You Can’t Invade Without a Map

11 Comments

by Admin Jen

I’m afraid I owe you an apology, Ohio.

You see, I’m reading up on the deeply unsexy subject of gerrymandering.  Because I couldn’t figure out how you wound up with a governor and legislature so hostile to women’s rights that it was passing regressive, probably unconstitutional legislation with such wild abandon.  And I want to thank our dear readers of Ohio, because they pointed out that my frequent contention that bad legislators find jobs in the statehouse thanks to voters not paying attention… well, it isn’t the whole story.

You can’t plan an invasion without a map, as it turns out, and that goes for when you’re invading your constituents’ uteruses too.  Specifically, this map:

https://i1.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/a8/Columbus_Ohio_Congressional_Districts.gif

What is that?  That’s a Congressional district map of urban, liberal stronghold Columbus, Ohio, in the center of Franklin County.  What do those colors mean?  Did I redecorate it for Pride Month?  Alas, no.  That’s Columbus, being brutally dismembered into three separate districts.  All three segments peel off a hunk of that liberal base and bury it into a district with a large swath of conservative suburbs.  This is a gerrymandering technique known as “cracking”, and it’s remarkably effective.  Were the entirety of Columbus its own district, it would no doubt be sending a Democrat to Congress with reassuring regularity.  But this way, not so much.

So this is how we get curious situations like Ohio, in which a small but real majority of the electorate really, really hate what the legislature is doing yet can’t seem to get them to stop, and can’t seem to get rid of them.  Lots of people vote out of habit, out of party affiliation, out of reasons that don’t have much to do with who the actual people occupying those state offices actually are; but also, lots of people do show up to pull the lever in a wasted effort because whoever’s in power gets to redraw the district maps any which way they like.  And yes. State level offices work in the exact same way.

President Obama won re-election in the state by a margin of about 2%.  Yet, since Republicans controlled the statehouse in 2010, at the time of the last census, they got to draw the district map, and won House of Representatives seats by a margin of 12-4.  You can chalk that up to the President’s bi-partisan appeal if you want, but I call shenanigans.

Except, I don’t need to.  The Republican party has been pretty unable to keep from congratulating themselves on it.  In their Republican State Leadership Committee report, “How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Races in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013,” they admit pretty readily that gerrymandered maps in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were responsible for them overcoming a vote deficit to the tune of 1.1 million. That’s right.  More people actually voted for Democrats but thanks to the gerrymander, Republicans  nevertheless hold the majority.

(I’d like to take a moment to acknowledge the pro-choice Republicans who are out there, shaking their heads over this junk along with us.  I imagine you as sort of lonely and closeted, not wanting your party to turn on you like a pack of angry wildebeests. Guys, it gets better. At least I hope so.  I’d like to also acknowledge that I have never met a wildebeest and am only guessing that you would not want to make one mad.)

It’s amusing that Rick Perry was wailing about the will of the people being subverted by Wendy Davis’s epic filibuster; Perrymandering has given America one of the most hostile legislatures in the country, but also one that doesn’t entirely represent its constituents.  That’s right – the Lone Star State’s demographics are changing.  It’s just that we’re still conditioned to expect macho legislative crotch-grabbing from Texas.

But Ohio?  Michigan?  Wisconsin?  Union bastion Michigan gave us “right to work” and a far-reaching abortion bill among other legislative atrocities.  Wisconsin repealed equal pay for women under cover of darkness and steamrolled a forced-ultrasound law through, over the objection of thousands of protestors.   And Ohio’s Swamp Thing of a budget, jam packed with bad news for low income women and their reproductive care, is just the latest example of a pattern of discriminatory legislation passed by legislative bodies that haven’t the first interest in representing their states.  Just their narrowly drawn, contorted districts.

Yes, there are districts that have been gerrymandered to Democratic advantage:  Rep. Joe Walsh, who I do not miss in the least, lost in part thanks to his own cartoonish buffoonery, but also in part thanks to a gerrymandered district that gave Tammy Duckworth an advantage.  What was a probable victory for her became an “over-my-goddamned-artificial-knee” spanking.  There are districts in California that have been similarly tinkered with.  Our friend and sometimes guest blogger Marc Belisle, has a swell article here showing some of the other contorted districts around the country, designed to dilute the opposing party’s influence.  (The Everlasting GOPStoppers have written some interesting bits on the history and practice of gerrymandering, which you can find here and here.)

Bottom line: partisan hacks should not get to draw the districts anymore.  Like the filibuster, this isn’t necessarily a good weapon for either side to have in an unlimited way if we’re interested in actual representative democracy.  The idea of one party government is certainly appealing when you’re the party in power, but a strange thing happens when one party holds too much power for too long without fear of losing it; it encourages corruption and overreach, because they aren’t accountable to people they’re supposed to represent anymore.  And that’s what we’re seeing in some of these middle-America center-left states right now, who are laboring under legislatures that don’t particularly represent them.

So what’s the answer?  The answer is, I’m not sure.  Having the Census Bureau itself drawing the districts seems like a logical notion.  Or maybe statehouses’ proposed districts have to meet some form of judicial approval before they’re implemented. I’m interested in your ideas, dear readers, because this affects all of us.  I don’t live in Ohio, but it’s my next door neighbor and I don’t need my representatives getting any more terrible ideas than what they come up with on their own.

Sound off in the comments below, or on our facebook!

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Author: womenriseupnow

An awareness and mobilization site designed to fight back against recent attacks against womens' rights.

11 thoughts on “You Can’t Invade Without a Map

  1. I think that you could hire some sort of non-partisan group give them numbers and let them draw districts without knowing anything at all about the politics in the area. Theoretically they draw maps of districts based on the population, and other numbers and know nothing about the political leanings of one area versus another. They draw all the districts from the smallest to the largest and once in place they tweek the lines rather than drastically redraw them every census. Given that population growth and spread shouldn’t require throwing away the last map and starting from scratch every time in order to get the best result this seems like it should work and that the people inside those districts would get the best possible representation of the makeup of that area because the people who are deciding the borders don’t know, don’t care about the politics.

    • I had a similar thought, Aphrael, I just wonder how you compose that commission to ensure that it will actually be non-partisan; would you would have them be appointed like cabinet members, or elected like other types of local officials, or some combination of the two? I’m interested in reading up on California’s Prop 11 that Charlie posts about below; having an example of successfully taking this job away from legislatures is an encouraging thing.

      ~Admin Jen

  2. A non-political boundary commission and a non-political electoral commission, to guarantee fair play and punish infractions, do not necessarily guarantee that a national government is fully representative. The UK provides a good example of this, as politicians have no say in the construction of boundaries. There is no gerrymandering, elections are not corrupted by inflows of external money into constitutencies, and the aim is to have every adult citizen (and resident citizen of the Republic of Ireland) on the voting roll.

    We might well wish to see such a situation in the US. Turkeys will not vote for Christmas. Nevertheless, no electoral system is perfect. Either the voters are not accurately represented by seats in the legislature, or unstable coalition governments are elected, enacting policies that do not have majority support.

    In a first-past-the-post system, regional differences may lead to one of the major parties’ votes being irrelevant there, which tends to lead to the creation of a third party, even without proportional representation, as long as campaign costs are not exorbitantly high. Thus, the Liberal Democrats receive votes in solidly Conservative regions and in solidly Labour regions, yet they win relatively few seats.

    Locally or regionally, a fourth party can become prominent. On the Oxford City Council, where the Conservatives are non-existent, the Green Party is often in coalition with Labour or the Lib Dems. Discontent with the Thatcher government, which had no support in Scotland, led to the rise of the Scottish Nationalist Party.

    Nationally, however, the existence of one or more minor parties, in a first-past-the-post system, means that no government is likely to have an absolute majority of the votes cast. In the 18 UK general elections, 1945-2010, even the landslide elections did not provide and absolute majority of votes.

    Attlee (L) in 1945:– 47.88 of the votes; 61.72% of seats.
    Macmillan (C) in 1959:– 49.36% of votes; 57.94% of seats.
    Wilson (L) in 1966:– 47.65% of votes; 57.62% of seats.
    Thatcher (C) in 1983:– 42.44% of votes [a slight fall]; 61.08% [a massive increase, thanks to Lib Dem surge];
    Blair (L) in 1997:–43.21 of votes; 63.43% of seats.

    Third parties want a change in the system, to some more fully representative system in which fewer votes are wasted, because they believe that they would receive more votes or at least have their current voting strength reflected in seats won. Major parties do not want such a change, obviously enough.

    The latter justify this opposition by pointing to past and present situations where minor parties can exert a disproportionate influence within coalition governments, as in Israel. Extreme circumstances can also lead to extreme changes. The collapse of the federal German coalition in 1930 led to Hitler taking power, with 37.27% of the vote. The Nazis’ vote doubled, and so did their seats in the Reichstag. After 1933, the Reichstag and the President became irrelevant, and other parties were banned.

    • Thanks for that well thought out post. I don’t necessarily think we’re going to see a change here to a multiple party parliamentary system like the UK’s, and I’m not sure we necessarily want that. As you say, coalition governments are often unstable and often produce questionable results that do not have majority support. However, the fact is that many of the states producing this type of regressive policy are also producing policies that lack majority support because they have allowed politicians to manipulate the districts. Turkeys may not vote for Christmas, but there may well be a means of fixing this situation that does not require the turkey’s opinion in the matter.

      ~Admin Jen

  3. One correction: California used to gerrymander just like everyone else, but that changed with the passage of Prop 11 in 2008 which established the California Citizens Redistricting Commision http://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/. Prop 11 took the role of redistricting out of the hands of the legislature. It is now done by a panel of 3 Democrats, 3 Republicans, and 2 independents. Perhaps Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Texas need their own version of California’s Prop 11.

    • Thanks, Charlie! That’s good to know about. I’d like to read up on the passage of that legislation and see whether it’s reasonable to think similar tactics might be applied elsewhere.

  4. That is a tough question. I wish we could make each county a district but the populations aren’t equal.

  5. The answer to all this is VERY simple…

    Just enact a law that states that the percentage of reps, has to mirror the popular vote, as closely as possible (this would give them at most a 1 person lead, as opposed to 12:4)

    Now, as to how to pick these people, its also simple, the people are chosen from the candidates of the districts they ran for, with the people having the largest winning percentage getting picked first. Essentially, this would force both parties, to compete not only with each other, but with themselves as well. And making it so that “gerrymandering” is 100% impossible!

    Done and done! Next problem!

  6. There are various well-tried means of making systems more representative. I take it that we do not wish to sever all connection between representatives and localities.

    However, one can have multi-member constituencies. This can be combined with the single transferable vote system, to make every vote potentially worth casting.

    One can have top-up members of a legislature, to make the overall result closer to the proportions of votes cast.

    Neither system would attract support from political parties, unless they are in a perpetual minority.

    As for gerrymandering, over 60% of voters in Ohio voted against a ballot initiative to take boundary decisions out of the hands of politicians.

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