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John Oliver is at it again, deeply analyzing a boring political concept in a smart, interesting — and funny — way. This time, he explains Gerrymandering, the nefarious practice of manipulating district boundaries for political advantage, named after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. If anyone is interested in delving deeper, you can read the new book by David Daley called “Ratf**ked: the true story behind the secret plan to steal America’s democracy.”
Here’s an interesting little GIF that Lazaro Gamio (@LazaroGamio) posted to twitter recently. The visualization shows the historical Congressional district boundaries of Maryland’s 3rd district, from 1789-2017. this district is one of the most gerrymandered in the country. The last few years are particularly startling. As one commenter put it, the later district shape “looks like a Rorschach test!”
Playing around with historical congressional district boundaries: Maryland's 3rd district, from 1789-2017 -> pic.twitter.com/nGOU3vcn1W
— Lazaro Gamio (@LazaroGamio) February 23, 2017
The Republican Party is in control of both the House and Senate, and the redrawing of Congressional districts is one of the tools that led America to its current fate. The Atlantic follows Tom Hoffeler, a Republican consultant responsible for the bulk work of the redistricting strategy.
Following the coincidence of the 2010 Census and the GOP’s gain of the House, their ability to redraw the boundaries of where districts lie allowed them to cherrypick constituencies, setting up a domino effect which has crashed this year and will likely reverberate through years to come. The gerrymandering of districts sits at an uncomfortable intersection of racial politics, classism, and politics as blood sport, with the Democrats’ efforts to stall redistricting and make attempts of their own paling in comparison.
And if you’d prefer your Congressional district mapmaking more mathematical than RealPolitik, check out the research a couple of Duke Mathematicians did to study the effects of gerrymandering on the 2012 Election in NC.
The results were startling. After re-running the election 100 times with a randomly drawn nonpartisan map each time, the average simulated election result was 7 or 8 U.S. House seats for the Democrats and 5 or 6 for Republicans. The maximum number of Republican seats that emerged from any of the simulations was eight. The actual outcome of the election — four Democratic representatives and nine Republicans – did not occur in any of the simulations. “If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don’t end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started,” says Mattingly.
[[Gerrymandering]] has long been a problem in American politics. Every 10 years, after the decennial census, Congressional districts are re-drawn to even out the population of every district (700,000 people / Congressional district). Alan Lowenthal, Representative for California’s 47th congressional district, has introduced H.R. 2978: Let the People Draw the Lines Act of 2013 to help deal with this ongoing and increasingly intransigent issue. If you want to see for yourself, check out the recent Wonkblog post “What 60 years of political gerrymandering looks like.” Truly mind-blowing, and one of the main reasons that the current Congress is the least productive in American history!
So PLEASE contact your representative and tell them we need non-partisan Congressional districts so that politicians aren’t in charge of drawing their own districts to keep themselves safely ensconced in Congress year after year.
Lowenthal’s “Let the People Draw the Lines Act” would create independent panels consisting of five Democrats, five Republicans and four Independents.
“These would be people who haven’t run for office, who aren’t paid by either party, and who haven’t contributed to either party,” Lowenthal says. “That group would follow set criteria for drawing maps, and would hold public hearings throughout the state. The commission would approve the maps, and would not require legislative or governor’s approval. If there was a legal challenge it would immediately go to federal district court.”