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Redistricting: The Easiest Way to Steal an Election

Redistricting: The Easiest Way to Steal an Election

The Republicans won a clear majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives this past election (234 to the Democrats 201), signifying that more voters cast ballots for Republican congressional candidates than Democrats, right? Not exactly. Crunch the numbers from across the country and, as the Washington Post points out, the Democratic candidates actually finished about 500,000 votes ahead. If the House of Representatives were actually representational, the Democrats would have a slight advantage.

So what’s to blame for the discrepancy? Redistricting, the redrawing of political barriers. On the surface, redistricting is a boring topic, but it is inevitably a crucial game that politicians use to leverage power.

Every ten years, after a Census report comes out, new Congressional lines need to be determined to account for changes in population. Since each Congressional district in a state must have approximately the same amount of people, this means tinkering with the boundaries. The stated objective of these alterations is to make things fairer by ensuring equal representation. However, in actuality, the results are quite unfair, as the way these lines are drawn generally predetermines the outcome of the elections.

Some say you can’t trust politicians, but you definitely can’t trust politicians to regulate their own districting lines. When you let legislators draw the lines themselves, two things tend to happen:

  1. The party in power redistricts in such a way to maintain its lead or perhaps even gain a seat or two.
  2. Legislators of both parties work together to ensure that their seats remain safe. It’s amazing how well politicians can form a bipartisan alliance when it is their own jobs on the line.

It is no wonder that the incumbency rate is so high in Congress. When incumbents get to help determine which of their state’s residents are permitted to vote for them, they stand a better than great chance of being reelected.

Obviously, different areas of a state will have different political leanings; on the whole, urban areas tend to be liberal while suburban areas are more conservative. Even when done properly, redistricting would not make every House seat competitive. However, the problem arises when the lines are intentionally rigged, a process known as gerrymandering.

For a great example of gerrymandering, consider the infamous swing state Ohio, which just went blue for Obama. Approximately half of the voters there are Democrats, yet 12 of the 16 Congressional seats went to Republicans. The explanation lies in how the lines were drawn. State Republicans manufactured boundaries that put overwhelming Democratic strongholds in a few districts, in a sense automatically forfeiting those seats. The move was strategic, however, because by tying up large Democrat populations in just a few places, they were able to spread out the Republican vote, giving them slight majorities in the other districts, and therefore win a disproportionate amount of seats.

Just look at the maps on Slate. Do Ohio and Pennsylvania’s districts seem drawn fairly? Rather than being compact, they jut out all over the place like some kid’s abstract artwork. They’d almost appear nonsensical if weren’t for the fact that a lot of thought and strategy was put into where the lines would go to maximize the ability to manipulate the election.

For the record, when Democrats are in power, they are also often guilty of gerrymandering, although the 2012 election would indicate that the Republicans have been more successful with the tactic as of late.

What is the solution for this injustice? Some states (California, Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, Hawaii, and Idaho) have introduced non-partisan or bipartisan committees of unelected officials to tackle the issue of redistricting. These committees are tasked with re-mapping the boundaries without considering the voter demographics of the residents.

There are people who argue that this is a bad plan because the people who draw the lines should be held accountable to the voters. But that’s the whole point of gerrymandering – to ensure electoral victories before the votes are cast, so how would they wind up being held accountable anyway? Besides, voters rarely have a complete picture of all the issues, and it is not likely that a subject as unglamorous as unfair redistricting would sway many people’s votes.

Perhaps the solution is to select some apolitical idiot off the street to do the mapping. Or maybe make it some middle school students’ math and geography project to divide the state into equal and reasonable population sections without strong partisan feelings. Either way, something as important and prone to tampering as redistricting cannot be left up to the politicians to decide.

If you find redistricting fascinating or just want to understand it better, try your hand at The ReDistricting Game. This free USC Annenberg Center computer simulation tasks players with drawing new districts in a state while facing various political pressures to rig the outcome.

 

Related Stories:

Women Politicians Take the Hit in Redistricting

Arizona GOP Impeach Independent Redistricting Commissioner

Boehner “Redistricting” Out Dissent?

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134 comments

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4:30AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

thanks

9:44AM PST on Jan 15, 2014

Thanks for sharing.

7:26PM PST on Jan 26, 2013

"We have to show that if given the chance, we can govern. We have better ideas."

Yeah, right. They have better ideas, like redistrcting:

“REDISTRICTING: THE EASIEST WAY TO STEAL AN ELECTION. Even when done properly, redistricting would not make every House seat competitive. However, the problem arises when the lines are intentionally rigged, a process known as gerrymandering. For a great example of gerrymandering, consider the infamous swing state Ohio, which just went blue for Obama. Approximately half of the voters there are Democrats, yet 12 of the 16 Congressional seats went to Republicans. The explanation lies in how the lines were drawn. State Republicans manufactured boundaries that put overwhelming Democratic strongholds in a few districts, in a sense automatically forfeiting those seats. The move was strategic, however, because by tying up large Democrat populations in just a few places, they were able to spread out the Republican vote, giving them slight majorities in the other districts, and therefore win a disproportionate amount of seats.”

http://www.care2.com/causes/redistricting-the-easiest-way-to-steal-an-election.html

Can anyone say voter fraud and/or disenfranchisement?

11:04AM PST on Nov 27, 2012

People who want to abstain from voting should mark this: It's VERY important who you vote for all up and down your ballot. Even with the Electoral College system, your vote is important even if you're in a solid red or solid blue state: changes by the state legislature can profoundly affect the next election via gerrymander.

Even if your Presidential vote is subsumed, your other votes can profoundly affect the next Presidential race. Also, your delegates are not obligated to vote the national ticket nominee of the party, and may object and change their vote if your state's popular vote is overwhelmingly different. Rarely happens, though.

2:07PM PST on Nov 26, 2012

The redistricting worked out great here in Arizona, it was done by non-politicians and everyone is happy with the way it turned out. By the way I'm a registered Independent.

12:45PM PST on Nov 26, 2012

The funny side of this is Republicans have noticed that with the electoral college in play, by as soon as 2016 they may begin losing states such as TX and AZ systematically.

Oh God! We can't have that! We have to change that electoral college! --I work with these guys, they will crack you up. So this is where I bring up their gerrymander genius to them. Not only is our rep situation out of whack, but consider the senate. Two senators/state. What? We have rural, agricultural, white states making rules for highly populated progressive areas of our country. It's this system that keeps the US behind the world in terms of social policy. Too much power to the stupid.

Dennis Kucinich was gerrymandered out in Ohio. The district he competed in was so crazily redrawn, it literally went up against Lake Erie in a spot where when the tide would come in, the district was disconnected. This was used as an argument against the new lines. Oh god Ohio.

10:34AM PST on Nov 26, 2012

"What is the solution for this injustice? Some states (California, Arizona, New Jersey, Washington, Hawaii, and Idaho) have introduced non-partisan or bipartisan committees of unelected officials to tackle the issue of redistricting. These committees are tasked with re-mapping the boundaries without considering the voter demographics of the residents."

My state is almost in this category, Minnesota. What happens is the legislature first tries, they disagree and then the job falls to our Supreme Court - which consists of political appointees, of course, but who must stand for re-election. So the job is generally done relatively equitably - it is how we almost got Michelle Bachmann out of office this year, her district was quite radically redrawn, so much so that she doesn't live in it, she could still run it however as she chose not to run in the district where she lives, knowing full well Betty McCollum would have trounced her there. Even so, surely there must be a better way, or at least a national method because what happened in Ohio is ridiculous. As well as in many other states. Gerrymandering ought go the way of the dinosaurs and a fair to all method substituted. Hard to get done while the fox is watching the chicken coop..

9:21AM PST on Nov 26, 2012

Chad is of course correct on the solution - "proportional representation". Until we do away with the "first past the post" and restrictions of voting by district, we cannot solve this problem.

2:32AM PST on Nov 26, 2012

Winn A said;

"You can't trust any republican of today. The last time I trusted one was from the Eisenhower Administration."

The last trustworthy Republican administration was the Eisenhower Administration. That is a fact. At the moment Republican governors, state legislators and members of the House of Representatives are doing the real damage. Just imagine if they also had the senate and the presidency.

2:23AM PST on Nov 26, 2012

David H, it is very discouraging to live in the United States.

The evil ones use wedge issues to divide the nation so millions of people vote against their own best interests. We thought we beat Fascism during WWII. They are back. And, in the United States, they control the media. The nation is armed to the teeth. It's an ugly picture.

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