Wednesday, February 10, 2016

On Gerrymandering and how to fix it

I've made a few Facebook posts recently about how one of the two major reforms (with the other being ranked-choice voting) that will make our government more representative and allow for a greater diversity of views is non-partisan redistricting. Congressional districts are redrawn by state legislatures every 10 years based on the results of the most recent census, and for a long time whatever party happened to control a state's chambers would draw district boundaries to maximize their ability to win future elections, a practice known as gerrymandering (after a 19th century politician from MA). Over time this has resulted in most districts being "safe" ones by lumping voters together into districts based on their partisan leanings and likelihood of voting, a process that has become more and more sophisticated and precise as the data and the computer programs analyzing it have grown exponentially. The results of this have been an average re-election rate above 90% for incumbent representatives, and the continued stranglehold of the two major parties on our electoral process through the primary system, where potential candidates are vetted by a narrow slice of extremists in both parties rather than the general voting public.

When you have district boundaries drawn to enable more competitive elections, people will correctly conclude that their individual vote will have more of an influence and will thus become more likely to vote, and may even pay more attention to the issues at stake leading up to it. So if one of your priorities is increasing voter turnout, becoming an advocate for non-partisan redistricting absolutely has to be on your plate. Since redistricting occurs at the state level, this means 50 separate efforts to make sure independent or non-partisan groups control the process when it will next take place prior to the 2022 election cycle (the first after the 2020 census is complete), but thankfully they are already underway in many states and a few have made substantial progress. Here is a good rundown on what the present condition of reform efforts are in states where they exist, and just a few days ago there was a very promising ruling from the 4th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals on a particular egregious bit of gerrymandering in North Carolina. I am hopeful that these efforts will continue to grow, even if there is not much that can be changed before the election this November, where it is almost certain that Republicans will maintain their current sizable majority.

For decades the moneyed interests and their conservative allies have been playing the long political game and are presently reaping their rewards. Progressives would do well to adopt a similar perspective and realize that transformational change will not happen overnight, nor will a single candidate, even if they become president, be enough to make it come to pass.

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