Why We Fight Gerrymandering

Democracy in America is in trouble. All across the political spectrum, Americans feel alienated from their government. They find it distant, ineffective, corrupt, and interested primarily in serving the powerful at the expense of everyone else. Many millions have given up in frustration, feeling powerless to do anything. Others have embraced partisan warfare, turning our politics into a zero-sum battle for total dominance. The spirit of compromise is seldom seen, and idealistic belief in the promise of democratic self-rule seems almost hopelessly naïve. These are the conditions under which authoritarians rise and republics fall — believing the system has failed them, people look to strongmen for salvation.

The promise of a “great leader” is a false one; only we can fix what is broken. The Founders created this government to serve us, the American people, and if the government is failing in that service, it is our responsibility to do something about it. Fatalism, hopelessness, and nihilism get us nowhere — we must recommit ourselves to the ideals and hard work of democratic self-rule and take the system back for ourselves. The task seems almost impossibly huge, but this is America — there is nothing our can-do spirit and grit can’t overcome. A huge task such as this requires that we choose a place to start: to fix our broken politics, we must first take back control of our elections, and to do that we must put an end to partisan gerrymandering.

“A huge task such as this requires that we choose a place to start: to fix our broken politics, we must first take back control of our elections, and to do that we must put an end to partisan gerrymandering.”

First, a brief primer for those unfamiliar with gerrymandering. Every 10 years, the federal government conducts the census, after which seats in Congress are re-apportioned among the states based on relative shifts in population. After each census, the states undertake the process of redistricting — new election district maps are re-drawn to account for the change in the number of seats. In practice, all the districts, state and Congressional, are subject to change, so the district maps can change significantly every 10 years.

Our system of redistricting is inherently corrupt: the party that controls the state legislature draws the boundaries of the districts for every state and federal elected official. As you might imagine, the party in power uses this authority to draw maps that magnify its own power and weaken that of its opposition, often resulting in monstrously bizarre districts; the first such district was called the “Gerrymander,” and that name has come to describe any district drawn with absurd boundaries that serve partisan ends. Texas, as it turns out, has been one of the worst offenders — for decades, Democrats drew shamelessly gerrymandered districts, and Republicans are now returning the favor with a vengeance.

As an example of the power of partisan gerrymandering, consider the effect of Texas’ 2003 off-cycle redistricting, engineered by Tom DeLay. Prior to the redistricting, Democrats held 17 Congressional seats to Republicans’ 15; after the election following the redistricting, Republicans controlled 21 seats to the Democrats’ 11, a 6 seat swing. This huge swing was not the result of changes in population or a wave of political change; it was due almost entirely to how lines were drawn on a map. This is what happens when legislators are allowed to choose their voters.

“This huge swing was not the result of changes in population or a wave of political change; it was due almost entirely to how lines were drawn on a map.”

Partisan gerrymandering has tremendously corrosive effects upon our democratic system. Its tainted process and the absurd districts it produces are tangible evidence to the electorate that the system is rigged, eroding their faith in our elections. Gerrymandered districts can span hundreds of miles, joining together dissimilar communities with no real connection, resulting in “representatives” who represent little beyond raw, partisan power. The near-certainty of incumbent reelection in gerrymandered districts depresses turnout, discourages challengers from running, and contributes to elections being determined by small percentages of voters in increasingly partisan primaries. Artificially large legislative majorities are constructed, producing skewed policy outcomes and a false impression of ideological dominance. Partisan gerrymandering is a perversion of democracy, sacrificing fair elections and faithful representation to partisan advantage and the will to power.

This corrupt process has always been a problem in American politics, but the need to end it is greater now than it has ever been. The advent of Big Data and sophisticated statistical analysis have made it possible for parties to combine electoral, demographic, and consumer preference information in a way that allows them to predict with great accuracy how people will vote down to an almost individual level. The result is partisan gerrymanders of exceptional precision and durability, endowing dominant parties with artificially large majorities that are stable, even in the face of large changes in voter preference. These technical capabilities have only advanced since the 2010 redistricting, promising to make the next round of partisan redistricting even worse.

“Victory is possible: over 70% of Americans oppose partisan gerrymandering regardless of their political affiliation.”

We must act now, or risk America becoming a democracy in name only. This fight will not be short or easy — powerful entrenched interests in both parties do not want to surrender the power and security they gain from this corrupt system. Victory is possible: over 70% of Americans oppose partisan gerrymandering regardless of their political affiliation. Defending this system of institutionalized cheating is impossible, and no elected official wants to do it. If we are loud enough, organized enough, and persistent enough, we can force our representatives to publicly answer the question they do not want to hear: will you end partisan gerrymandering, or will you defend it? Faced with defending the indefensible, their system will crumble and we will take our first step in reclaiming the republic for the people.

Call to Action:

Call Cindy Burkett, chair of House Redistricting Committee, and Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives about Congressional district Redistricting. Ask why there aren’t hearings being held on bills that could end hyper-partisan, racist gerrymandering of Congressional districts in Texas. Bills awaiting hearing in committee are HJR 32/HB 369, HJR 74, and HJR 118. NONE of the redistricting bills introduced over the past 4 cycles have been called to hearing. That means that in the past 8 years, every effort to de-gerrymander Texas has been ignored.

Thanks to Degerrymander Texas. More info here.

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