Thursday, June 22, 2017

Gerrymandering Is Unfair - Can Supreme Court Stop It ?

Gerrymandering is when the dominant political in a state draws district lines in such a way as to maximize the number of safe seats for them while minimizing the number of seats the other party can win. The image above (from shows some of the extreme gerrymanders that currently exist. The Republicans have been particularly effective in gerrymandering, but it is a practice engaged in by both political parties. And it is unfair to the voters, regardless of which party does it. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case to determine the constitutionality of political gerrymandering.

The following is an editorial about gerrymandering by the editorial board of the traditionally conservative Dallas Morning News. I am far from being a conservative, but I agree with what they have written.

We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a partisan gerrymandering with the potential to reshape American politics. 
Courts have rejected district election maps on grounds they were drawn outlandishly to disadvantage minority voters. However, the court has never turned down a map drawn to give an advantage to a political party.  That's what makes this case so consequential. Political parties routinely draw maps that either concentrate or dilute the other party's  voters to create safe districts for their own incumbents. 
The case before the court is Gill v. Whitford,  which grew out of election results in 2010 that gave Republicans control of Wisconsin's government. GOP lawmakers immediately drew a map for the state assembly that helped Republicans turn razor-close statewide vote totals into lopsided legislative majorities.
Since then, a three-judge federal district court panel ruled that Republicans overstepped, concluding that the map "was designed to make it more difficult for Democrats, compared to Republicans, to translate their votes into seats." The district court agreed with the challengers that the map was drawn for partisan reasons and resulted in "wasted votes." 

After every U.S. census, district lines are redrawn to reflect changes in population. As districts gain or lose residents, new boundaries are supposed to make sure each district has about the same number of people, is compact, includes people with common interests and gives voters an equal say. 
Partisan-inspired redistricting violates most of these standards. Boundaries are overtly manipulated to maximize the number of districts favorable to one party while spreading as many of the voters that might back the other party into remaining districts where votes have minimal impact. 
The case before the Supreme Court has the potential for serious repercussions in Texas. We have long decried gerrymandering shenanigans here.  Few state legislative and congressional races are considered competitive, which is why many incumbents run unopposed election after election and challengers face a steep climb. As a result, voters often don't have meaningful choices. 
In addition, a trial is scheduled next month over accusations of racial gerrymandering in Texas House and congressional political maps. A federal court has already ruled that GOP lawmakers drew boundaries in 2011 to intentionally discriminate against minority voters.
We'd like to see Texas lawmakers establish an independent commission to reduce redistricting self-dealing on both racial and partisan grounds. They haven't.  

Racial gerrymandering has long been seen as unconstitutional. We welcome the Supreme Court's scrutiny on political gerrymandering, too. No one should be happy with a process that effectively allows elected representatives to pick their constituents and to be less responsive to the concerns of political minorities in their districts. 

Democracy fails when politicians rig the system before the first vote is cast. Democracy works when people have choices.

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