Can you stand one more diatribe about gerrymandering? I’m returning to the issue because states across the U.S. are busily engaged in the electoral “rigging” that Republicans claim to abhor…and because– unless the voting rights act passes– Congress will succeed in protecting the process into the future.
Talk about “voter fraud”–how about the process, beloved by the GOP, of defrauding literally millions of voters of meaningful participation in the selection of their representatives?
Here’s my last column for the Indiana Business Journal, where–for the umpteenth time–I tried to explain what is so very pernicious about the process, and why it is more destructive of democratic representation than even most of its critics seem to recognize.
With the (tardy) release of the last census, states are embarking on redistricting. In states where the party controlling the legislature draws the lines, that means gerrymandering—creating districts favoring the party currently in control. In some states, that’s the Democrats; in Indiana, it’s Republicans.
The results of gerrymandering are pernicious.
Gerrymandering gives rural voters (who reliably vote Republican) disproportionate influence. Thanks to gerrymandering, most states don’t really have “one person one vote” and the result is that rural voices are vastly overrepresented. (The last Republican Senate “majority” was elected with 20 million fewer votes than the Democratic “minority.”) State taxes paid by city dwellers go disproportionately to rural areas.
Gerrymandering allows the GOP to control state legislatures with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by hundreds of thousands of votes. It thus nullifies elections and insulates lawmakers from democratic accountability.
Last year, the Cook Report calculated that one out of twenty Americans currently lives in a competitive Congressional District.
That lack of electoral competitiveness breeds voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner? Why vote at all?
It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation: it is very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. As a result, in many of these races, even when there are competing candidates on the general election ballot, the reality is usually a “choice” between a heavily favored incumbent and a marginal candidate who offers no new ideas, no energy, and no genuine challenge. And in increasing numbers of statehouse districts, the incumbent or his chosen successor is unopposed by even a token candidate.
Credit where credit is due: Republicans are much better at gerrymandering than Democrats. In 2011, the GOP’s “RedMap” project was wildly successful, with Republicans winning many more seats than their vote totals would otherwise have produced. (One unanticipated consequence of that success has been especially damaging: The people elected to Congress from deep-red districts that mapmakers had created don’t feel any allegiance to the leaders of their party, or to reasonable policymaking. They are only interested in doing the bidding of the rabid voters to whom they are beholden, and avoiding a primary battle that–thanks to the gerrymander–can only come from the right. They have brought government to a halt.)
Here in Indiana, as legislators once again prepare to choose their voters, rather than allowing voters to choose their representatives, continuing disenfranchisement of city dwellers will have very practical consequences. Just one example: the connection between gerrymandering and the thousands of potholes residents of Indianapolis dodge every spring.
Indiana’s urban areas have been “carved up” and the “carved up” portions married to larger rural areas in a purposeful effort to dilute the voices and votes of city-dwellers, who have a tendency to vote Democratic. As a result, when the legislature allocates money through distribution formulas for the state’s streets and roads, it is far more generous to the thinly populated rural areas of the state than to cities like Indianapolis, where the majority of Indiana’s citizens live.
If you don’t care about the connection between gerrymandering and democracy, think about the connection between fair and equal representation and state distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim.
17 thoughts on “Gerrymandering–One More Time”
The feedback loop, which provides the circular motion like wheels heading toward the abyss, is all these methods to steal the elections accentuates voter apathy.
As Plato said, “Voter apathy will lead us to be ruled by our inferiors.”
This is called a kakistocracy.
When there is no accountability due to a lack of free press, which is wilting on the vine due to hedge fund groups buying out remaining newspapers and Cable-TV disinformation filling the gaps, the kakistocracy turns to kleptocracy. Unfortunately, Indiana has been suffering under a kleptocracy for years.
The problem is this trickles down and has negative consequences everywhere one looks. When you have incapable leaders not accountable to the people they represent, the worst of humanity becomes the norm.
Due to the oppressive nature of oligarchic power being forced upon the citizens, how does one snap apathetic voters out of their trauma while simultaneously holding those in power accountable? Or, how do we create change on those two almost immovable objects?
Especially when you consider what they have planned on the docket and how they’ve rigged the next two elections, regardless of outcomes.
Gerrymandering problems are like that old quote about the weather, “Everybody talks about it but nobody does anything about it.” And look what happened to not doing anything about the weather.
“If you don’t care about the connection between gerrymandering and democracy, think about the connection between fair and equal representation and state distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim.”
Spot on, Sheila. “My vote doesn’t matter” is the most frequently cited excuse by non-voters. The goal of gerrymandering is to predetermine the outcome of elections to favor the majority party, thereby making non-voting a rational behavior. That’s why gerrymandering is the most insidious and effective form of voter suppression ever devised and one of the reasons Indiana is mired in the bottom 10 of states for turnout.
Hoosier Republicans have turned gerrymandering into a cynical art form, as have Democrats in Illinois, New York and Maryland. Maps were drawn in secret, rammed through with a minimum of public input and debate, and quickly signed into law with zero media in the room.
Will be very interesting to see what the supermajority Marion County Democrats took away from the supermajorities ruling the west end of Market Street. Can they resist the allure of gerrymandering when they redraw the 25 council districts? Any bets?
The problem isn’t party discussion, its the fight within each party and how we shame people out of politics if a candidate doesn’t follow all of the parties politics from the top down.
Repeal the 17th amendment and let state legislators pick the candidates where state governments are really involved. Millions pour into elections for Senators from the outside. Thats the real solution.
And of course, the “strictly non-partisan” Supreme Court doesn’t have any problems with “rigged” elections.
This is why no Democrat Presidential choice campaigns in Indiana
GOTV takes skill and a lot more effort than most people realize. For Democratic candidates to win they have to have money and energy and they have to be willing to walk the entire district and talk to as many people as possible about issues, not politics. It’s not impossible and it starts with good candidates.
“Can you stand one more diatribe about gerrymandering?”
Yes. Yes, I can. Gerrymandering is freakin’ infuriating. It’s a personal pet peeve. (Where “peeve” equals “issue of critical importance that creates a white-hot fury inside me over how little is made of it.”)
Pike township due to gerrymandering shares a district with Hamilton County. I have heard rumors that Zionsville and Hamilton County’s suburban residents are trending toward the democratic party. Hmm.
I have stated before that the committe leader who refused to allow a vote on creating an independent commission should not have that much power. That is a real threat to our democracy.
Congress is not addressing this issue either. It will be a state by state battle, no doubt. SCOTUS will not help either since it is now dominated by “originalists”.
We need effective strategists like Stacey Abrams in this state who can help us offset the red gerrymandering. Did she write a book on how they turned Ga. to democratic candidates in the last election?
And then, of course, there is the electoral college which is no longer serving the citizens of this country. It needs to bite the dust. But again this may be a state by state battle in which states decide if they will divide up their electoral college votes in accord with the percentage of voters each candidate received. (Sigh).
The courts inhabited by Political Lawyers selected by Elected Officials to be Judges are totally adverse to challenging what their masters propose in terms of gerrymandering. The law does not have to be fair is the bottom line.
Great topic today – a prime root cause of our crumbling democracy. The result is often that those who vote are simply voting for the party. If you add to that the power of incumbency (86% of US House incumbents win each election), it makes things very grim. If you also add that right now the GOPers are much more “no” energized (no abortion, no CRT, no migrants, no mandates…”, ’22/’24 will be a horrible time for our country.
Gerrymandering works because of the urban-rural divide. The urban-rural divide has resulted in economic disparity since the Industrial Revolution because agricultural land use resists both population densification and the concentration of wealth. So does land used to supply common natural resources.
About a century into the Industrial Revolution Democrats realized that a growing problem for the country were those for who the pursuit of happiness was being held back by their obvious cultural distinction from the Europeans who had been here for multiple generations and elected to address their problems through civil rights legislation.
Republicans thought that they could maintain their relevance by representing the rural half of the divide in the cultural wars if they could maintain business support by not taxing wealth at the required rate. Perhaps inadvertently, perhaps not, they also promoted the business concentration of wealth by rewarding large businesses who could afford large taxation departments with loopholes to avoid taxation. They also embraced the business strategy of advertising by sharing with Fox Entertainment Network their brand to the benefit of both. They also enthusiastically embraced gerrymandering (both machine-made and the organic kind the makeup of the Senate offered) to make up for the fact that they had aligned themselves with minority populations.
The stage was set to create now.
The only way to see decennial daylight in this minority rule by gerrymandering game absent legislation establishing independent commissions is massive turnout by the opposition in gerrymandered districts, but as Sheila notes, that’s not going to happen when the opposition is mired in despair, as in, why bother when it’s the same ol’, same ol’ ?
Somehow Democrats in this state have to energize the despairing to again take an interest in government by selecting good and energized candidates and then going en masse to the polls to elect them. How, given the present state of things? Change the state of things. Beat the gerrymander with massive turnout. Our politicians may not be up to the task, so perhaps we should employ some sociologists and psychologists to help us morph our despairing into the hopeful and thus remove our own from the couch come Election Day. Whatever works. . .
Thanks to Baker v. Carr, all state legislative districts need to be approximately equal in population. So I don’t understand how gerrymandering simply as an institution gives an advantage to rural voters.
When Republicans are in control, they draw maps that benefit them. That means dividing up the state so they can elect a strong majority of GOP representatives. In order to do that they do draw maps in such a way to benefit more rural (and suburban) areas because that’s where their voters are.
Likewise, when the Democrats are in control, they use gerrymandering to benefit their party. That means drawing the maps in such a way as to overly benefit urban areas because that’s where their voters are.
Are Republicans inherently better at gerrymandering than Democrats, perhaps because they aren’t constrained by ethical limits of playing fair like Democrats are? That is highly doubtful.
What has made gerrymandering more effective over the years is tremendous technological advances that help predict current and future voting patterns that make gerrymandering more effective. Because Republicans are in control of the process in most states when it comes to drawing the lines, they’ve been able to take advantage of this improved technology. But again, that isn’t because Republicans are somehow “better” at gerrymandering.
There is one thing though that helps the Republican Party on gerrymandering. The Voting Rights Act requirement that whenever possible majority-black or majority-Hispanic (so called majority-minority districts) be drawn means Republicans can legally pack more Democratic-leaning voters into fewer districts. So you end up with more black Democratic legislators, but fewer Democratic legislators over all.
Republicans love the majority-minority district requirement. They can brag about how they are fighting for more minority representation n the legislature, when their real interest is decreasing the number of Democrats. Democrats, on the other hand, would prefer to have that minority vote more spread out so they can have more D leaning districts.
Regarding one of the comments, not sure how Stacey Abrams (so not my favorite person) has helped offset gerrymandering in Georgia. Georgia’s state legislative districts and congressional districts heavily favor the Republicans and will so again after redistricting. Abrams has artfully helped turn GA into a purple state and deserves kudos for that. But that accomplishment is for statewide elections, not elections taking place in gerrymandered districts. For the record, I am skeptical Abrams runs for GA governor in 2022. People assume she will. They should not. She has her eyes on national office.
Having read many articles about the evil Gerry, no one has proposed any real solution beyond a constitutional amendment or congressional action. So folks, nada is going to change for ’22/’24. Let’s focus on winning – the current GOP is 200% into that…and ending our democracy.
What is especially infuriating is the quote from ‘the chair of Allen County’s Republican party (professional weasel Steve Shine) said, “When you have 80% of the elected officials statewide wearing the Republican label, simply put, Indiana is a Republican state and the Democrats need to get over that.”‘
Left unsaid was that it was only possible through control of the statehouse and gerrymandering.
Time for us all to join the Republican party and change from within.
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