Friday, April 14, 2006

Gerrymandering (aka Partisan Apartheid)

Why is it that, in spite of widespread dissatisfaction with the Republican Party, the Democrats are unlikely to regain control of the House and Senate this year.

The answer can be found in the science of gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is the fine political art of depriving people of representation in government without actually passing a law that explicitly prohibits people from voting or prohibits their vote from being counted.

Imagine, if you will, a political region with 1,000,000 voters, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. The task at hand is to divide these people into ten representative districts.

Option 1:

• 5 districts 100% Democrat

• 5 districts 100% Republican

This system has the virtue of guaranteeing that whoever wins the party nomination will win the general election. It is a perfect system for making sure that incumbents get re-elected. Please remember, the choice as to how to divide the people into districts will be made for people who would like to stand for re-election without any real chance of losing.

Option 2:

• 8 districts that are 61.5% Republican and 38.5% Democrat

• 2 districts that are 100% Democrat

This system will result in a legislature made up of 8 Republicans and 2 Democrats. In other words, it is the system designed to guarantee a Republican majority in the legislature. This is the type of system one wants if the Republicans are going to really screw up the nation – getting the nation into a costly war under false pretext, open the doors of the national treasury to their friends and supporters, and shred the Constitution –without fear that these acts will cost them control of the House.

This takes advantage of the fact that partisan voters will vote for their party no matter what that party does.

Indeed, this type of system can guarantee that a party keeps control of the legislature even if it is a minority of the population. A nation that is 40% Republican and 60% Democrat can gerrymander the following option:

Option C:

7 Districts that are 55% Republican and 45% Democrat

3 Districts that are 100% Democrat

This will give the legislature a 7 to 3 Republican majority, while the population they represent has a 4 to 6 Democratic majority. This is how gerrymandering works.

The Moral Argument

There is no reason to view a policy of gerrymandering as anything less disrespectful and destructive of democracy than a practice such as apartheid. With apartheid, the government tells people who they do not trust that they may not vote. With gerrymandering, the people that the government does not trust can still vote. However, the voting districts have been manipulated in such a way that those votes are worthless. They might as well be handing in blank ballots – they might as well stay home and do nothing – for all the good it will do them to vote.

It is ironic, to say the least, that while legislators moan about low voter turnout and the need for more voters to go to the polls, they are instituting gerrymandered districts that make voting a waste of time. “Yes, Mr. Voter, we know that we are rigging the rules so that your vote is insignificant. But you are not supposed to really act as if your vote is insignificant. You’re supposed to act as if your vote is important. Even though it isn’t, because we gerrymandered a rigged system.”

Gerrymandering, by the way, was one of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s claims to fame. He was able to arrange to redraw the districts in Texas in a way that guaranteed the Republicans six additional seats in the House of Representatives. These were not seats that the Republicans gained because they were better able to serve the people. These were seats that the Republicans gained because they were able to pass laws that rendered huge numbers of Democratic votes irrelevant.

Because he was such a successful promoter of partisan apartheid, Republicans viewd DeLay was a hero of the Republican Party.

The only people who could cheer somebody who sought to make peoples’ votes ineffective and irrelevant is if they care nothing about the principles of democracy. A person who cares about democracy shows this by being appalled when he hears about political leaders who seek to diminish or destroy the ability of the people to choose their leaders. The person who cheers the disenfranchisement and alienation of voters – making their votes irrelevant to the political process – is the person who puts personal power over principle.

We, as voters, should no more support the candidacy of those who cheer gerrymandering and their effects than we would vote for a candidate who proposed and fought for laws to establish some form of apartheid.

Pro-Gerrymandering, Pro-Apartheid. These are just two different tools for those who seek to accomplish the same goals. In this case, the goal is for Republicans to keep control of the House in spite of how unpopular they are right now.

Do not think that, because I picked on the Republicans in this article, that they are the only ones who are guilty. Democrats have proved that they are as fond of partisan apartheid as Republicans.

1 comment:

Hume's Ghost said...

Reuters ran a story a while back anticipating that only 33 of 435 seats in Congress would be competitive in the next election. There is something seriously wrong, here. That should be national news and one of the main topics of discussion.