What's wrong with gerrymandering

Articles exploring the effects of gerrymandering.

  • Democracy in America, part 1: What's wrong with gerrymandering?

    -       It contributes to increasing the number of safe seats. That some seats are safe is unavoidable but is nevertheless awkward. Voters decide which party wins but not the person who will be their representative. In these seats, the real political battle is over the nomination, not the election. Nominations are usually decided by a minority of activists, and activists are more likely than the average voters to be from their party’s extreme fringe. Nominations can more easily be manipulated than elections, for example by organised moneyed interests. Voters on the non-winning side will feel their vote to be worthless. Gerrymandering contributes both to low voter turn-outs and to a polarised Congress.

    -       Gerrymandering is to cheat on democracy and to undermine the principle of one-person-one vote. In a district that has been manipulated, the election is reduced to a mere ritual to verify the pre-determined result.

    -       Gerrymandering is to cheat designated groups in the power of their vote. One form of gerrymandering is to split a group, say a predominantly black neighbourhood, between two districts, thereby reducing their block vote into a small minority in each district.

    -       It contributes to bringing politics and democracy into disrepute. A system that enables and allows the holders of power to cheat on democracy and that operates so as to disenfranchise voters, does not deserve respect.

    -       Basically, gerrymandering moves political power from the onstage arena of voting into backstage arenas of manipulation.

  • U.S. Congress: Gerrymandering is the Problem (Matthew Frankel, Brookings Institution)

    "In the last three election cycles, the 50 most liberal members of Congress received an average of over 79 percent of the vote, while the 100 most moderate members received an average of only 62 percent. The median rank on the National Journal’s list of Democrats elected in 2008 with less than 55 percent of the vote was 198th most liberal while the median rank of Democrats elected with more than 65 percent was 90th most liberal.

    The same dynamic is also true for Republicans although not quite to the same extent. The 50 most conservative members of Congress received an average of around 67 percent of the vote during the last three election cycles, and Republicans receiving 65 percent or more of the vote consistently ranked 40 to 50 places more conservative in the rankings than those elected with 55 percent of the vote or less.

    So, what does this all mean? The most obvious answer is that redistricting over the past three decades has become more prevalent and more partisan. Much has been written about the pervasiveness of gerrymandering on both sides, and this data buttresses that argument. Not only have races become less competitive—the margin of victory has been at least 20 points in over 74 percent of U.S. House elections since 2004—but the members of these less competitive districts have moved closer to their ideological bases and further from the center."

  • What's Wrong with Gerrymandering, Robert Reich video

  • Five Reasons Why This Case to End Gerrymandering Is Important (Moyers & Company, discussing the Arizona redistricting case Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission)

    2. Politicians are choosing voters rather than the other way around.
    The most basic requirement of a true democracy is that citizens have the ability to choose their elected leaders by voting. Instead, gerrymandering allows politicians to choose their voters. Giving legislators power over drawing their own districts and congressional maps creates a conflict of interest that turns democracy on its head. Professional athletes don’t get to redraw the sidelines because they step out of bounds, so neither should politicians.

    3. Gerrymandering Rewards Extremism.
    When voters of different parties are segregated into separate districts, politicians no longer have to listen to citizens with different political viewpoints. This encourages elected officials to appeal to political extremes by scoring points against the other party rather than working with them to solve the problems that are most important to Americans. Elected officials retreat to their partisan corners, where sound bites trump statesmanship. As a result, the last Congress was one of the most polarized of all time. 

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