Who Put the Gerry in Gerrymandering?


Like virtually anything else in this modern world of ours, especially in the world of politics, the topic is complicated.  Even in the most beautifully designed political structure ever experienced by man, the relatively simple notion of one citizen one vote, the citizen can become a pawn in a highly charged U.S. political chess game.  The game is fair representation.  Since all of us cannot be present to cast a vote in every venue where official political action takes place, we engage surrogates or, as we often call them, representatives.  The U.S. Constitution calls out how that system of representation will be structured.  Without getting into the particulars, the intent is fair representation.

So, as a citizen, how can you be certain that your “representative” is voting as if it were you casting the vote?  Well, simply, you cannot.  Unless of course you live in a representative’s respective district where that representative is elected by a majority of like-minded voters in your district.  And for many, many years you could, as a citizen with the means to do so, reside in a district that reflected your values.  Those values would be guideposts by which your elected representative should cast her vote on your behalf. There have been, and continue to be, social engineering attempts made to bring families into communities or districts, using affordable housing, in order to primarily provide better educational opportunities.  From a voting strength perspective the effect was and is a bit dilutive for those citizens already struggling to be heard.

Gerrymandering, by whatever body was empowered to redraw districts as a result of new census data, used methods like “cracking” or “packing” among others to retain power for the incumbents.  The empowered bodies efforts have been largely successful for decades because the political voice of those it potentially harmed was not strong enough to effect change.

“Cracking” involves spreading voters of a particular type among many districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting bloc in any particular district. Political parties in charge of redrawing district lines may create more “Cracked” districts as a means of retaining, and possibly even expanding, their legislative power. By “Cracking” districts, a political party would be able to maintain, or gain, legislative control by ensuring that the opposing party’s voters are not the majority in specific districts.1

Conversely, “Packing” is to concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts.1   This is equally effective in maintaining a measure of control on how the electorate is represented.

These tactics are typically combined in some form, creating a few “forfeit” seats for packed voters of one type in order to secure more seats and greater representation for voters of another type. This results in candidates of one party (the one responsible for the gerrymandering) winning by small majorities in most of the districts, and another party winning by a large majority in only a few of the districts.1

So how, in this world of wide-eyed, instantaneous journalism, are these practices allowed to continue knowing full well it may rob the system of the fairness it calls out as its mightiest principal?  Regardless of mainstream media’s apparently lack of zeal on the topic, the reality is it appears to be coming to an end. Although it is with great certainty that “Redistricting Commissions” are full of political appointees with their own clear-eyed view of what is fair, the process of selection, at least in some states, appears to carry the torch of fairness as far as it can go with flawed human beings involved. The result will be, it seems, increased fairness.

“Fairness to whom?”, you might ask.  Simply, power to those who have not had the power to gerrymander themselves back into office.  Stacking the deck in their personal favor or their party’s favor.  But more generally, its purpose is positively affect the political impact of those in the minority and those without the financial resources to win elections in today’s political environment. Ostensibly taking the power from the legislature and putting it in the hands of “independent” commissioners.

This new approach, combined with the relentless force of demographic change, will certainly hasten the path to larger liberal voting blocs across a broader array of districts.  Great power will still be in the hands of a relatively few state and national leaders. Those leaders will emerge from the current stock of Millennials (as they already are on today’s political stage) and, later in the 2020s, Generation Z; both whose numbers are larger and more diverse than previous generations.

If this trend toward more independent redistricting continues there’ll be no Gerry in Gerrymandering.  In fact, the term may go by the wayside of history as a forgotten problem in a forgotten time.  Something that was done in the past. Until some other scheme to rig the system in one party’s favor or another is stumbled upon.

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering

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