Is a gerrymandered democracy good for America?” – The Lonely Realist

Gerrymandering is the redrawing of electoral maps in order to maintain a partisan advantage. Its derivation is a combination of Elbridge Gerry’s last name (he was the governor of Massachusetts in 1812) and salamander, which is what the newly-drawn district resembled:

Governor Gerry was a member of the Democratic-Republican Party (opposed by the Federalists). Governor Gerry, together with his Democratic-Republican legislative majority, redrew the state senatorial district map, assuring a Democratic-Republican majority and leading a Boston newspaper to publish the satirical cartoon. Hence, gerrymander! The Federalists distributed the caricature throughout the U.S. and the term, along with partisan political redistricting, entered American politics.

When one party has elected both a governor and a legislative majority, their primary focus is to perpetuate their power through one-party rule. The spoils system – integral to Crony Capitalism: the appointment of relatives partisan civil servants, partisan advisers, partisan judges, and partisan election officials – enhances their ability to do so and has been one of the tools used by those in power to stay in power. The appointment of cronies to government positions also has the unfortunate consequence of embedding in government bureaucrats who often are not competent uncommitted to public service. The concept of “the best and brightest” takes a backseat to the perpetuation of power as well as to a proliferation of nominal-show positions. The awarding of contracts becomes a contest to maintain connections with the governor, legislators and judges who maintain their positions through controlled elections. Local businessmen competing for government contracts are counted on to maintain a significant flow of patronage funding. As TLR first discussed in April 2019, that’s how the local- and state-wide American system functioned and malfunctioned from time-to-time over the past two centuries. Why shouldn’t the party in power be able to perpetuate itself through gerrymandering? After all, the voting public eventually will tire of in-bred corruption power-mongering. They will become disgusted and vote out governors and legislators who approve excessive gerrymanders…, won’t they?

Although gerrymandering fell out-of-favor in the 20th Century, it has made a 21st Century comeback. In 2011, Maryland’s Democrat-controlled government elected 7 Democrats and 1 Republican to Congress (more than proportional redistricting would have created) and in 2016, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled government, despite an almost even state-wide split of voters, gerrymandered 10 out of 13 Republican members of Congress. Since this is America and that’s unfair undemocratic Congress wouldn’t allow this to continue, lawsuits were brought and, as TLR reported in July 2019, the Supreme Court in Rucho v. Common Cause held 5-4 that both States’ gerrymanders were Constitutionally-protected since they were examples of “political gerrymandering.” An enthusiastic Austin Chambers, then-president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, announced that “we’re going to make sure we do everything we can to influence the elections” and former Attorney General Eric Holder, chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, vowed to fix the “broken” electoral system by electing more Democrats.

Which brings us to last month’s Supreme Court decision in Alexander v. South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP where a 6-3 majority held that “political gerrymandering” is boundless since virtually everything having to do with voting is political. The Court reversed the unanimous finding of a three-judge District Court panel that South Carolina’s legislature had violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by moving black voters out of a Congressional district to ensure a Republican majority, ruling that the District Court’s decision was “clearly erroneous” because the District Court had failed to differentiate between “political” and “racial” gerrymandering. The latter, said the Court, requires clear and convincing evidence that the legislature (1) was motivated primarily by race and (2) had not acted in good faith, and the District Court had relied on circumstantial evidence in reaching its conclusion, which was insufficient to establish overt racism. The 6-Justice majority accordingly upheld the ability of the South Carolina legislature to racially-gerrymander voting districts because of the absence of explicit bigotry. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee summarized the decision as the Court has effectively greenlit a concerted campaign to dismantle equal voting rights and to dilute the voices and votes of people of color, all in the service of achieving manufactured political power through gerrymandering.” If so, and it certainly appears that this will be a consequence of Alexander, “one-party” legislatures hereafter will be empowered to draw “political maps” that not only segregate African-American voters into primarily African-American districts, but also Latino voters into primarily Latino districts, Asian voters into primarily Asian districts, Catholic voters into primarily Catholic districts, Muslim voters into primarily Muslim districts, LGBTQ+ voters into primarily LGBTQ+ districts, Ukrainian voters into primarily Ukrainian districts, etc., etc., etc., as long as doing so ensures the election of that party’s candidate(s).

Instead of asking Americans to choose between a Republican or a Democrat “partisan deep state,” the question should be “What sort of democracy is best for America?” Should it be one that inherently favors the party in power…, or should it be one that attempts, as best it can, to be balanced in electoral contests? TLR, for one, is a fan of divided split-party governments where compromise becomes a necessity and partisan appointments receive a proper legislative vetting with the goal of selecting more-or-less “the best and the brightest.” TLR also is wary of the perpetuation of any single party in power, whether Democrat or Republican…, or Progressive or MAGA-ive. For those reasons, it would be worthwhile for America to curtail or, optimally, eliminate gerrymandering.

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Finally (from a good friend)

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