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“Outlandish districts created for electoral gain are a major distorting force in contemporary U.S. politics; but they belong to a long tradition. Now politicians cannot win without it.”
– Edwin Moss
The art of manipulating electoral voting boundaries for gain is as old as America.
The U.S. is the only democracy in the world where politicians can create their own voting districts to insure they are elected, and protected. There is no other political practice in our country that plays such a large role in the divisive nature of politics and our republic.
The ability to corral naive voters into twisted, snaking, geographic stockades is called gerrymandering.
Naive voters show little concern for this, yet it is the most strategic part of politics. Those who control redistricting control America because it enables the majority party in charge to reinvent voting districts that favor them for a decade.
In 1788, Patrick Henry convinced the state legislature to redesign the 5th District to force James Madison to run against his ally, James Monroe.
His shenanigans did not procure a win for Monroe but it set a historic precedent. This ominous tactic quickly became common in politics. Success is contagious. Others seeking to increase political strength and elect their favorite sons took notice. This political strategy was highly advantageous for the party in control and a decade long liability for the one outside looking in.
“Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.”
– Vince Lombardi
In 1812, Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts created a redistricting plan designed to benefit his party.
Many of these odd-shaped new districts resembled “lizards, snakes and salamanders.” A few days later, the Federalist-supporting Boston Gazette printed a cartoon poking fun at the new district in Essex County. The cartoonist said it resembled the silhouette of a “salamander.”
This portmanteau became the moniker by which this practice of redistricting would be known henceforth.
Today, many Americans feel this has muddied the waters of the electoral process. Redistricting picks those that win instead of the voters.
“Show me a gracious loser and I’ll show you a failure.”
– Knute Rockne
Following the 1840 Census, Congress enacted the Sixth Apportionment Act that recalculated the number and distribution of house representatives. The Apportionment Act also adopted a uniform system for electing representatives. It required contiguous, compact, equal districts. Significantly, it decreed states to have one representative elected from each.
Although this odious use of authority was designed to level the political playing field, politicians still found ways to negate its intent.
And the voters lost in the end.
“If there weren't any rules, how could you break them?”
– Leo Durocher
This Apportionment Act was a watershed mark in the thinking of Congressional debates. Since the 27th senate and house were controlled by different parties, reaching consensus on such a volatile issue was harder than winning the lottery. The senate quoted the intentions of our founders, while the house quoted the Magna Carta to justify their positions.
Both parties knew this would be a game changer because it set the stage for new dynamics in the two-party system. It was an attempt to reinvent one wheel of government by defining how our political universe would perpetually function.
In politics “Winning takes precedence over all. There’s no gray area. No almosts.”
– Kobe Bryant
After the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Section 5 mandated Southern states must get “preclearance” from the Department of Justice before redistricting.
This resulted in some states cautiously creating “super-minority” districts. This practice was called “affirmative gerrymandering.”
It was intended to insure the election of minorities. But when the percentage of black voters outnumbered that of the white in the two elections for Obama, “preclearance” was challenged in the courts.
In 2013, Chief Justice John Roberts supported the court’s decision that this was no longer necessary.
“Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions, not the past.”
Preparing for the 2018 elections, progressives are campaigning that Republicans gerrymandered districts after the census to dominate the house and disenfranchise Democrats for a decade.
They are squealing even if Democrats have the best candidates, they cannot take over the House for the entire decade.
This is apocalyptically anamorphic logic and ludicrous. When Republican aspirants won legislative majorities in key states, this was not because “they manipulated the process.”
It is a historical fact, since the inception of gerrymandering: Democrats controlled the house 112 of the following 190 years.
“Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.”
– Mark Twain
It was Illinois Democratic gerrymandering in 2001 that enabled state Sen. Barack Obama to “re-salamander” his district to meet his needs. Obama maintained his Hyde Park base of the African-American majority, which included the poorest sections of Chicago.
By the end of the process, his personal district encompassed the area being transformed by developers like Tony Rezko: all very eager to support someone willing to invest in their escapades.
Pundits consider this the one most important event in Barack Obama’s political life. This gave him financial and political resources to run for the U.S. Senate in 2004. Obama refuted: “It’s just politics. The system of redistricting in the U.S. tends to allow representatives to choose people instead of people choosing representatives.”
Since gerrymandering is a legal bi-party event, it always offends the party outside looking in. History reveals Democrats are more aggressive than Republicans.
After the Republican’s last redistricting, house seats more precisely emulated the electorate than any time in history. Instead of clustering voters into fewer safe districts, they spread them across many districts and won more seats.
This is perilous since it put candidates at greater risk. But it demonstrated they were willing to work these districts and campaigns. Their good faith gerrymandering paid off.
Republicans managed to make their seats safer, and ensure there were more of them willing to take chances on values rather than party platform.
“The principle of acting in good faith is at the heart of decent work.”
– Richard Eyre
Tom Landry told us, “Winning takes consistent management.”
To redistrict or not to redistrict is not the question. When given the chance, legislators will always protect their bailiwicks. Whoever does is always criticized by those who don’t. And those who do it reshape the legislature of our nation for a decade. It does not matter what weird creature a district emulates. It only matters who occupies them.
Every election and every vote counts, if we choose to maintain our republic.
Wrong changes in voting districts for the wrong reasons by the wrong party vastly limit priorities for a district, a state and our nation. When politicians craft representative precincts, they do not have to hide from voters out of shame.
“Good intentions pave many roads. Not all of them lead to hell.”
– Neal S. Scythe
While the silent majority has been asleep behind the wheel this past year, progressives have been flipping seats like pancakes.
From the lowest office in local government to the U.S. Senate, they’ve been working overtime. They have a master plan to win the grand prize of total government control by the next census in 2020.
They are hungry for power to expand government until we’re a republic in name only.
We know what too much government did to our private health care, free speech and press; public education, and free markets.
Cast your votes wisely next election. We’ll never recover from another decade of progressive domination.
“Democracy is the road to socialism.”
– Karl Marx
Contributing Columnist William Haupt III is a retired professional journalist, author, and citizen legislator in California for over 40 years. He got his start working to approve California Proposition 13.