“When it had a Democratic majority last year,” the New York Times reports, more than 200 years after the Boston Gazette decried Massachusetts state Senator Elbridge Gerry’s district as a sprawling, curving salamander-shaped monstrosity, “the North Carolina Supreme Court voided the state’s legislative and congressional maps as illegal gerrymanders. Now the court has a Republican majority, and says the opposite.”
I’m shocked — SHOCKED! — to hear that a change of partisan composition on a court has resulted in partisan changes to the partisan content of that court’s rulings on partisan political matters.
The drawing of legislative districts across America is a never-ending partisan war. As the Forward Party’s platform points out, “over 80% of Congressional districts are considered ‘safe’ seats — they are either clearly Republican or clearly Democratic, leading to a reelection rate over 90%.”
That’s not a side effect. It’s the intent. Legislative majorities draw districts to guarantee that they’ll REMAIN legislative majorities. Legislative minorities then go to court begging for rulings that give them majorities, or at least increase their minority numbers.
While those majorities and minorities often have demographic components — black vs. white, urban vs. rural, etc. — the components are generally subsumed into the simpler identifier of party affiliation.
The Forward Party’s proffered solutions are to “[i]mplement independent or non-partisan redistricting commissions” and pass federal legislation making it illegal to gerrymander by “packing” particular voter types into, or “cracking” them between, districts to benefit one party.
While I like the way the Forward Party thinks on the matter of gerrymandering, neither of those solutions will end gerrymandering, for two reasons.
One is that “independent” and “non-partisan” are meaningless terms. They just mean the party affiliations of the contemplated commissions’ members wouldn’t be publicly advertised, not that those affiliations wouldn’t exist. Anyone who lives in a town with “non-partisan” local elections knows what parties the mayor and council members belong to. Not mentioning a fact doesn’t change the fact.
Another is that the federal law in question would — like the North Carolina law mentioned above — be interpreted by party-affiliated judges.
There are three ways to fix gerrymandering.
The simplest would be to do away with “districts” altogether and elect all political representatives “at large.” Every Floridian, for example, would get to vote to fill each seat in Florida’s legislature. That would entail its own problems, but it would move the complexities from the administrative end to the campaigns’ side of things.
The most obvious — and I’m far from the first to suggest it — is algorithmic districting: Have a computer draw districts of uniform population, taking no account whatsoever of any other factor (party affiliation, race, urban/rural, etc.). One person, one vote, no gaming of the system. Problem solved.
The third, and my preferred one, is to abandon political government, with its false claims of “representation,” altogether. I sense, however, that most Americans aren’t ready to go that far just yet.
Algorithmic districting is a distant second place solution, but it’s better than gerrymandering, even gerrymandering falsely advertised as “independent” or “non-partisan.”
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.