for many years to come — practically no matter what they do.

It’s not even as simple as shifting a boundary one street over, either. With gerrymandering, you no longer see districts in fairly regular geometric shapes, say “from the river over to the freeway”. Instead, you see districts that look like “scatter gun pellets” “a squashed spider”. There are even instances of so-called “Jesus Districts”, where you have to walk on water to stay within district boundaries.

Examples of extreme boundaries

With such districts, you neighbor on either side could be in completely different districts — and, you would never know unless you look at a map.

Various proposals have been suggested to curb the problem of gerrymandering, but they all tend to have the same fatal flaw — whatever mechanism you choose for establishing geographic districts, it eventually becomes a political affair in its own right.

That’s not to discredit such proposals entirely, however. Virtually any attempt at reform is welcome. But with a system of proportional representation, the problem evaporates.

North Carolina Wins the Prize

The image at that top of the post shows North Carolina, which earned a sardonic “Most Gerrymandered” award from the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC). Here’s what they had to say:

States are required to redraw their legislative maps every 10 years, to ensure the state’s population is evenly divided among districts. Before the last round of redistricting, national Republicans spent close to $30 million to win control of the processes in state legislatures across the country. North Carolina was one of the greatest victims of this effort.

Three out of 10 of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation were drawn in North Carolina. Two of these districts were struck down by the Supreme Court because they illegally weakened the power of black voters. In addition, 9 state Senate seats and 19 state House seats have also been struck down as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. All of these maps were drawn by Republicans in the state legislature in 2011.

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