Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Census, Redistricting and Gerrymandering

Across the country, and across the political spectrum there is a growing sense that we need to reform redistricting rules. The Constitution requires a census every 10 years. The number of congressmen allocated to every state changes as the population changes. If a state is allocated a different amount of congressmen then it must redraw the political boundaries of the election districts. Redistricting is the process of redrawing the boundaries of election districts.

One of the central aspects of the US Constitution is that our elected officials represent specific geographical areas. While we should try to get districts with equal populations we should know that that is not possible and it should not be the primary consideration.

New York (29) has 40 times (19 million) the population of Wyoming (.5 million) (1)and only 10 times the electoral votes. There is nothing wrong with this. What is wrong is how politicians use voter and demographic records to tailor districts to favor specific politicians and parties. There is something filthy and unclean about gerrymandered districts, sorting people out by race, ethnicity and voting patterns; with politicians arguing about who gets a particular group of housing district; trying to push demographically undesirable people – undesirable to the congressman that is – to another district. The arguing over demographics, while unseemly, is made vile in that tiny threads and strange loops of homes and apartments are included, the only rule being that that the districts are contiguous, that there are no separate islands of people distributed among districts.

The reason behind gerrymandering is to help oneself and hurt ones opponent. We all know that politics is a rough sport but we, the public, have to maintain vigilance to make certain that the things are played fair.

Gerrymandering allows the individuals and parties in control to stack the deck in their favor. No matter what is done there will not be an equal amount of people per district. Even the current system, with all its problems, does not perfectly apportion people. We need to introduce objectivity into the election mess and get rid of gerrymandering once and for all. We make a mockery of our system by allowing election districts can be carved up at whim. Election districts need to be comprised of fixed areas that cannot be altered by the whims of politicians and back-room consultants. Districts should be comprised of counties, towns and, in urban areas, fixed-boundaried neighborhoods.

Requiring that election districts be contiguous helped limit some of the egregious aspects of gerrymandering. Requiring that district be comprised of entire neighborhoods, towns, counties, or combinations thereof will limit further the excess now being done with the advent of demographic mapping and software algorithms.

[POSTED 2/18/2010]