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Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Gerrymandering Gig

One of the most dastardly acts of Tom DeLay was his successful push for the redistricting in Texas that gave the GOP 5 seats in the House. The creative carving up of the state even astounded Molly Ivins:
Now on the redistricting map that touched off this mess, I have seen maps that are works of art. I have seen districts that look like giant chickens and districts that look like coiled snakes. But this map is a masterpiece, a veritable Dadaist work reminiscent of Salvador Dali's more lunatic productions.

Author David Brin (who has a blog) tackles the threat that gerrymandering poses to our democracy. In the first part of a ten part series, he writes:
As we slowly recover, still quivering, from the traumas of Election 2004 -- further punched, pummeled and punctuated by war and nature’s devastation -- here comes a tidal wave of punditry, telling us to begin girding for the next political season. Prepare for Election 2006... another gut-wrenching, nation-dividing descent into the “Culture Wars.”

(Who could have predicted that we would someday look back with nostalgia on the Clinton-Dole campaign, as a time when politicians sometimes disagreed congenially over policy, while sharing a fundamental belief that government can be made to work?)

In one way, the 2006 campaign will be easier, emotionally. For one thing, it won’t directly involve the Presidency, much to the relief of George W. Bush, given his slide in popularity.

Instead, attention will focus on Congress. Will one party continue to control all three branches of government? Or will voters choose to stir in some fresh faces and, perhaps, a little accountability?

This could be of special importance right now. If either house of Congress passes into Democratic control next year, one immediate effect will be to suddenly invigorate a dozen oversight and investigation committees, which have lain mostly dormant for six years. Just picture the ferment when those torpid committees are abruptly staffed with scores of newly-assertive investigators, empowered with stacks of subpoenas, summoning scores of administration officials - and whistleblowers - in a veritable festival of accountability, unlike anything since 1994, when Newt Gingrich & Co. swept into control over the House, carried by the reform rhetoric of his “Contract with America.” (See *note below.)

Of course, all of this assumes that political issues -- or even voter opinion -- will make a difference in outcome, during the campaign for who controls Congress.

But that assumption may be dead wrong. One trend, that has built momentum across several decades, may insure that the average voter will have very little influence over the outcome of the US Congressional elections, come November 2006.

No, I am not talking about outright cheating, though we certainly have seen a disturbing and outrageous burst of truly despicable behavior, ranging from fraudulently rigged voting machinery to manipulation of voter rolls, from corruption of sworn officials to dirty trickery, all of which contribute to a decline of faith in democracy, perhaps even debasing the word “freedom” itself. (See recommendations of the Carter-Baker Commission at:

But I am not writing about any of that today, because even vote-fraud is small potatoes. After all, cheating of the kind we saw in Florida in 2000, and Ohio in 2004, can only work when the polls are already very close. At worst it can nibble at the edges of a system that is rotting from the inside.

No, I want to draw attention to a different kind of manipulation. One that has ensured that close elections for US Congress almost never happen.

It is the same shameless manipulation that prevents all but a few Americans from having any real voting power over who will represent them on Capitol Hill.

Quietly, without much comment or notice, the practice of gerrymandering has transformed from a dismal-but-bearable tradition of occasional opportunism into a cancer eating at the heart of democracy itself, rendering our votes nearly meaningless in countless constituencies across the land.

When politicians are guaranteed reelection there is loss of accountability to the voters. California will soon vote on Prop 77 which is Arnold's attempt to solve this problem. However the idea to give 3 judges the power to redraw districts doesn't seem much better. Who will pick these judges? Also, the judges may all be from the same area. Is this a way for the more conservative Southern California to usurp the rights of their neighbors to the north? If that's the case just think what will happen to all our transportation funding and water rights.

There maybe some merit to the idea of changing how redistricting is brought about, but not as it currently written. I see this a thin disguise for politicians having their way and hiding behind judicial robes in an undemocratic process.