Gerrymandering is not an ice cream flavor. It is not a deceased member of the Grateful Dead. It is not the governor of California, and it was never a member of Stealers Wheel. It is, however, a scourge that explains a lot about our crappy political system.
Gerrymandering is a term originated by the foes of Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts politician who, among other things, was a signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the fifth vice president of the United States under James Madison. However, his legacy was cemented while he was governor of Massachusetts, during which time he signed a Republican-sponsored bill to reshape the state’s voting districts and elect more of his party’s candidates. The oddly shaped redistricting map looked like a salamander, so an opposition newspaper decided to call it a gerrymander. The rest is history.
The gerrymander. He must work on his posture.
What does gerrymandering have to do with politics today? A lot. According to the Constitution, it is left up to the states to determine voting districts. Not surprisingly, these districts are typically manipulated by incumbent political parties to maximize the number of party-affiliated officeholders. Ever wonder why Mitt Romney won North Carolina in 2012 by a mere 2%, and yet 10 of the 13 members of the North Carolina House delegation are Republican? You got it – gerrymandering. Ever wonder why Massachusetts, a state with 40% Republican voters, hasn’t had a Republican in Congress for two decades? Gerrymandering.
“Sucky” is the most polite word I can think of to describe gerrymandering; I can think of many more graphic ones, however. There have been many implementations of gerrymandering over the years, but it was perfected by the Republicans in the 1990’s and then coopted by the Tea Party in 2010. It’s why, in a country in which religious observance is declining, the power of evangelicals is so strong, and why, even though more than 50% of the population supports a woman’s right to choose, Congress spends an inordinate amount of time trying to defund Planned Parenthood. In short, gerrymandering enables politicians to disregard the will of American majorities to advance their own interests.
But gerrymandering doesn’t explain our current conundrum, in which P.T. Barnum is perilously close to the power-gasm of his life. Or does it? When Americans feel that their representatives don’t represent them, and instead follow the whim of their most influential corporate sponsors, an ethically challenged pied piper populist whose bald-faced, pandering lies foment their greatest fears and prejudices is just the elixir they’re looking for.
It’s too late to stop that bombastic buffoon from monopolizing our airwaves (if not our executive branch), but it’s exactly the right time to re-empower American voters with a real voice in the selection of our lawmakers. What can we do? It’s simple: tell our politicians to pass a Constitutional amendment to remove redistricting power from the states, and instead institute proportional representation in its place.
What does proportional representation do? It ensures that our elected officials reflect the demographics and interests of their voters. If a state has 48% Democratic-leaning voters, proportional representation makes sure that Republicans will no longer have 10 of the 13 seats. It ensures that minorities, poor people, and other underrepresented voting blocs have a full voice in our electoral system; that the rights of all constituents are more likely to be represented fairly. If you want to find out more about proportional representation, I suggest you check out this video, which describes it nicely.
Bottom line: the era of letting self-interested, cynical politicians make this country a device for their agendas must end. But of course, we all have to take action, and that means letting our elected officials know that gerrymandering must stop and proportional voting must begin. Which of course means that I also have to get off of my lazy ass and follow my own advice.
If I do, will you?