NOTE: BagNewsNotes is now located at Please update your bookmarks.

You will be automatically redirected in a few seconds...

« Your Turn: Running On Iraq | Main | Heartbreak Hotel »

Jun 29, 2006

Gerrymander Away!

If you liked Georgia 11

Or Illinois 4

You gotta love
what comes next
now that the (gutless) Supreme Court
has given redistricting
an unrestricted green light ....


... In point of fact,
the Repugs
and Delay
may regret the day
they got this ball rolling.

fade still further
as both parties
"ice" that
many more
"safe districts?"


(maps: georgia/atlanta maps: via; ohio district map:


hey BAG, how about a post about israel?

Is it possible gerrymandering could lead to better representation? I mean, in a district that is about 50-50, the representative will likely only be able to represent 1/2 the constituency very well. But in a district that is less balanced, the representative will have a clearer understanding of what the majority of their constituency wants.

On the other hand, voter turnout is so low and erratic, voter education is so poor, candidates are so beholden to their big money donors, and congresspeople become so detached from the real world, that I think it is very rare that a representative can rightfully claim to know what their constituency wants.

If we had proportional representation instead of such a stupid "winner-takes-all" voting system, this wouldn't be an issue at all.

Wow, I've never seen that picture before, but I think I've had nightmares with Georgia 11 in it.

I hope we can pick up some more reps from this

But in a district that is less balanced, the representative will have a clearer understanding of what the majority of their constituency wants.

Not necessarily. In Texas, the goal was to deny Democrats safe districts by carving the cities into pieces that stretch deep into the rural areas. They gave a few ultra-dense urban districts to the minorities, and kept the rest for themselves. Here in Austin, I can easily bike through three different Congressional districts that stretch-on for miles and miles in odd shapes. I was once in a Democratic stronghold, but am now represented by a Republican who lives 80 miles away, and I live in the middle of the city. Some people have it worse.

Besides, no district is really 50/50. There are always people who will flip to different sides, and so politicians have to work harder to not offend the middle. But in solid districts, they can entirely ignore the middle and the opposition. That's how I feel. And the extremists are more likely to win in the primaries and fight in Congress. My Congressman can offend me all he wants, and he knows my vote is meaningless. My House Representative was the only politician who represented my interests on the Federal level, and now I have no one.

I had never known what a gerrymander looked like until I saw Georgia 11 and Illinois 4. Unnatural, that's what they are!

I assume someone will quickly figure out how many Republican seats could be redistricted into oblivion if the Dems follow the DeLay/Texas model. I hope the number is meaningful--but I'm not getting my hopes up.

I would hate to see Dems follow this despicable Repug lead, but, perhaps with more abuse of this by everybody we could get some attention to it, leading to a good law about who/when districts are re-drawn.


There's only one real answer.

All of us have to move around so much it confuses the hell out of them.

I would hate to see Dems follow this despicable Repug lead
Oh yes, this technique was invented in 1990 by the Republican Party.

This comment is doubly silly because the case before the Supreme Court involved the Republican re-districting of Texas, which was in response to the massively gerrymandered districting put in place by the Democratic Party the previous decade.

If one traces back the modern origin of districts shaped like this, one finds one prime initiator and it wasn't the Republican Party.

AOG said: "the Republican re-districting of Texas, which was in response to the massively gerrymandered districting put in place by the Democratic Party the previous decade."

Ha! Nice try, AOG, but, as you know, your statement is intentionally misleading. Yes, both parties use gerrymandering for political advantage. But you also know that congressional districts are supposed to be redrawn by constitutional mandate after every 10-year census.

Since Texas politics has now *profoundly* altered politics for EVERY state, here's a more accurate backstory about Texas, which reveals who put the "massively gerrymandered districting" in place before the Republicans massively re-gerrymandered it (*s are mine):

"Following the 2000 census, all states were obligated to redraw the boundaries of their congressional districts in line with the new population figures. In 2001, that process produced a standoff in Texas, with the Republican state senate and the Democratic state house of representatives unable to reach an agreement. As a result, *a panel of federal judges formulated a compromise plan,* which more or less replicated the current partisan balance in the state’s congressional delegation: seventeen Democrats and thirteen Republicans. Then, in the 2002 elections, Republicans took control of the state house, and Tom DeLay, the Houston-area congressman who serves as House Majority Leader in Washington, decided to reopen the redistricting question."

What makes the Supreme Court's decision about the Texas redistricting case new and frightening political territory is that gerrymandering can now be done incessantly, not just after the census. Want to guess what *your* elected officials (of either party) will be doing all day?

mrbroma asks: "Is it possible gerrymandering could lead to better representation?"

In a word, no. We are not represented now. Gerrymandering is done by the line-drawers behind the scenes without any constituent's input. It has absolutely nothing to do with fair representation for the citizens, it has to do with power for those few in office. Which is why it's controversial, of course, and should be even more so.

The New Yorker article referenced above is a thoroughly worthy read. It's also worth noting that the Crooks and Liars piece The BAG linked to is knee-jerk and misleading, and therefore inaccurate and silly. Which doesn't get us anywhere.

If one traces back the modern origin of districts shaped like this, one finds one prime initiator and it wasn't the Republican Party.

Right you are AOG. The Gerry of gerrymander is Governor Elbridge Gerry, the early 18th century Massachussetts governor who presided over redrawing electoral districts to favor his party, the Democratic-Republican.

In binary terms the "doubly silly" with which you label that quote reduces to un-silly which is coincidentally my take. I, too, would hate to see Democrats respond to cheating by Republicans with cheating of their own. I don't admire Tom DeLay for his mastery of cheating, whatever his avowed motivation.

The wiki link I meant to include above.

blackdogbarking: Actually, I think Elbridge Gerry is generally considered by historians to be a Republican.

So again, AOG is a bit misleading — possibly deliberately so to play devil's advocate — in his insinuations about the party origins of gerrymandering.

No, that's why I included the word "modern" as an adjective, because we are not discussing the sort of gerrymandering Gerry did, but the computer aided form. This was originally done to create minority-majority districts, designed to elect members of the Democratic Party.

That's really a minor issue, though, as had the Democratic Party not done it, the GOP would have sooner or later. My comment was directed at the laughable claim that such wildly shaped districts were purely a GOP creation, to which the Democratic Party would have to decide whether to respond in kind. For instance, here we see

the party that garnered, on average, less than half the vote in statewide races was able to capture nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvania's congressional seats.
That's not the GOP doing that.

On the other hand, I don't see what was misleading about my comments on Texas. You are the one being misleading, as both sides indicated that they would re-open the districting issue as soon as they had a majority in the state legislature. The judicial districting was known at the time to be a temporary measure and in effect did not redraw the districts, but simply held them over. If one looks at the differences between the popular vote ratios and the Congression Representative ratios, the new Texas districts are less gerrymandered than the old ones. Is that good or bad? Is it dependent on which party benefits?

P.S. Personally, I support strong measures against gerrymandering, but as long as people like you think that only one party does it, nothing will change.

AOG, yes, I noticed your use of the word "modern," and it's what gave you away; meaning, such precision indicated you were going to present a selective argument, which you did. I myself don't have any problem taking your point that the Democrats have used and abused gerrymandering for sheer political power-grabbing themselves. If you read the New Yorker article, you'll see it shines a fairly ugly light on the white Democratic stranglehold on the South, and how Republicans turned the situation to their advantage:

>>“When the civil-rights movement started, you had a lot of white Democrats in power in the South,” Bobby Scott, a congressman from Virginia who was first elected in 1992, said. “And, when these white Democrats started redistricting, they wanted to keep African-American percentages at around thirty-five or forty per cent. That was enough for the white Democrats to keep winning in these districts, but not enough to elect any black Democrats. The white Democrats called these ‘influence’ districts, where we could have a say in who won.” But Republicans sensed an opportunity. “They came to us and said, We want these districts to be sixty per cent black,” Scott, who is African-American, said. “And blacks liked that idea, because it meant we elected some of our own for the first time. That’s where the ‘unholy alliance’ came in.”

The unholy alliance — between black Democrats and white Republicans — shaped redistricting during the eighties and nineties. Republicans recognized the value of concentrating black voters, who are reliable Democrats, in single districts, which are known in voting-rights parlance as “majority-minority.”<<

But besides giving you some grief for the slant of your own presentation, AOG, I had two points. The first, again, was simply that *both* parties have an equally guilty history of gerrymandering.

The second point is that the Supreme Court ruling allows for an acceleration of the practice — a green light to redistrict anytime, with each slight shift of the political winds. This is what's new, not arguing about Texas itself. If you are against the current practice of gerrymandering, you ought to find this development a concern.

>>"The court ruled 7-2 that state legislators may draw new congressional maps anytime — not just once a decade as Texas Democrats had claimed and has been traditional nationwide. That means any state's lawmakers can push through new maps anytime there is a power shift in the Legislature."<<

Since the case was not about the logic or fairness or vote ratios of the redrawn districts in Texas, perhaps I should have said "misinformed" rather than "misleading"?

I'm going to have to think longer about what "less gerrymandered" could possibly mean.

The way to avoid gerrymandering is to have a computer do the job of redistricting. The computer input data can be limited to the Census data, and the software shows exactly how and why the lines were drawn. Funny how the commissioners aren't required to know geometry, much less calculus, when supposedly their job is to configure areas of equal population. Any commissioner knows that Orange County is more conservative than San Francisco County. How can a voter know that a commissioner didn't take advantage of that fact and many other facts to gerrymander? Even dissecting the commissioner's brain won't provide an answer. A computer is a machine that follows a series of instructions. The series of instructions is called software. The sofware acts only on the data it reads as input. Unlike the thinking of a commissioner, the software and its input can be published for voters to see. Other computers can verify the exactness of results.
Politicians have strained to ignore that a computer can do the job. Ironically, the precision of gerrymandering today is made possible by gerrymandering software. Redistricting software is limited to curious academic research, even though gerrymandering sofware is more difficult to write since it must also include voter registration data. The difference is that gerrymandering software is profitable, since there is a strong demand for it from politicians. No bill in the legislature will end gerrymandering.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

My Other Accounts

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 07/2003