ChrisWeigant.com

Slaying The Gerrymander

[ Posted Tuesday, February 20th, 2018 – 17:49 PST ]

The "Gerry-Mander," originally, was a flying lizard -- or, one might say, a dragon. In March of 1812, the Boston Gazette published a cartoon based on a district the governor at the time (Elbridge Gerry) had approved. The cartoonist thought it looked like a salamander, drew the winged lizard, and thus introduced the word "gerrymander" to the politician lexicon. In current American politics, a wide group of citizens are now girding their loins and seeking to slay the gerrymander dragon, once and for all.

All eyes are currently on Pennsylvania in this epic battle. Every ten years, as directed by the U.S. Constitution, a state's House districts can be redrawn. Sometimes seats are added or lost, but even if the number stays the same the districts can be adjusted when the results of the decennial Census come in. In the 2010 election, Republicans won big in the Pennsylvania state legislature, so they decided to draw a district map that outrageously favored them.

As a direct result, despite the fact that there are more registered Democrats in the state and despite a majority of the state's votes going to the Democratic House candidates in 2012 (the first election year after the redistricting), the Republicans wound up with 13 House members while Democrats had only five. This is why gerrymandering happens, in other words -- to give one party an unfair advantage. This 13-5 split has continued in every election since. This is in a state which has voted Democratic in six of the past seven presidential elections, mind you.

A case was filed in the state court system, challenging the district map under the state constitution. The case wound its way through the Pennsylvania legal system until the state supreme court ruled last month that the district lines violated voters' rights and had to be immediately redrawn. Republicans and Democrats were given the opportunity to redraw the map, but both suggestions were turned down by the court, which then hired outside experts in the science of district-mapping to create a much more fair map that was based on compactness of the districts and geographical grouping (rather than partisanship). This will now be the new map for the upcoming midterm elections later in the year.

The new map has eight districts where Hillary Clinton won the vote and 10 districts where Donald Trump won. Rather than convoluted districts (one of which became famous as "Goofy kicking Donald Duck" for its bizarre outline), the new map reduces the total length of district boundaries within the state from over 3,000 miles to just over 1,900. That's what you get when you try to draw a map with compact districts, in other words.

An 8-10 split by party is a pretty even balance, although not one that overly favors the Democrats. If the court had drawn a map with 13 Democratic districts to only five GOP districts, then they would have been guilty of reverse-gerrymandering -- but they did not do so. They even left a slim partisan advantage for the Republicans. So you'd think there wouldn't be much for Republicans to complain about. But, of course, you'd be wrong.

Republicans are downright apoplectic about the new map, from President Trump on down. They are calling for recall elections for the state supreme court justices (which won't actually change the ruling at all), and they have already challenged the court's initial ruling (which threw out the old map) at the U.S. Supreme Court -- which declined to hear their case. The Supreme Court is historically not very interested in jumping into battles over a state's laws, unless they represent egregious affronts to the U.S. Constitution. Republicans are now being urged to challenge the new map in the Supreme Court, but that likely will lead to the same outcome (the court declining to intervene). Trump even tweeted this weekend:

Hope Republicans in the Great State of Pennsylvania challenge the new 'pushed' Congressional Map, all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary. Your Original was correct! Don't let the Dems take elections away from you so that they can raise taxes & waste money!

In other words, loosely translated: "We stole those districts fair and square, and we're not going to give them back without a fight!" It's highly doubtful the Supreme Court is going to be swayed by this argument, however.

The Supreme Court does have a case (two cases, actually, rolled into one) involving partisan gerrymandering on its docket this year, so they've already indicated that they're willing to take a look at the issue. By agreeing to hear the cases coming from Wisconsin and Maryland, the court is taking a historic step, since it never before has ruled on the constitutionality of purely partisan gerrymandering. No matter how the court comes down on the issue, a big precedent is about to be set, in other words.

Nationwide, states fall all over the spectrum on gerrymandered districts. A handful of states (7) only currently have one "at-large" House member, because their population is so low the state only rates a single seat. So those states cannot be gerrymandered in any way. Of the other 43 states, some are heavily gerrymandered and some are not. Some are slanted in favor of Republicans, and others lean towards Democrats. And another handful have already taken steps to lessen the influence of politics in redistricting altogether.

In the current House, the advantage heavily favors Republicans. There are states (Maryland is the worst example) that Democrats have successfully gerrymandered, but there are far fewer of them than those gerrymandered by the GOP. This is why the big national push to slay the gerrymander dragon is mostly coming from the left, and being resisted by the right.

There are three ways to fight the gerrymander. The first is through elections, the second is through ballot initiatives or legislation, and the third is through the courts. Democrats, including a group led by Barack Obama, are gearing up for a fight on all three fronts.

Elections matter, and elections in Census years really matter, because they elect the state governor and legislature which will (in most states) control the redistricting process. So the easiest way for Democrats to fix the problem is to win back control of governors' offices and state legislative chambers in both 2018 and 2020. This effort is much wider than just the focus on gerrymandering, of course, and it has the support of Democrats for all kinds of other reasons as well. We'll see how it works out in November.

The second way to end gerrymandering is to pass a law or change the state's constitution. A number of states have done so (to varying degrees of independence from the politicians, depending on how the system is designed) by creating independent redistricting commissions. Take the power out of the hands of the politicians, and much fairer maps are the direct result. However, only a few states have done so, because it's almost impossible to get such a law passed by the state legislatures -- laws where the lawmakers have to vote to give up an enormous amount of their own political power. In Arizona, the state legislature's Republicans even challenged the new commission (approved by a ballot measure by the state's citizens) at the U.S. Supreme Court, but they lost their case. So such ballot measures can work even in Republican-dominated states, but only in states that have the option of ballot measures in the first place.

The third way is what is getting a lot of attention now (due to the Pennsylvania court's new map), and will get even more attention when the Supreme Court hears and rules on the cases from Wisconsin and Maryland. Gerrymandering is almost as old a tradition as our nation (Gerry's initial district was drawn in 1812, after all), but for the first time the Supreme Court is going to weigh in on whether it is constitutional or not to draw such extremely tilted maps for nakedly partisan reasons. They may rule that while a certain amount of partisanship is acceptable, at some point it starts to infringe on the rights of voters for their votes to have equal weight.

But as the Pennsylvania case shows, there is another route to slay the gerrymander -- through the state courts. State constitutions can be even more explicit in their protection for voters' rights and equality before the law, so arguments can be made at a state level which have no equivalent constitutional basis on the federal level (since the U.S. Constitution is rather vague on the subject of voting rights, other than explicit amendments which address things like voting age). So no matter what the Supreme Court rules on Wisconsin and Maryland, legal avenues for attacking gerrymandering may still exist on the state level.

Slaying the gerrymander dragon is going to require an all-out effort on all of these fronts, most likely. Unless the Supreme Court pronounces a magic formula later this year for all states to follow to avoid gerrymandering (which is not very likely), the battles will rage from now through the 2020 Census redistricting effort, in most of the states across the nation. Because every state (except those with a single at-large district) will get to redraw their maps for the 2022 midterm election. Even in Pennsylvania the fight is not completely over, because the new map the court just drew will only be used for two election cycles (2018 and 2020). After that point, Pennsylvania will have to draw a new map all over again, to use for the upcoming decade.

Fighting unfair gerrymandered maps in court is an important tactic. Electing Democrats who pledge not to just turn around and gerrymandering things to favor their own party is another. People who are truly for redistricting reform don't want to see the pendulum swing as far to the left as it has to the right, in other words, they are really working to stop the pendulum from any wild swings once and for all. The real death of the gerrymander, though, will only come when politicians remove themselves from the process and it is turned over to independent commissions with a mandate to draw compact district lines while keeping demographic entities (like counties) whole -- without taking into consideration what that will do to the partisan tilt of the district. Until such a system is in place in all of the states, the gerrymander will never be completely slain.

-- Chris Weigant

 

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

 

39 Comments on “Slaying The Gerrymander”

  1. [1] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    You guys are only upset about Gerrymandering because Reps. control all the state legislators - well maybe not CA.

    "Electing Democrats who pledge not to just turn around and Gerrymander things in their own favor . . ."

    History would indicate that the chances of that are not encouraging. Gotta stay within the bounds of reality here.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    THIS JUST IN

    Democrat wins Kentucky state house seat in district that Trump won by 49 points, bringing our total to:

    FLIPPED SEATS: 37

  3. [3] 
    chaszzzbrown wrote:

    [1] CRS

    You guys are only upset about Gerrymandering because Reps. control all the state legislators - well maybe not CA.

    Well, there's California's recent-ish (2008) redistricting commission created by Proposition:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Citizens_Redistricting_Commission

    The Dems had pretty strong control of the legislature at the time. Still, before-and-after 2011 maps of some of the districts are pretty eye-opening.

    History would indicate that the chances of that are not encouraging. Gotta stay within the bounds of reality here.

    Possibly; did you have some actual examples in mind to support your statement?

  4. [4] 
    Michale wrote:

    FLIPPED SEATS: 37

    Only 963 seats to go!!!! :D

    hehehehehehehehehehehehehehe

  5. [5] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Fixing the gerrymandering problem by achieving equality between the two branches of the Big Money Party is not fixing the problem of gerrymandering. Well over 40% of voters are independents and many that don't vote don't vote because their only choices are from the two branches of the Big Money Party.

    Picking a side between those two branches is like picking a side between a cable provider and the channel that wants more money from the cable company for their channel. All you are doing is picking which one gets the larger percentage of your money.

    The only real solution to gerrymandering is to stop voting for either side of the Big Money Party and start voting against them.

    Until you understand this basic fact on how democracy is supposed to work all you will achieve is articles like this one that does nothing to address the real problem and is a disservice to citizens, our political process and our country.

    see the chart/political cartoon on the Ralph Nader petition that clearly displays the futility of the two party system.

    https://www.change.org/p/ralph-nader-address-one-demand-campaign-financing-approach

    Have you ever looked at the cartoon at the petition or the petition at all?

    Have you been to the One Demand website to see how participation in One Demand could effect gerrymandering and destroy gerrymandered districts in 2018 and how difficult it could make it to gerrymander districts after the 2020 census if we got One Demand started in 2018?

    Probably not, because your goal is to promote the Big Money Democrats and not to promote democracy.

    It's time to switch to the team that promotes democracy. Even though the team will be an expansion team that may not win right away it gives democracy it's best chance of winning because the two branches of the Big Money Party are working overtime and together to make sure democracy has no chance to win.

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Chazzz Re your [3]

    No examples, just a (rather long) lifetime of observation. Me offering examples requires that I do some research, and I can't see any sense in researching the obvious. Kinda like looking for evidence that the sun always rises in the east.

    Historically, whichever party controls the legislature in whatever state automatically Gerrymanders to its own benefit. Perhaps there's hope for that system to reform itself (maybe if Donny-One-Note ever succeeds in his crusade!) Also, maybe if the earth reverses its rotation, the sun will begin to rise in the west, but I do not expect that to happen either.

  7. [7] 
    Michale wrote:

    No examples, just a (rather long) lifetime of observation. Me offering examples requires that I do some research, and I can't see any sense in researching the obvious. Kinda like looking for evidence that the sun always rises in the east.

    Especially when one considers the fact that NO ONE here would even acknowledge the facts that the sun definitely rises in the east...

    So, why bother??

    Historically, whichever party controls the legislature in whatever state automatically Gerrymanders to its own benefit.

    Yea, the idea that Democrats don't/won't gerrymander is nothing but Party enslaved bigotry..

    MY PARTY IS AS PURE AS THE DRIVEN SNOW AND YOUR PARTY IS MARK PELLEGRINO INCARNATE!!!
    -Citizens of the People's Republic Of Weigantia

  8. [8] 
    Don Harris wrote:

    Yes, I keep repeating the "One Note" as it is part of the discussion on just about every other issue.

    And while my "crusade" may seem like the sun rising in the west, that is how Bernie's chances against Hillary in the 2016 primaries and Trump's chances in the primaries and general election were at one time perceived.

    And since all I am proposing is citizens utilizing the basic tools of democracy provided by our founding fathers then if you are saying what I am proposing has as much chance of happening as the sun rising in west then you are saying democracy doesn't work.

    It's really not that complicated. He who pays the piper calls the tune.

    You either use the tools provided to change the government or you accept that the song remains the same.

  9. [9] 
    John M wrote:

    [7] Michale

    "Especially when one considers the fact that NO ONE here would even acknowledge the facts that the sun definitely rises in the east...

    So, why bother??"

    Why should we Michale? Since we can't even get you to agree with the rest of us on a basic premise like the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun before we can even start a discussion on whether the sun rises in the east or in the west. Or even if you do agree and then someone proves you wrong on some point, you change change the discussion to state that what you were really talking about was how fast and in what direction the Earth rotates instead, and not about it revolving around the sun at all.

  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:

    Why should we Michale? Since we can't even get you to agree with the rest of us on a basic premise like the fact that the Earth revolves around the sun before we can even start a discussion on whether the sun rises in the east or in the west.

    Exactly my point.. Ya'all refuse to acknowledge reality so any FACTS that prove reality are lost on ya'all..

    It's simply NOT worth the hassle of proving to you that the sun really does rise in the east because ya'all REFUSE to acknowledge ANY fact that doesn't fit yer Party slavery...

  11. [11] 
    Kick wrote:

    The sun rises in the East, but why discuss this fact when we can:

    A. Make up fake quotes and attribute them to others
    B. Claim we know what everyone thinks
    C. Deflect to a discussion about Obama or Hillary
    D. Deflect to the 2016 election as proof we know everything
    E. All of the above ad nauseam

    /sarcasm off :)

  12. [12] 
    Michale wrote:

    A. Make up fake quotes and attribute them to others
    B. Claim we know what everyone thinks
    C. Deflect to a discussion about Obama or Hillary
    D. Deflect to the 2016 election as proof we know everything
    E. All of the above ad nauseam

    Once again, Victoria makes my argument for me..

    Why discuss facts when hysterical NeverTrumpers

    1. Make up fake quotes and attribute them to Trump...
    2. Deflect to a discussion about mythical Russian Collusion and tax returns....
    3. Deflect to a single seat won in an irrelevant State race...
    4. All of the above ad nausem...

    No sarcasm tag needed because this is EXACTLY how you hysterical NeverTrumpers operate...

  13. [13] 
    Kick wrote:

    You got any proof or examples where anybody made up a fake quote and attributed it to Trump? Any proof of any of your claims?

    Please tell us all how state races are "irrelevant" when you drone on ad nauseam about the "1,000" and let us know how an original comment regarding a 2018 legislative election in response to an article discussing a way to fix gerrymandering by winning "back control of governors' offices and state legislative chambers in both 2018 and 2020" is a "deflection."

    We'll wait. :)

  14. [14] 
    Michale wrote:

    You got any proof or examples where anybody made up a fake quote and attributed it to Trump?

    Every claim of racism ya'all have made against President Trump...

    Please tell us all how state races are "irrelevant"

    If I had said "state races" are irrelevant, you would have an argument. But I didn't, so you don't...

    We'll wait. :)

    Yep.. Like you have been waiting for over a year for some impeachment material to come down the pipe.

    And waiting.. And waiting... And waiting... And waiting... And waiting.... And waiting.... And waiting.... And waiting...

  15. [15] 
    Michale wrote:
  16. [16] 
    chaszzzbrown wrote:

    [6] CRS

    No examples, just a (rather long) lifetime of observation. Me offering examples requires that I do some research, and I can't see any sense in researching the obvious.

    Of course not; there's the frightening possibility you might find facts that contradict your preconceptions.

  17. [17] 
    Michale wrote:

    Of course not; there's the frightening possibility you might find facts that contradict your preconceptions.

    And yet, no one here will entertain that "frightening" possibility, eh?? :D

  18. [18] 
    Kick wrote:

    Michale

    Every claim of racism ya'all have made against President Trump...

    Claims of racism are opinions and are not "quotes." You lose the point.

    If I had said "state races" are irrelevant, you would have an argument. But I didn't, so you don't...

    Notwithstanding your standard hairsplitting over "state race" versus "state races," it wasn't deflection because it was relevant to the conversation. You lose the point.

    Yep.. Like you have been waiting for over a year for some impeachment material to come down the pipe.

    Notwithstanding your deflection... wrong again. As I have stated before, Trump could kill a baby on live TV, and Republicans would not impeach him. You lose the point.

    Thank you for proving our points. Your fake quotes and claims to know what others think and do exist only in your hysterical imagination.

    This is a reality-based forum. Why not give it a try versus your utterly nonsensical fantasy? You'd have nothing to lose except your tedious fabricated repetition. :)

  19. [19] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    And once again Terminal Logic Velocity achieved.

  20. [20] 
    Michale wrote:

    Claims of racism are opinions and are not "quotes." You lose the point.

    Says you.. But ya'all would alter quotes of President Trump to make your bogus claims of racism..

    You lose.. :D

    Notwithstanding your standard hairsplitting over "state race" versus "state races," it wasn't deflection because it was relevant to the conversation. You lose the point.

    It was a deflection because you changed my words, like you do President Trump's, so you can make an argument based on the bullshit words...

    You lose.. AGAIN...

    Notwithstanding your deflection... wrong again. As I have stated before, Trump could kill a baby on live TV, and Republicans would not impeach him. You lose the point.

    And Odumbo could have done the same thing with the same exact lack of results in HIS administration..

    NEITHER of which has nothing to do with ANYTHING I posted..

    This is a reality-based forum.

    Sweethart, this hasn't been a REALITY based forum since 9 Nov 2016.....

    Thank you for proving exactly why I dominate here..

    You have NO FACTS... :D

  21. [21] 
    Kick wrote:

    Thank you for proving exactly why I dominate here..

    If by "dominate" you mean post the most spew, you'll not likely find anyone to disagree with that:

    Alex Jones and the illusory truth effect, explained
    One simple trick for making bullshit seem real: repetition.

    https://tinyurl.com/yczzr53c

    You have NO FACTS... :D

    Thank you for your post at [20] and being the living embodiment of my points in [11], you've proven I do have facts.

    I'm serious about giving reality a try, though, versus being the board fabricator; you risk nothing except that people might take you seriously instead of the being the equivalent of Alex Jones. :)

  22. [22] 
    Michale wrote:

    now you're just speaking Wishful gibberish..

    As usual not a single fact to be found

  23. [23] 
    Paula wrote:

    Pennsylvania Republicans ratcheting up the threat to impeach judges who put out the new electoral map after Repubs refused.

    Republicans are no longer interested in democracy - they are wanna-be tyrants. There will be a genuine constitutional crisis if they go forward on this which I don't think will end well for them. I guess we'll see.

  24. [24] 
    Michale wrote:

    So, let me get this straight..

    I point out that you have no facts and that, in your mind PROVES that you have facts???

    On what planet??

    Jeeze...

    "Did IQs suddenly drop while I was away!?"
    -Ripley, ALIENS

  25. [25] 
    Michale wrote:

    Pennsylvania Republicans ratcheting up the threat to impeach judges who put out the new electoral map after Repubs refused.

    Republicans are no longer interested in democracy - they are wanna-be tyrants. There will be a genuine constitutional crisis if they go forward on this which I don't think will end well for them. I guess we'll see.

    Waaaaaaaa Waaaaaaaaaaa

    Would you like some cheeze to go with your whine???

  26. [26] 
    Kick wrote:

    Paula
    23

    Pennsylvania Republicans ratcheting up the threat to impeach judges who put out the new electoral map after Repubs refused.

    Impeach them for what? They should take this up with the Supreme Court of the United States. Oh, wait! *wink*

    Republicans are no longer interested in democracy - they are wanna-be tyrants.

    I know, right!? Their argument that the PA Supreme Court (the Democrats, of course) are defying the sovereignty of God pretty much spells it out, wouldn't you say?

    There will be a genuine constitutional crisis if they go forward on this which I don't think will end well for them.

    Seems like they are posturing. If they're really that stupid; it will not end well for them.

  27. [27] 
    goode trickle wrote:

    CW- (if you make it this far down)

    I was somewhat surprised you didn't bring up the replacement for the Gerrymander the "Top Two" system like we have in CA.

    Seems to me that " Top Two"is also just as disenfranchising as partisan gerrymanders.Sure only three states have it now,
    but, if the gerrymander is done away with I would expect a big push to go top two from both parties as the new way to game the system.

  28. [28] 
    Paula wrote:

    [26] Kick: "Seems like they are posturing. If they're really that stupid; it will not end well for them."

    This came up a week or two ago then seemed to fade, but today Sen. Pat Toomey started it up again.

    "@SenToomey was asked about impeachment talk surrounding the PA Supreme Court on their gerrymandering decision. He calls it conversation that has to happen."

    It SHOULD be posturing but these folks seem to be suicidally stupid/undemocratic so who knows? They could try it. The GOP stole a Supreme Court seat; Scott Walker is refusing to re-fill open seats in Wisconsin in order to maintain GOP majority. So I would absolutely not put it past them. They seem to be forever trying to reach bottom, but there's always somewhere lower they can go. And they do.

  29. [29] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    It SHOULD be posturing but these folks seem to be suicidally stupid/undemocratic so who knows?

    Well Paula, as stupidly simple as it sounds, it seems we now have a Democratic party and an Anti-Democratic party.

    And it's the ANTI-Democrats that talk on and on about the 'sanctity' of the constitution, who would be the first to tear it into tiny little pieces if it gets in their way.

  30. [30] 
    Paula wrote:

    [29] Balthasar:

    And it's the ANTI-Democrats that talk on and on about the 'sanctity' of the constitution, who would be the first to tear it into tiny little pieces if it gets in their way.

    Yep. Well said.

  31. [31] 
    Kick wrote:

    Paula
    28

    "@SenToomey was asked about impeachment talk surrounding the PA Supreme Court on their gerrymandering decision. He calls it conversation that has to happen."

    Impeach the Democratic judges on the PA Supreme Court for no other reason than they don't like their decision to un-gerrymander the state? Fine. The Democratic governor will then replace them with judges of his choice. How many times does this play out?

    THIS JUST IN: Top GOP lawmakers submitted an emergency request to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the justices to block implementation of the new district boundaries.

    What part of "no" didn't they understand the first time?

    It SHOULD be posturing but these folks seem to be suicidally stupid/undemocratic so who knows? They could try it. The GOP stole a Supreme Court seat; Scott Walker is refusing to re-fill open seats in Wisconsin in order to maintain GOP majority. So I would absolutely not put it past them. They seem to be forever trying to reach bottom, but there's always somewhere lower they can go. And they do.

    I know, right!? It's like they got shovels and won't stop digging... oblivious to the fact that they just might be digging a hole they can't climb out of. The pendulum always swings back; it would be a shame if it whacked them in the face. :)

  32. [32] 
    Kick wrote:

    Balthasar
    29

    And it's the ANTI-Democrats that talk on and on about the 'sanctity' of the constitution, who would be the first to tear it into tiny little pieces if it gets in their way.

    Yes, sir... and blame Obama for it. :)

  33. [33] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    Yes, sir... and blame Obama for it. :)

    Yup, or the Clintons. If something goes bad for Republicants, the Clintons have to be responsible somehow!

  34. [34] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    technically the sun doesn't rise in the east - it only appears to do so because of the direction in which the planet is spinning.

    jl

  35. [35] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Technically, the sun doesn't rise at all. Heh.

  36. [36] 
    Kick wrote:

    EM
    35

    Technically, the sun doesn't rise at all. Heh.

    Ha! Excellent point.

    Which causes me to ponder: Do we claim it "rises" due to our point of reference or due to our egotistical perception of our place in the universe? :)

  37. [37] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Do you want me to answer that?

    :-)

  38. [38] 
    Michale wrote:

    JL,

    technically the sun doesn't rise in the east - it only appears to do so because of the direction in which the planet is spinning.

    jl

    And next we can discuss what the definition of 'is' is... :^/

  39. [39] 
    Kick wrote:

    EM
    37

    Do you want me to answer that?

    Sure. Let me have it.

    I would wager you'd say the answer depends on which part of the planet Earth was doing the claiming. ;)

    I think the US got really lucky last night, and I'll be rooting for Canada men's hockey to advance to the final and beat the "Team Whose Country Must Not Be Named" to a pulp... give them H-E-double hockey sticks. :)

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