Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Wake of the Gerrymander

Today I posted the following letter to this article about Tom DeLay on

More of the Same

These stories of the ruthless power and money grabber's ascent and fall are nothing new to Congress or in a larger sense any of society's institutions throughout history. The Teapot Dome scandal, Watergate, Abscam, Iran contra, etc., etc. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune. As liberals, lets not get too smug about "Duke" Cunningham and DeLay, while forgetting about James Traficant(D-Ohio) being sentenced to 8 years for similar offenses not too long ago.
I think the true happiness that should come from this for anyone on either side of the aisle, is that most of the time, the system does work. The laws and codes of ethics are there, the enforcement is there and eventually the corrupt are exposed. These "Doom and Gloom" tomes about the state of American politics
only serve to fuel everyone's cynicism. This only leads to more low voter turnout.
As surely as the sun rises in the east, along with the vast majority of people who go into public service to serve the people, some will serve only to serve themselves. Wake me up when it's been 10 years without a single Congressperson or Cabinet member being convicted, indicted or at the very least being forced to resign. Then I'll start to worry.

This being said, Tom Delay did use dirty money and strong-arm tactics to wrest control of the Texas state legislature from the Democrats for the sole purpose of pushing through an unprecedented "mid-term" re-districting of the Texas U.S. House delegation in time for the 2004 election. This re-districting is widely believed to have handed the Rebublicans 3 to 5 additional seats in the House. Unless in the slim chance that a court overturns the re-districting, Texas and the House of Representatives are stuck with it for at least another 5 years.

House re-districting is one of those weird little Federalistic quirks, seemingly from a bygone era, that more and more appears to be working about as smoothly as the electoral college. Most states give control of re-districting to their respective legislatures, though some (Iowa is an example), put it in the hands of bi-partisan commissions. The bottom line: no two states do it exactly alike. The one commonality is that it's supposed to only happen every 10 years, in response to the U.S. national census.

We live in the information age. Among all that information is very detailed demographic, and yes, voting pattern data about every state, county, city, neighborhood and block. Combine this with software that is available to analyze this data and it is becoming increasingly easy to draw up voting district maps that favor either Republican or Democratic candidates. See this very informative Jeffrey Toobin article from the New Yorker for more details.

This "techno-Gerrymandering" as I'll call it, is polarizing the House, making it more difficult to unseat incumbents and leading inevitably to a more static, less effective legislative body. For this and other reasons things need to change - it's much too easy to 'game' the current system.
  1. Mandate state bipartisan commissions to control re-districting which will occur only every ten years.
  2. Stipulate that for any polling place, there must be at least 1 machine for every 100 eligible voters - not registered voters.
  3. Utilize expert computer technicians and statisticians to devise a real foolproof voting machine, not the sub-standard hodgepodge that we currently have. and finally:
  4. Eliminate the electoral college. It's illogical and gurantees that the only voters who will get to see and hear the candidates in person reside in "swing" states, unless that is, they can afford to attend a $1,000 a plate fundraising dinner in their own city.

Greats ideas, right! Well, don't expect it anytime soon. Some of these ideas require Constitutional amendments. A Constitutional amendment requires 2/3 of the states to ratify it only after it makes it through Congress and the President. So until the people demand change...

Long Live the Gerrymander!

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