Look at the chart above, particularly district #1 on the right, and #10 on the left. You might not be able to find better examples of gerrymandering in the country. There is only a thread of land connecting the large “ink blots.” This illustration in North Carolina shows how bad gerrymandering can get.
The term “gerrymandering,” as described in Wikipedia, comes from our early history, when Eldridge Gerry (our fifth vice president) designed a district that was so odd that it looked like a salamander on the map.
Thus, the term “gerry-mandering.”
Two principal tactics are used in gerrymandering: “cracking” (i.e. diluting the voting power of the opposing party’s supporters across many districts) and “packing” (concentrating the opposing party’s voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts).
As you can see in the chart below, titled “How To Steal An Election,” this fictitious state has enough population to have five districts, and the “green” party owns the state with 60% (landslide) support. But if the districts are gerrymandered, as shown on the right, the “yellow” party would get three of the five seats—a majority from that state.
The example of the North Carolina districts is not likely to get better in the next redistricting plan, according to Indyweek. But the courts have become involved. In fact, the US Supreme Court ruled in March that a three-judge panel ruling should be delayed, probably giving Republicans the upper hand again in next year’s elections. A group there, is proposing a State constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in North Carolina.
There is some hope for change. A case is currently ready to be heard by the US Supreme Court.
This year, on the first day of its term, the Supreme Court will consider the much-anticipated Gill v. Whitford. That case brings up the hot-button question of whether a state legislature may draw electoral districts that favor one party over another.
Most of the gerrymandering has been done by Republicans since the 2010 election, since they have controlled more State legislatures. So, of course, Democrats are up in arms, with a Barack Obama-backed group raising more than $10 million to fight the battle, according to the Daily Caller.
Obama has made redistricting a priority for post presidency. “When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our congressional districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes,” Obama said in January.
However, Repulicans in “blue” states are also fighting gerrymandering. In fact, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, is taking it to the Supreme Court. He uses a movie reference for his organization, “Terminate Gerrymandering Crowdpac.” He also uses humor to begin his pitch.
“In the movies, you solve this problem very quickly,” Schwarzenegger said. “You go in the room, you break the door down, and you see all these guys mapping out the district lines and all this stuff, fixing the system—you just go blow up the room, burn the maps, throw everyone out the window, and your job is done.”
But red-state-Georgia Republican State Rep. Allen Peake (who looks a lot like Gene Hackman) says it’s time to be fair when redistricting.
“Republicans will not get all they want. Democrats will not be happy with all the final details,” wrote the Macon Republican, perhaps best known as the godfather of Georgia’s medical marijuana program. “But it’s time we find the common ground, compromise on the differences and find an answer regarding healthcare and other issues that works in the real world. . .
“Of the 14 districts in Georgia, maybe one is competitive. They’ve been redistricted to be safe Republicans and safe Democrats,” said Peake. “Imagine how different we would govern if every district was split. We would have this instant polarization go away and we’d look at each other differently, work across party lines more.”
Other countries have faced the issue—and acted, so there is reason to be optimistic that redistricting may become less partisan.
1. Most democracies outside the English-speaking world elect more than one representative per district. When the number of seats per district can be adjusted, the principle of “one person-one ovte” can often be achieved without redrawing boundaries at all. . .
2. In most other long-term democracies, a politically neutral body draws new districts—perhaps a quasi-judicial body or nonpartisan administrative board or commission. . .
3. District boundaries are harder to manipulate. . .districts in Mexico are drawn in concordance with an algorithm developed by a so-called technical committee. . .
4. Legal challenges are more limited. . .one key reason for the rarity of legal challenges in most countries is that they simply don’t face the kind of political manipulations and grossly distorted district lines endemic in the United States.”
If a party controls a state, it can draw the lines. It will, of course, draw the lines to its favor, which means that party will control the state even more tightly, and that means they will get the chance to draw the next new lines. . .so that the minority party in that State will likely never come to power, ever again. And incumbents will never really face challenges to their seats. But as we noted elsewhere, the worst effect is that hyper-partisan districts mean hyper-partisan candidates who are only interested in power, not the people.