Time to end partisan gerrymandering

When I started to work on my column on Monday morning, I quickly turned the TV to a news station and first heard of the tragic mass shooting in Las Vegas. It seemed so déjà vu, yet still so shocking. I couldn’t help but remember black power activist Rap Brown, who said “violence is as American as apple pie.” At that moment it seemed so true.

I had already determined on a topic for this week. With the Supreme Court ready to rule on the issue of redistricting, that seemed to be a salient topic for the day. The events in Las Vegas only temporarily gave me pause before I realized they are related.

A gerrymandered Republican majority in Congress, with many swearing fealty to the National Rifle Association, has for years blocked any attempt at sensible firearms controls — or almost any other legislative action that might mitigate the likelihood of more such incidents.

Increasingly Americans disapprove of their government, and many experts lay much of the blame on partisan gerrymandering that has created the gridlock in Congress. Only by ending partisan drawing of political districts can power return to the people.

Brian Klass reports in the Washington Post, “On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress — on a par with public support for traffic jams, and cockroaches. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight incumbents — eight out of a body of 435 incumbents — were defeated at the pols.”

Klass lays out a compelling case, supported by numbers that due to gerrymandering — or creating districts designed to favor a particular party — the election was effectively “rigged” by the redistricting process that followed the 2010 census.

Despite the low opinion of Congress, “the average margin of victory was 37 percent,” Klass reports. It is unreasonable to believe these margins could result from a democratically conducted election.

” That’s a figure you’d expect from North Korea, Russia or Zimbabwe — not the United States. But the shocking reality is that the typical race ended with a Democrat or a Republican winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, while their challenger won just 30 percent.”

There were no truly competitive districts in 42 of the 50 states in the 2016 elections, according to Klass. “That is not good for the country,” he concludes.

The problem Klass argues, is allowing the reapportionment and redrawing of district boundaries to be done by politicians. The term “gerrymander” comes from the salamander-shaped district drawn up by a Boston politician to keep himself in office.

“Gerrymandering is an art,” says Dougla Woodman of MIc Network, “the process of creating election districts to favor one political party, one that will most likely never be won by the opposing party. Currently 41 states use some degree of gerrymandering. In these states, the state legislatures and/or governor create the districts.”

The Associated Press reported that its analysis found that partisan gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts benefited Republicans four times as often as Democrats across the country.

Colorado is one of the states that allow political parties to draw voting districts. Except when the Legislature deadlocks, as it has three of the last four times they tried. In those cases, the state Supreme Court has determined the final draft of the new or altered districts.

The League of Women Voters is leading the effort in Colorado with their ballot initiative that would dilute the power of the two major parties in the redistricting process beginning after the 2020 census.

Instead, unaffiliated Colorado voters, who now represent 35 percent of active voters in the state, would gain a decisive voice in how the districts are drawn. “The hope is that it will put an end to the once-a-decade partisan war that has ended up in court three of the last four decades,” announced the League of Women Voters.

Along with Colorado, other states also are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on a case that could decide whether partisan redistricting is constitutional or not.

But whatever the conservatives on the court might say, the spirit to reform partisan gerrymandering is in the air nationally. “We believe votes should count,” said Barbara Mattison of the League of Women Voters. “Voters should pick their politicians. Politicians shouldn’t pick their voters.”

No matter what the Supreme Court might say.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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Voting districts should be done automatically by computer, the only consideration being the number of individuals in each district and/or polity, with only minor adjustments to the borders.  That would eliminate even the possibility of gerrymandering.  The current method of allowing borders to be set by politicians whose primary objective is to get re-elected is not only a travesty upon this country, but a betrayal of its founding principles.

Part 1:

Bill Grant’s column (“It’s time to end partisan gerrymandering”) describes the perverse culmination of partisan “factionalism” that the Founders sought to avoid.

In The Federalist Papers No. 9 (1787), Alexander Hamilton maintained that the federal structure of “balances and checks” constructed in our Constitution would guarantee that the wealthier would prevail in any class struggle.  How correct he has proven to be.

In The Federalist Papers No. 10, James Madison opined that – because factionalism was inherent in human nature as a result of divergent economic interests—the Constitution was designed to prevent tyranny by an in-propertied majority over the propertied minority – by creating multiple ways in which a minority could thwart the will of the majority.

Article I, Section 2 of the Constitution (as amended by Section 2 of the 14th Amendment) provides for seats in the House of Representatives to be apportioned among the states by population, based on the decennial census (which is to be an “actual enumeration” of all “persons” therein). Due to GOP-induced budget cuts, the 2020 Census is already at risk of failure.

Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution grants state legislatures the authority to prescribe “the time place and manner of holding Elections for . . . Representatives”, but grants Congress the power to “make or alter such Regulations” by statute.  Because Congress has not yet exercised that power, state legislatures still control redistricting.
Consequently, pursuant to Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution, Red State legislatures – widely under the sway of their wealthiest campaign contributors—also control their share of votes in the Electoral College, which in turn elects the President.

While the 15th Amendment prohibits States from denying or abridging voting rights “on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”, while the 19th Amendment prohibits such denial/abridgment “on account of sex”, and while the 26th Amendment extends the franchise to 18-year olds – and while all three grant Congress the power to enforce those “articles by appropriate legislation” – both the Constitution and Congress is/remains silent as to denial or abridgment “on account of” political party affiliation.

While the current case before the Supreme Court (Gill v. Whitford) ostensibly involves only extreme partisan gerrymandering by Republicans in Wisconsin, similar patterns are found in at least 41 states (favoring Republicans three times more often than Democrats).

Part 2:

Whether the Supreme Court will hold extreme partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional is one question that its decision in Gill will answer; the appropriate remedy is another.
One approach might be to mandate the use of already available computer programs which optimize compactness using Census blocks – at least as a point of departure from which legislative redistricting committees would be required to justify significant deviations.  See, e.g., https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/06/03/this-computer-programmer-solved-gerrymandering-in-his-spare-time/?utm_term=.a96917d39c40 and http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2017/02/computers-have-revolutionized-gerrymandering-supreme-court-should-take-notice/.

Section 2 of the 14th Amendment also provides that a State’s representation in the House shall be proportionately reduced if the voting rights of any citizen are “denied . . . or in any way abridged”.  Given Republicans’ on-going efforts to suppress minority voting, the Supreme Court – in fashioning a remedy for partisan gerrymandering that further dilutes (“abridges”) the “one man, one vote” voting rights of its citizens – could conceivably reduce the representation of abusive States in the House, and thus the Electoral College.

Mr. Hugenberg, as per usual, is quite correct in his analysis.  But, what he very frequently leaves out (such as most actually do) is the following.  Ultimately, it is the indifference and the selfishness of far too many of our citizens who, if they don’t wake up soon, may well find that it is too late (provided it isn’t already).

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