When does gerrymandering become a threat to democracy?

December 6th, 2003 – 4:22 pm
Tagged as: Uncategorized

There was an excellent article in this week’s New Yorker called The Great Election Grab, which outlines the many problems with redistricting, and talks about how the Republicans, under the leadership of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, have used to process to, in effect, lock in seats in the House of Representatives.

Today, the House and the Senate have precisely flipped roles. Senate races, which are not subject to redistricting, are decided by actual voters, who do indeed change their minds with some regularity. Control of the Senate has shifted five times since the nineteen-eighties. The House, by contrast, has changed hands just once in the same period, in the Republican takeover of 1994. In 2002, only one out of twelve House elections was decided by ten or fewer percentage points, while half of the governors’ and Senate races were that close. In 2002, only four House challengers defeated incumbents in the general election—a record low in the modern era. In a real sense, the voters no longer select the members of the House of Representatives; the state legislators who design the districts do.

The question, then, is what, if anything, is unlawful about that? The legal debate on that question is especially stark. In the case now before the Supreme Court, Pennsylvania Democrats argued that the Republican gerrymander denied them equal protection of the laws, asserting in their brief that it is “unconstitutional to give a State’s million Republicans control over ten seats while leaving a million Democrats with control over five.” The Republican response is to say, in effect, “Welcome to the big leagues. State legislatures have always played this kind of hardball, the courts ought to stay out of the game altogether, and there’s no such thing as a nonpartisan solution.”

The article is long, but very informative and very worth reading, especially if you’re not really clear on just what gerrymandering is (which I wasn’t), or aren’t sure what issues were involved in the Democratic state senators fleeing Texas earlier this year.

No Comments

» RSS feed for comments on this post

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.