Gerry’s Gift

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Gerry’s Gift

The New Republic explains why broad public sentiment can’t be reflected in election outcomes—everyone all together now—gerrymandering.
All this is the legacy of our least favorite Founding Father, Elbridge Gerry, and the formula for rigging congressional elections that bears his name. Not that it's all Gerry's fault. The redistricting plan he signed in 1812--and the hundreds that have followed--merely exploited a massive flaw in our electoral system. When you have congressional districts, those districts will have boundaries, and those boundaries will inevitably rebound to one party's favor. Unless we remake our system of government in the image of Germany or New Zealand, most American voters are going to be stuck with the annoying fact that their congressional vote doesn't much matter; their incumbent will win, no matter which lever they pull.
Fortunately, if you can't count on the courts to rectify this shortcoming, then at least you can count on the good people of Iowa. They have empowered a nonpartisan Legislative Service Bureau to draw up three redistricting plans after each census, which they then present to the legislature. The law strictly forbids the Legislative Service Bureau from looking at previous election results or the addresses of incumbents. And the Hawkeye system works pretty well. In 2002, four out of the state's five congressional races were competitive. And, this year, Iowa has two tight races. But even this solution provides only a sliver of hope. Voters in Ohio and California have recently rejected ballot initiatives that would similarly empower independent commissions to redraw their state's congressional districts.

In other words, the problem of gerrymandering is now as much cultural as constitutional. The fact that our system of government has such a massive flaw at its center elicits almost no political passion. You'll only find complaints in the corners of goo-goo think tanks. And such passivity in the face of democratic decay is itself a depressing sign of disrepair.

0 comments in Gerry’s Gift

Post a Comment

Gerry’s Gift | Demagogue Copyright © 2010