Redistricting Gone Wild
Redistricting has truly “gone wild.” Once thought to be an exercise in good government and fair representation, today, the redistricting process is being used as a powerful and precise instrument to try push the other party out of office and ensure one-party domination. With increasingly accurate and powerful computer based mapping software, politicians can with high precision draw district maps that greatly decrease electoral competition and virtually guarantee their own re-election, often distorting the partisan demographics in the state.
In Florida, for example, registered Democrats actually outnumber registered Republicans, but the maps have been drawn to diminish the influence of Democrats, resulting in authority without legitimacy. In Florida, there are now 81 Republican State House Members to 39 Democrats and 28 Republican State Senators to only 12 Democrats. In Illinois, recently drawn maps aim to undo what the voters did in the last election cycle. Six new GOP Congressmen are poised to lose in their re-election bids after the districts were redrawn to make it more difficult for them to win.
But redistricting gone wild is not just a problem for minority parties. Frequently the process has and continues to diminish and dilute the voices of minority groups, even as they should see growing influence with population shifts and growth across the country. Communities of interest are sacrificed for selfish incumbent electoral motives.
The bottom line is that today’s redistricting is about as complimentary to our democracy as sour milk is to your morning coffee. The concept is good but the actual exercise is anything but good. Below are more illustrations of redistricting gone wild.
Five Ridiculous Examples of Redistricting Gone Wild
#5. Wasted Tax Dollars
There’s lots of talk about “wasted tax dollars,” especially with the current state of the economy, the budget crisis, the national debt, etc, etc, etc. You’ve heard it all. We know.
Here’s something that maybe you didn’t know. Because the Constitution requires redistricting every 10 years following the Census, that means state legislators have to take time out of their already busy schedules to redraw the lines of state and congressional districts. But when legislators are motivated by the desire to keep their job and increase their party’s power, all while preventing members of the opposition from doing the same, there can often be a lot of in-fighting.
Of course debate and compromise are important parts of our democracy actually working, but the redistricting debates have gotten so bad, most states have been forced put time limits on the process.
The more time legislators spend fighting over redistricting, the less time they spend doing the people’s business, which means they’re getting paid to bicker and not do their jobs. Taxpayers end up picking up the tab for “special sessions,” so other issues can be addressed.
Additionally, the magnitude of the redistricting process often leads to hiring of consultants to do the lions share of the work and some can be paid $20,000 or more per district [need link for this] which comes directly from the tax coffers.
#4. Gaming the System
If you think paying someone $1.3 million to draw lines on a map is outrageous, imagine that someone being the brother of a legislator whose district he is charged with redrawing. Or imagine that a Congressman just happened to have a brother who just happened to sit on the redistricting committee of the State Legislature.
No other democratic nation in the world allows self-interested legislators to control the redistricting process. For as long as legislators are in charge, they will find some way to fix the system so that it is even harder for a challenger to beat them. And too often they use this power to provide favors for their friends and family, whether it is excessive payments for consulting or favoritism in the redrawing process.
#3. Minority Dis-empowerment
In 1992, riots in Los Angeles tore up a large portion of Koreatown and store owners in that area turned to their city and state officials for help in the recovery process.
Damages totaled around $1 Billion, but they got almost no assistance thanks to redistricting gone wrong, or “cracking.” Despite being only about one square mile, Koreatown was broken up into FOUR City Council and FIVE State Assembly districts which effectively allowed officials to dodge responsibility and left business owners to foot the bill.
If you think that’s an isolated incident, think again. Race discrimination in redistricting has been affecting African Americans, Latinos, and all other minority groups since the first redistricting in 1790 when slaves were only counted as 3/5 of a person.
Race-splitting reduces the voting power of minorities, disenfranchises minority voters, and disproportionately favors white candidates, creating glaring under-representation of minorities in all levels of government.
#2. Eliminate Diversity
So if splitting up groups causes disenfranchisement, why not pack them all into one district and they can elect someone who represents their collective interests, right? Not quite. Instead of being empowered by having someone advocating on their behalf, line drawers can overcompensate and “packed” districts can give groups even less power to influence meaningful change.
In the House of Representatives, it takes a 222 members majority to pass anything and if you only have one person advocating for your interests, there’s not a lot of motivation for any other Representative to support it.
And it’s also a huge assumption on the part of politicians that people with similar demographics like race, gender, age, and religion, think and believe exactly the same things.
Currently, only 15.2% of Members currently serving in Congress are non-white (and that includes the non-voting representatives from places like DC and Puerto Rico), while nearly 30% of the U.S. population is minority or mixed race. While there are about 4 Million people in the U.S. who self-identify as gay or lesbian, there are only 500 LGBT elected officials serving at any level of government in the country. Fifty-one percent of the U.S. population is comprised of women while only 20% of elected officials, nationwide, are women. And since you can’t even serve in Congress until you’re 25, about 10% of America’s voting population is entirely unrepresented in Congress.
Packing districts decreases diversity in representation and prevents new and innovative ideas from being introduced into public debates. Under-representation not only mutes voices, but also can allow important issues, like hate crimes and high rates of unemployment among youth and minorities, to go unaddressed.
#1. Establish a Permanent Majority
How scary would it be to have the Democrats in power forever? Or the Republicans? We’re not just talking about the seemingly endless eight year stretch of a president you really don’t like, but one party in power from now until well after your grand children have grand children. Just ask the citizens of Paraguay, Tunisia, Egypt, or basically any other country where power hasn’t changed hands in twenty years or more.
When parties control the redistricting process, they can pick and choose voters that are favorable to their causes and break up opposition voting blocs so we get districts that look like this:
If you can control who’s voting for you, you can stay in power forever! And that’s exactly how the parties think, so they spend millions of dollars in the states to elect members of their party to the state legislatures, who control the redistricting process. If they did their jobs well enough, their party will stay in power and control the next redistricting process and a permanent majority based not on voter selection but on back handed politicking takes over.
Don’t believe it? Check out this video between 4:12 min and 6:21 min where Ed Gillespie of the Republican State Leadership Committee lays out that exact strategy in the 2010 campaign:
Bye, bye Democracy.
It’s a scary thought to consider what kind of policies could be passed into law if one or the other of the parties went unchecked by opposition. And since most Americans identify themselves as politically “moderate,” it’s easy to see that only the parties would appreciate the lack of competition in our democracy.