Here is my personal posting of the article that Salon Magazine recently featured, on how U.S. citizens might, one at a time and each of us, strike a blow against the worst political criminals since the American Civil War, neutralizing (if not ending) a travesty that has long been banned in most civilized nations, called gerrymandering. This also lets me follow up with some addenda and remarks.
The death spiral of U.S. political life has yet to see bottom. While most factual indicators suggest optimism, our public addiction to dudgeon and fury intensifies daily. Words like “negotiation,” “deliberation,” and “discourse” sink into quaint anachronism alongside “phlogiston.”
The illness has many causes. Tsunamis of money in politics. Cable “news” networks push one side, denying loyal viewers any hint of refutation. Glancing at the red-state/blue-state map suggests that “deep culture” is reigniting the American Civil War. These factors aren’t easy to solve.
However, one malignant force could be staunched almost overnight, with a simple trick. It requires no legislation, court action, or leadership from our sclerotic political caste. Mere citizens – one at a time — could neutralize gerrymandering.
We all know the scam, inflicted on U.S. voters by both parties, often in collusion. Cynical manipulators have made a high art of crafting bizarrely-shaped, convoluted districts for Congress and state legislatures. We’re told it’s meant to advantage the majority party in a state, letting it eke out extra seats by cramming minority party voters into rigged ghettos of Democrats in (say) Texas or Republicans in Maryland. But that’s not the real purpose.
Proof came in 2010 when California voters rebelled. Via ballot proposition, they handed district-drawing to nonpartisan commissions. California’s Democratic Party begged the mostly-Democratic populace not to, fearing the GOP might benefit. But lo, post- gerrymandering, Democrats surged to win more statehouse seats.
Democratic politicians still fretted, because many of their personal districts were now more evenly balanced. On average, each might see only a 55% or 60% Democratic majority – an advantage, but not safety.
The California experiment –including open primaries and top-two runoffs – was hugely successful. In heavily Democratic districts, the run-off between two Democrats produced a weird epiphany: “Hey, this district consists 1/3 of Republicans who could tip the balance. Let’s reach out to them!” Minority-party voters got leverage. Their calls were answered. No one expected this.
Voter uprisings against gerrymandering have happened in half a dozen blue states, but not once in a red state, like Texas, where Democrats feel herded and disenfranchised, where gerrymandering has its Michaelangelos. Indeed, political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg says 211 of 234 Republican seats in the House are “safe,” leaving only 23 competitive.
In fairness, some Democratic states like Maryland and Illinois have their own gerrymandering daVincis.
Now the iron law of unexpected outcomes takes hold, for gerrymandering’s top malignant effect has been radicalization of U.S. politics. Having engineered for themselves safe districts where the minority party has no chance, cynical politicians have rendered each November general election moot, (except for state-wide or national offices). Yet, safety eluded them, as this only shifted tension earlier, to the party primary; Recent Tea Party insurrections show how a district’s most vociferous five percent can use primary challenges to oust established representatives or bully them into cartoonish agendas.
Now consider: Gerrymandering lumps birds-of-a-feather till each district is “owned” by one party or another. Democratic voters in a Republican-owned district – or Republicans in a Democratic-owned district – willnever cast a vote for the legislature in the only election that matters: the majority party’s primary.
…unless you hold your nose and re-register with whatever party owns your district.
This holds, whether you’re a Democrat in a Republican district, or vice versa.
If your district is gerried to contain mostly Republicans, then it should be represented by a conservative person. But, as someone living in the district, you deserve to have some say in which conservative it w
ill be! A Tea Party radical? Or a genteel negotiator, like Goldwater or Buckley?
Conservative radicals will scream that Democrats who attempt this kind of judo must be aimimg to sabotage the Republican primary! But any large numbers who switch will have one goal: to recover a meaningful say in a district that had disenfranchised them. They want to vote for candidates they disagree with less; this is a reasonable criterion.
Does a label change a voter’s principles? Remember Republicans of yore: Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower — and sign the card! Then, next spring, you’ll vote when it matters, in the primary between Republican candidates.
The same advice applies to Republicans in Democratic-owned districts! In fact, this tactic has precedence — generations of Republicans registered as Democrats in the old-time “solid south.” They can hardly complain now.
Reclaim our sovereignty
Picture the majority party primary in each gerrymandered district becoming the de facto general election, with all voters participating. Screaming talking heads would lose their potency overnight. Representatives could no longer pick which citizens to ignore by their party registration. Moreover, their computerized gerrymandering programs would go haywire. That, alone, will be a form of citizen revenge upon a cynical political caste.
Can’t stomach registering as a (pick your poison) Democrat/Republican? Get over it. Partisan labels made this mess. Grin at your friends’ shocked reactions. Then recruit them, rebelling against a political scam.
If fifty million Americans do this, we’ll show the politicians: “you can’t take us for granted, nor fool all the people, all the time.”
——– Follow-up after the Salon article ————
First See my earlier, more extensive appraisal-in-depth of gerrymandering, see: American Democracy: More Fragile Than We Think.
AFTERWORD NUMBER ONE:
Sam Wang in the New York Times Sunday Review used a seat-discrepancy criterion to find which 10 states are the most “out of whack. Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were worst, plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Of this ten worst gerrymandered states, Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, with Republicans the beneficiaries of all distortions. Texas was a combination of Republican and federal court efforts, but with a notoriously pro GOP warp. Illinois was controlled by Democrats, who benefited. Republicans designed the other seven maps.
Nine out of ten were home runs for the Republican Party, helping to explain why, despite winning 1.4 million fewer votes for Congress in 2012, the GOP still controls the House of Representatives by a comfortable margin. As Mr. Wang put it: “Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.”
An interesting note: Arizona had supposedly joined the ranks of states that eliminated gerrymandering in favor of design by neutral commission, making it the one Red State to do so. Yet its districts wound up so twisted in the GOP’s favor that it became a laughable embarrassment. One excuse offered, that large Native American reservations had to be given special treatment and that the Hopi and Navajo wanted to be kept separate. Um, right.
ADDENDUM NUMBER TWO
After the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act, certain states are no longer bound by the Act’s requirement that they pass new voting regulations by the federal government. As a result, Republican legislators in these states are moving forward with new voter ID laws. Attorney General Greg Abbott announced that Texas will proceed with a law requiring photo ID before voting. since it is no longer required to obtain pre-clearance from the Department of Justice.
This is about more than just racism and turning away young people. It gets even better, keeping aware that American women have been swinging ever more strongly toward the Democratic Party Think Progress reports that as of November 5, Texans must show a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. It sounds like a small detail, but according to the Brennan Center for Justice, only 66% of voting age women have ready access to a photo document that will attest to proof of citizenship. This is largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names, a circumstance that doesn’t affect male voters in any significant way. Suddenly 34% of women voters are scrambling for an acceptable ID, while 99% of men are home free.
Now let me surprise you! In fact, I would have nothing against gradually rising voter ID requirements, even though almost no Election Day false voter fraud has been reported in 30 years. When you approach it logically, there is no reason why proof of ID should not IN PRINCIPLE be part of the process of exercising a right as valuable as voting.
There is only one test to see if it is a “reform” or if it is blatantly partisan voter suppression:
“Has the state accompanied the new voter ID law with substantial funding to help under-documented but legal US citizens to get the ID they need and to get registered?” If a state has sincerely done that, then I will admit that the demand might be honest and due to the rationalized declared reasons.
Alas, not one red state that has passed such laws has allocated a penny to help poor citizens of the state, or the elderly or the young, to comply with onerous new restrictions on their franchise. Not even fig-leaf funding.
In other words, they are exposed as lying-hypocritical, outright-cheating election thieves. And the same goes for anyone who defends this foul crime against democracy. When you make excuses for cheating, well, we all know what you were like on the playground, as a kid. Character often continues into adulthood, alas.