4 states have passed acts this past November to end gerrymandering.
This is incredibly encouraging, as gerrymandering ensures that our votes are meaningless. As long as gerrymandering exists we do not have representative government and cannot say we live in a democracy. That is not just my opinion, it is a fact.
What is gerrymandering and why should we care?
The cartoon above depicts the original Gerrymandered district: Elbridge Gerry was governor of Massachusetts in 1812, and he gets credit for it. The local press—seeing a resemblance to a fantastic creature in the district he created — dubbed it the Gerrymander. The name now refers to any district lines drawn in a similar convoluted way… a way designed to ensure that one party always wins, even if they are in the minority.
Here, from wikipedia, is how it works:
Political parties have taken advantage of this when they are in power and have, at present, the right to redraw district lines in many states. It has been used to disenfranchise Black American voters — as if it hasn’t already been hard enough for them to register! Politicians may seem pretty dumb at times, but boy they sure figured this one out.
The example on the right above contains examples of the two main techniques that gerrymandering use: “cracking” and “packing”—breaking apart opposition voters and creating artificially unified voter blocs.
Here are some contemporary, real-world examples:
In 2003, at the urging of then-House Majority Leader DeLay (R Texas), the Texas state legislature redrew the state’s political map, redrawing 32 districts! But to be fair, democrats have done this too.
How effective is redistricting? Very effective—even people who do it realize it creates non-representative government...which will then have zero allegiance to voters...only to the party. Here is a GOP political consultant quoted in a piece in Slate :
“As a mapmaker, I can have more of an impact on an election than a campaign, than a candidate,” says Republican consultant David Winston, who drew House seats for the GOP after the 1990 U.S. Census. “I, as a mapmaker, have more of an impact on an election than the voters.”
FairVote, a nonprofit that advocates for electoral reform, writes this on the subject of redistricting in the South:
“Nowhere in the United States are the pernicious effects of gerrymandering and winner-take-all, single-member districts more clearly visible than in the South. In the line of states running from Louisiana to Virginia, congressional races are nearly universally uncompetitive, Democrats are systematically disadvantaged, and African Americans are underrepresented in spite of the Voting Rights Act.”
Change is coming!
Local organizations and voters have had enough of this and as a result of their efforts a significant numbers of states offered voters an opportunity this past November to end gerrymandering.
From The New York Times:
“It is remarkable that five states are holding ballot measures on the issue in a single year; only five had taken them up over the entire preceding decade.”
States rather than the federal government are doing this because three times the supreme court has passed on taking up cases to end partisan gerrymandering. Voters clearly want this change to happen.
As a result 4 states passed acts this past November that will affect this situation. Change is coming.
The result? They voted YES on Proposal 2, the anti-gerrymandering proposal. The proposition will create a 13-person independent citizens redistricting commission. The maps would then be drawn through compromise and decided by voters rather than politicians. Here’s how that will work:
“They will create a 13-member independent citizens' redistricting commission, composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five people who don't identify with either party.”
In Missouri, a nonpartisan group called Clean Missouri needed 180,000 signatures to get its anti-gerrymander initiative on the ballot; it collected 346,000. The voters successfully and overwhelmingly passed the Clean Missouri amendment.
The act requires legislative records to be open to the public, requires policies to wait two years before becoming lobbyists, eliminates lobbying gifts more than $5, limits influence of major donors and uses nonpartisan, statistical model to draw districts.
Uh-oh. The fight ain’t over yet:
“Some 62 percent of Missourians voted for the amendment, known as Clean Missouri. And yet, in the three weeks since Election Day, top Republicans in Missouri have started an effort to weaken the new law… Its goal is to place a new measure on the ballot that would sabotage parts of the amendment before they can take effect.”
In Utah, a group called Better Boundaries collected 90,000 signatures to place the act on the ballot, 75,000 more than were required. But these changes faced resistance….it passed narrowly.
Proposition 4 was approved by less than one percent of the vote. The proposition creates a seven-person commission that is made by appointment from both parties and would recommend new district borders. Utah state legislature still has final say over the district boundaries but would have to vote on commission recommendations. Along with the commission, there will also be limits on lawmakers’ ability to draw up districts, and the act creates requirements to minimize dividing counties, cities and towns.
“The voice of the people will once again be heard in drawing legislative lines — making sure Utahns choose their representatives and not the other way around," former Democratic Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Republican donor Jeff Wright said in a statement, adding that they "expect the voice of the people will be respected and honored."
In Ohio, a reform act became law this past May… Ohioans approved the legislature’s version by a three-to-one margin. “It’s the best reform map we’ve seen in decades,” said Joshua Silver, the chief executive officer of the clean-government advocacy group Represent.Us, which has offered support to all four initiative campaigns.
How can districts be drawn up fairly? How would that work?
Most congressional experts agree on what a fair system would look like: It would limit redistricting to once a decade in order to reflect the latest population figures. It would place a priority on fostering competitiveness, ensuring minority representation, creating geographically compact districts, and achieving a congressional delegation that reflects the state’s overall political balance.
New Jersey is trying:
The Garden State already has a bipartisan redistricting commission equally divided between the two parties. It is chaired by an impartial tiebreaker—historically, a professor from Rutgers or Princeton University.
It almost works, but partisan folks still found a way to hack it.
Sam Hirsch, a D.C. election lawyer, has drafted a state constitutional amendment, loosely modeled on the existing New Jersey system. Under Hirsch’s plan, the tie-breaking chairman mentioned above would be almost a redistricting dictator. He would have more votes than all the other members combined, which would block the kind of bipartisan gerrymander that prevented the New Jersey system [from being successful.]
States do have the right to decide on redistricting on their own, but a national consensus would fix the problem once and for all. The reason the supreme court passed on dealing with the issue is they weren’t convinced there existed a solution. But Paul Smith, a supreme court litigator, thinks he has an answer.
Also from Slate:
Smith believes they have found the right standard.
This formula—called the “efficiency gap”—identifies two types of “wasted votes” due to gerrymandering: “lost votes” cast in favor of a candidate destined to lose, and “surplus votes” cast in favor of a candidate that weren’t actually necessary for the candidate’s victory. The efficiency gap—[the degree of lack of representation]—is “the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.”
A historical analysis of elections across from the country since 1972 suggests that an efficiency gap of 7 percent will entrench the majority party’s power at least until new maps are drawn. Wisconsin’s Republican-drawn gerrymander has an efficiency gap of 13 percent, meaning a huge number of Wisconsinites are currently deprived of their representational rights solely because they are Democrats.
The court has long held that the Constitution enshrines the principle of “one person, one vote,” meaning districts should contain about the same number of people so that no vote counts more or less than others.
This formula alone doesn’t make a solution, but it is a non partisan means of providing proof that a district is gerrymandered and proves a solution is really working.
States lead the way
So, congratulations Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Utah for taking a big step to bring representative government to the USA. It seems others will soon follow and they now have the means to correct this ridiculous situation and begin to bring representative government to the USA.