Tag Archives: gerrymandering

Who Counts?

Talk about gaming the system. Gerrymandering is bad enough;  anyone who has read this blog for very long has encountered my periodic rants and explanations of how legislators choose their voters in order to ensure that the voters don’t get to choose their legislators.

I actually came across another example recently, one of which I had previously been unaware–prison gerrymandering.

Prison gerrymandering occurs because the census counts incarcerated people as residents of the towns where they are confined, even though they can’t vote while imprisoned and most return to their homes after being released. Census data is the basis of redistricting at all levels of government, so the specific location of populations is critically important. Thanks to the drug war, among other counterproductive policies, the United States has an enormous prison population. Counting prisoners in the wrong place undermines the Supreme Court’s requirement that political power be apportioned on the basis of population.

As the Prison Gerrymandering Project puts it, the process of drawing fair and equal districts fails when the underlying data are flawed.

Which brings us to the critical importance of the census.

The Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in an appeal from lower court rulings  prohibiting the Census Bureau from adding a citizenship question to the upcoming census. Observers reported that the five conservative judges seem likely to reverse the lower courts’ three separate decisions, all of which found the question and the manner of its addition illegal.

If they do, it will be a nakedly political decision and will further undermine what is left of this Court’s legitimacy.

Why do I say that?

First of all, because there is no legitimate reason to ask the question. The census is supposed to count “heads”–the number of people in a given area. There is no current use of census data that requires knowing how many of those residents are citizens. (Wilbur Ross’ lame justification was that this information would somehow protect the voting rights of African-Americans. Not only is there no logical nexus between that goal and the census, this administration has not previously shown any solicitude for the rights of minority voters–quite the contrary.)

There is, of course, a different and blatantly obvious reason Republicans want to add the question: it will hurt Democratic cities and states and benefit Republican ones.

Experts, including several who previously headed the census bureau, have testified that addition of a citizenship question would significantly reduce the response rate of immigrants, both legal and illegal. The undercounts that result would be the basis of the 2021 redistricting, and would reduce the political power of states with large numbers of immigrants, most of which lean Democratic. (The exception is Texas, which sets up an interesting dynamic.)

The Census is also the basis upon which federal monies are distributed back to cities and states for multiple program purposes. Guess which ones would get more and which less?

The three federal judges who have considered the issue have all ruled that Ross failed to follow the legal procedures governing the addition of a question to the Census.

In one of those decisions–a 277 page enumeration of the flaws in Ross’ attempt to subvert the accuracy of the count–the judge found that the addition of the citizenship question was “unlawful” because of “a veritable smorgasbord of classic, clear-cut” violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, including cherry-picking evidence to support his effort.

“To conclude otherwise and let Secretary Ross’s decision stand would undermine the proposition — central to the rule of law — that ours is a ‘government of laws, and not of men,’ ” Furman wrote, quoting one of the country’s Founding Fathers, John Adams.

There are two pending cases in this year’s Supreme Court term that will go a long way toward affirming or destroying the rule of law in our country: the combined partisan gerrymandering cases from Maryland and North Carolina, and the Census case.

The fundamental issue in both is whether America will insist on fair elections in which all citizens’ votes count, or whether partisans will be allowed to continue gaming the system.

 

Gerrymandering And Indianapolis’ Potholes

Today is the day the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in two political gerrymandering cases–one from North Carolina and one from Maryland. Given the current composition of the Court–and its politicization in this Age of Trump–I’m hopeful but not optimistic that the Court will find the practice unconstitutional.

Everyone who reads this blog knows that gerrymandering is destructive to democracy. It’s one of the most significant reasons that the United States is ruled by a minority, one of the reasons why studies consistently show that measures supported by 80% or more of Americans don’t translate into policy–and why policies supported by the much smaller percentages of citizens who are wealthy and well-connected are much more likely to become law.

But it took my husband’s remark at a recent anti-gerrymandering house party to bring home the connection between gerrymandering in Indiana and the thousands of potholes residents of Indiana dodge every spring.

As Common Cause’s Julia Vaughn had just explained, most residents of Indiana live in the state’s metropolitan areas–in cities. But thanks to the way gerrymandered districts have been drawn, a majority of policymakers in the Statehouse represent predominantly rural areas. And that, as my husband pointed out, leads to state distribution formulas that significantly favor rural areas over urban ones.

My husband spent six years as Indianapolis’ Director of Metropolitan Development. His experience with the state’s fiscal favoritism for rural areas angered him when he dealt with it then, and it has continued to be an abiding irritation. But as often as he has fulminated about the unfairness of those distributions, I had never made the connection between them and gerrymandering, until that house party discussion.

Especially when it comes to money for the state’s streets and roads–and schools–Indiana’s distribution formulas are more generous to much more thinly populated rural areas of the state  than to the cities where the majority of Indiana’s citizens live. And that won’t change so long as the state’s districts are drawn to keep the GOP in control–because GOP voters live predominantly in the rural areas of the state, not the cities, which tend to vote Democratic.

Even a cursory examination of Indiana’s House and Senate districts as currently drawn will illustrate the degree to which urban Hoosiers are unrepresented, the degree to which urban areas have been “carved up” and the resulting portions married to rural areas in order to dilute the voice of city-dwellers.

There’s a lesson here.

It’s important to reform gerrymandering in order to reclaim “one person, one vote,” and to reverse the damage being done to the country every day by the current plutocracy. But if that goal seems too abstract, if the connection between a “gamed” and dishonest redistricting process and everyday life seems vague–think about the connection between equal representation and distribution formulas the next time you hit one of Indy’s ubiquitous potholes and bend a rim, or flatten a tire.

With or without the Supreme Court, gerrymandering has to go.

 

 

They Aren’t Even Pretending Anymore

For the past several years, political scientists and pundits have published articles bemoaning the erosion of democracy and democratic norms, and Americans who follow government and politics have nodded in measured agreement.

I say “measured” because we still retain the trappings of democracy–campaigns, elections, the free press that so annoys Donald Trump. But this year, we are coming face-to-face with a reality we’ve been avoiding: our elections are mostly a sham, and legislators–who haven’t felt the need to reflect the will of those who voted for them for quite some time–no longer are bothering even  to pretend that they are “representative.”

David Leonhardt has noticed.

In November, the people of Utah voted to provide health insurance for about 150,000 state residents who lacked it. Last week, Utah’s legislators overruled their own constituents and took away insurance from about 60,000 of those 150,000 people.

The legislators claimedthey were trying to save money, but that’s not a credible rationale: The federal government would have covered the bulk of the cost. The true reason — which the legislators weren’t willing to admit publicly — was a philosophical objection to government-provided health insurance.

Utah’s turnabout is the latest worrisome exampleof politicians rejecting the will of voters.

The offending politicians have been mostly Republican, as they are in Utah. “You see a rising, disturbing trend here of equivocation, if not worse, in the commitment to democratic norms on the part of a growing number of Republicans,” Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert, told my colleague Ian Prasad Philbrick. “Is this what the Republican Party wants to be? The anti-democracy party?”

Leonhardt provides examples from Idaho, Maine and Michigan, and notes that, In Missouri,  legislators are attempting to subvert a ballot initiative that would reduce gerrymandering.

In Utah, the legislature partly overturned a new law allowing medical marijuana.

These examples involved lawmakers ignoring the results of state referenda. Indiana doesn’t allow referenda, but our lawmakers have been equally willing to ignore the clear wishes of their voters.

This year, both the Indiana and Indianapolis Chambers of Commerce have made passage of bias crimes legislation a priority. Business and civic leaders throughout the state formed an organization, Forward Indiana, to support the bias crimes bill. The governor has asked the legislature to pass it. In a poll of Hoosiers on the issue, 84 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of independents, and 63 percent of Republicans supported passage of a hate crimes bill focused on marginalized Hoosiers.

The Senate GOP eviscerated the measure, gutting the language that made it legally effective. All indications are that the House–which, like the Senate, has a Republican super-majority with a history of homophobia–will concur.

If Indiana lawmakers actually represented their constituents, passage would have been a no-brainer. But thanks to gerrymandering, Indiana lawmakers feel free to ignore the wishes of the public they ostensibly serve, and they do so with some regularity.

As Common Cause has explained, we have a system in which the legislators choose their voters rather than a truly democratic system in which voters choose legislators. And until that  changes, lawmakers will continue ignoring We the People.

Like the lawmakers in Utah and other states, they don’t even bother to pretend any more.

The Wall And The Wave

No, not that wall. The wall that Republican partisan redistricting built to keep Democratic voters out.

A report from Politico in the wake of the midterm elections put it succinctly:the GOP had used partisan redistricting to build a “wall” around Congress; Trump tore it down.

For years, some Democrats said gerrymandering was an insurmountable roadblock to the House majority that couldn’t be cleared until after the 2020 census.

Then along came President Donald Trump.

House Democrats steamrolled Republicans in an array of districts last week, from those drawn by independent commissions or courts, to seats crafted specifically by Republicans with the intention of keeping them in the GOP column.

The overriding factor: a Republican president who political mapmakers could not have foreseen at the beginning of the decade. Trump altered the two parties’ coalitions in ways that specifically undermined conventional wisdom about the House map, bringing more rural voters into the GOP tent while driving away college-educated voters.

I’ve posted numerous times about the ways in which gerrymandering undercuts democratic decision-making, and discourages voter turnout. I’ve also referenced several  books and articles detailing 2011’s “RedMap”–the GOP’s most thorough, successful national effort at locking in a Republican House majority. (The book Ratfucked said it all…)

The were two important structural lessons from this year’s midterms.

First, the results confirmed a truism among political operatives and observers: In order to surmount the gerrymandered wall, Democrats would need at least a 7 point vote advantage. Nationally, they got that, and a bit more.

Second–gerrymandering really does matter more than the geography of “sorting” would suggest. In Bill Bishop’s book The Big Sort, he pointed out that Americans currently migrate to locations where they feel philosophically and politically comfortable. We can see the results in the rise of the Urban Archipelago–those blue dots representing cities with populations over 500,000.

One argument against nonpartisan redistricting rests on the theory that–since we have “sorted” ourselves into red and blue enclaves– gerrymandering really doesn’t make much difference. The Politico article undercuts that argument, bigly.

Despite Democrats’ massive House gains — the party’s biggest since 1974, after Richard Nixon’s resignation — redistricting clearly held them back in some places. Democrats netted at least 21 districts drawn by independent commissions or courts — getting a major boost from courts in Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia that altered GOP-drawn maps in the past two years — along with 10 districts drawn by Republicans and the two in Illinois that were drawn by Democrats.

As the article makes clear, Democrats did appreciably better in non-gerrymandered districts.

The blue wave was high enough to overcome a large number of gerrymandered walls, thanks to revulsion against and very welcome rejection of Donald Trump. But in districts drawn fairly–without partisan bias–they did even better.

Gerrymandering, vote suppression (Georgia, anyone?) and the other tactics being used by the GOP to game the system need to be eliminated. A few states–Missouri and Michigan among them–voted this month for fair elections; the rest of us need to do the same.

We shouldn’t need a “wave” to install a government that reflects the values of  the majority  of America.

Looking For My Inner Pollyanna–Roe v. Wade Edition

Along with all the other legal mayhem we can now expect from the most reactionary Supreme Court in over a century, most observers predict the demise of Roe v. Wade, despite polling that suggests most Americans would strongly disapprove.

If Roe is overruled, there will certainly be some horrendous consequences. But there may also be some unanticipated positives. Bear with me, here.

We have all recognized the intransigence of the “one issue” anti-choice voter. Without Roe, it’s conceivable (no pun intended) that the wind will go out of that sail. (It will be much more difficult to energize a national movement against birth control, which is actually a target of the most rabid anti-choice activists.) Anti-choice voters have been a mainstay of the GOP–and they will arguably be considerably less motivated.

If Roe is no longer the law of the land, the issue will revert to the states, and a number of states will opt for reproductive choice. Those of us who care about women’s autonomy will need to do some serious fundraising to make it possible for poor women in Red states to travel to states where abortion is legal, and that’s a pain. But even now, with abortion theoretically legal, there are many places in the U.S. where clinics are few and far between; women have to travel long distances, put up with bogus “counseling,” and deal with other barriers to the exercise of the currently constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy.

What the confirmation of Kavanaugh and the de-nationalization of Roe might do–should do–is redirect liberal and pro-choice energies from national to state-level political action. And that could be a huge game-changer.

The current dominance of the Republican Party doesn’t reflect the desires of the American majority–far from it. GOP numbers have been shrinking steadily; some 24% of voters self-identify as Republican. Their dominance is due primarily to the 2011 gerrymander, and that was made possible because they controlled a large number of state governments. The GOP vote suppression tactics that depressed Democratic turnout and disenfranchised Democratic voters have also been facilitated by state-level control.

The next redistricting will occur in 2021. Between now and then, women, Democrats, liberal-leaning Independents and new voters need to focus their efforts on statehouses around the country. We need to eliminate gerrymandering wherever possible, and we need to put an end to vote suppression tactics.

There will be other strategic decisions necessitated by a rogue Supreme Court. Lawsuits implicating civil rights and civil liberties, for example, may have better prospects in state courts interpreting state constitutions than in the federal system. (When the Supreme Court was less open to arguments from the LGBTQ community, the ACLU and Lambda Legal had some considerable successes in state courts.)

The next few years will be critical. Success will depend upon the “staying power” of those Americans for whom the 2016 election and the travesty of Kavanaugh’s confirmation have been wake-up calls. It’s one thing to post despairing messages to like-minded friends on social media; it’s another thing entirely to continue the day-to-day drudgery of organizing and registering our fellow citizens, and getting out the vote.

If we are going to reclaim the America we thought we had, however, anger and determination are great motivators.