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Gerrymandering

I read in the Washington Post sometime last week that the proposed Maryland redistricting plan appears to favor Democrats.  Why am I not surprised?  Political boundaries are normally re-done every 10 years.  This is done because each member of the House of Representatives, according to The Constitution, represents the same amount of people.  Now, naively you might think that your neighbor has the same representative that you have.  Don’t be so sure!

If, for example, you have a group of Maryland residents who always vote Democratic and another group who are more mixed in the voter outcomes, a Democratic majority legislature could change the borders a bit to give some of those Democratic voters to the mixed district.  The net result is that the district that voted Democrat would continue to do so, and the mixed district would likely become Democratic.

This procedure, called gerrymandering, is anything but democratic.  To give an example of the ridiculousness of this, assuming current redistricting proposal is passed, we will have one representative, Roscoe Bartlett (Republican) whose district runs along the Mason-Dixon line (the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania) for approximately ½ the width of Maryland.  This man cannot possibly represent the interests of all of his constituents. Now, he is quite conservative and the Democrats did succeed in getting enough Democrats into his district that he stands a good chance of being defeated in the 2012 election.  This, of course, was the intent.  In other states, gerrymandering has been used to dilute the vote of African-American voters.

In places like Maryland, gerrymandering hurts Republicans.  In places like Texas, it hurts Democrats.  It is unfair and needs to be stopped.

On the national scene Republicans and Democrats have been so effective at gerrymandering that roughly 380 of the House’s 435 seats are considered to be safe.  This means there are only about 55 competitive seats.  Folks!  That is NOT a how a democracy is supposed to look.  This gives the minority party every reason to obstruct the majority, and the majority has every reason to shut-out the minority in an effort to enact its agenda as quickly as possible.

Gerrymandering contributes to our polarized and dysfunctional politics in other ways as well.  According to Todd Eberly, Assistant Professor of Political Science at St Mary’s College of Maryland, In the roughly 380 safe seats that the majority party has so successfully protected from competition, there is no reason for a representative to ever listen to the demands or wishes of minority party voters in those districts.  Hence, our representatives become polarized and they fail to effectively represent all of their constituents.

Democratic Representative Mike Ross (D-AR) said, “If you look at the Congress, the entire agenda is being driven by the extremes of both parties.

The House of Representatives was meant to be the most democratic of all federal institutions.  It was meant to be the body where the diverse interests of the people mingled and produced compromise for the good of the nation.

Have we seen any compromise lately?

I credit a lot of the information in this report to “The FreeStater Blog” by Todd Eberly, Assistant Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

http://freestaterblog.blogspot.com

If you are interested in Maryland politics, this is the blog to read.

__________

(Gerrymandering 101) The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then governor Elbridge Gerry.  In 1812 Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican party.  When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.  Hence “gerrymander”.  The name stuck.

(Correction from yesterday)  In yesterday’s blog I mentioned that god spoke with Governor Perry about running for president.  It today’s Washington Post it mentioned that  Mrs. Perry said that she spoke with god while he and she were behind a burning bush.  No mention of anything else they may have been doing. I regret the error.

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3 comments on “Gerrymandering

  1. […] Gerrymandering (ronscoffeeandchocolates.wordpress.com) […]

  2. […] Gerrymandering (ronscoffeeandchocolates.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Elbridge Gerry was a Massachusetts politician, and a US vice-president under Madison, who lived from 1744 to 1814. While he was governor of Massachusetts, a Congressional district in the state was given such a convoluted shape that it resembled a salamander to some viewers. Reportedly someone said, that’s not a salamander, that’s a Gerrymander and the name endured.

    Every ten years, the US takes a census that is used in apportioning seats in the US House of Representatives among the states. Then the states in most cases must redraw the boundaries of Congressional districts to account for changing populations. In recent decades, the districts have been more and more drawn to reduce competition within them and re-elect incumbents.

    When incumbents are sure of re-election by the voters, they lose incentive to represent and respond to voters. Corruption becomes more and more tempting as big money comes to dominate elections. Movements are afoot in Florida, California, New York and possibly other states to draw more competitive Congressional districts. This is a very good thing if we are to make our democracy representative again. It does no good to throw the bums out if the system stays broken and we replace one set of bums with another.

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