Friday, January 29, 2016

Gerrymander: The Ultimate Despicable Device!

In my post of November 24,2015, I enumerated the "despicable devices" by which the enemies of democracy are trying to disenfranchise millions of potential Democratic voters.  As I noted, 49 states introduced 295 transparently partisan measures between 2011 and 2014, just in time for the mid-term elections. But what recourse do they have if the surviving  Democratic voters still manage to elect a sizeable number of Congressmen and state legislators? To deal with such a contingency, they have resurrected one of the most time-tested and pernicious "dirty tricks" in their arsenal--the  Gerrymander.     
That derogatory appellation was coined in 1812 by the Federalist editor of the Boston Gazette, responding to the outrageous redistricting map drawn by the Jeffersonian Republican legislators and signed off on by Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. Because the configuration on the map seemed to him to resemble a salamander, he dubbed it the "Gerry-mander." The stigma has, ever since, been applied to any blatant attempt to "to establish a political advantage for any party or group  by manipulating boundaries to create partisan-advantaged districts." Over last two centuries it has been frequently been utilized as a potent weapon in political warfare. In antebellum Southern states, it was wielded to buttress the overrepresentation of the "Black Belt" counties at the expense of the "Piedmont." As a result, it played critical role in the decision for secession in several jurisdictions. During the Reconstruction Era, it facilitated the disenfranchisement of Freedmen, helping to destroy the accomplishments of the first Civil Rights Era by emasculating the 14th and 15th Amendments. Prior to the Second Civil Rights Era, according to Douglas Smith in On Democracy's Doorstep, malapportionment  served as "a cornerstone of white supremacy, ensuring the overrepresentation of the most ardent segregationists, and thus further delaying the realization the realization of civil and voting rights for African Americans." Thanks to Baker v. Carr and Reynolds v. Sims, legislative districts have to be roughly equal in population. Even so, thanks to Shelby v. Holder, the doctrine of "one person, one vote" has been thoroughly undermined, thus negating or marginalizing the power of African Americans and other minorities.

Why has Gerrymandering had such a continuous history? According to analyst Robert Draper, it's  "because the U.S. is the only democracy in the world where politicians have an active role in creating voting districts." As if that weren't reason enough, the Republican State Leadership Committee, founded in 2006, has spent up to $40 million a year working to elect conservative Republicans. During the 2012 election cycle, it focused its efforts on state legislative races in an attempt to give them control of the redistricting process following the 2010 census. Karl Rove has admitted that "Republican strategies are focused on 107 seats in 16 states. Winning those states would give them control of drawing district lines for nearly 150 congressional seats." The RSLC is disguised as a 527 political organization, heavily backed by big business. The Chamber of Commerce has donated about $7.2 million over six years, while American Justice Partnership, which lobbies for legislation limiting liability awards and reducing "abusive lawsuits," has contributed nearly $2 million since 2006. Other top donors are Wal Mart, Pfizer, Devon Energy, AT&T, and Reynolds American Tobacco. Its chairman is Ed Gillespie, former chair of the Republican National Committee. In 2010, RSLC partnered with American Crossroads, American Action Forum, and resurgent Republicans.

Together, these cabals engineered "The Great Gerrymander of 2012." Even though the Democrats polled i.4 million more votes for the House, the Republicans won control, 234 to 201. Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side every time. In 2013, the RSLC issued a progress report on "Redmap," its $30 million multiyear plan to influence redistricting, which tilts the playing field in two stages: 1) take over state legislatures prior to the decennial census and 2) then redraw legislative and congressional districts to lock in long-term partisan advantage. Whatever else this process is, it is clearly NOT  democratic. In fact it is blatantly anti-democratic. One Virginia lawmaker has even proposed Gerrymandering the
presidential vote by allocating electoral votes by congressional district. Such a split would have elected Romney in 2012, despite the fact that he received five million fewer votes.    

Using the statistical tools of his profession, neuroscientist Sam Wang has "developed approaches to  detect such shenanigans by looking only at election returns." He starts with "the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats." In 2012, Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin "failed to clear even this low bar." In North Carolina, the House vote was 51 percent Democratic so the seats should have been split 7 Democrats to 6 Republicans. Its redistricting scheme produced only 4 Democrats and 7 Republicans! "If these districts had been fairly drawn," he charges, "this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur. " he then picked combinations of districts that added up to the same statewide total, so that he could determine "what would have happened if a state had districts that were typical of the rest of the nation." Using his "most discrepancy criterion," he found 10 states "out of whack": the five mentioned above plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, and Texas. Arizona had been redistricted by a combination of Republicans and federal court efforts, and Illinois by Democrats. The other 7 were designed by Republican legislators. "Both sides do it," he concluded, "but one side does it more often." In California, 62 percent of the vote went to Democrats, while the mock delegation of 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans "exactly matched the newly elected delegation." WHY? BECAUSE THE VOTERS "TOOK REDISTRCTING OUT OF THE LEGISLATORS' HANDS BY CREATING THE CALIFORNIA CITIZENS REDISTRICTING COMMISSION!! 

The core strategy of gerrymandering is jamming voters likely to favor your opponents into a few "throwaway" districts, where the other side is allowed to win lopsided victories. That is called "packing." They then arrange other boundaries where they can eke out narrow victories. That is known as "cracking." Although legislators use highly sophisticated software, "free software from Dave's Redistricting Apps lets you do it from your couch." Political analysts have identified other tactics, such as cramming voters into crowded urban districts, "but in 2012 the net effect of intentional gerrymandering was far larger than any one factor."

Wang suggests three different possible outcomes. 1) Democrats have to win the popular vote by 7 percentage points, the way that districts are presently constituted, to take control of the House.
2) Replacing his 8 partisan districts with mock delegations derived from his calculations would result in 215 Democrats and 220 Republicans, "give or take a few." 3) In the 7 states where Republican legislatures "gamed" the results, 16.7 million Republican and 16.4 Democratic votes produced 73
Republican congressmen and 34 Democratic ones. "Given the average percentage that it takes to elect a Representative, that combination would require only 14.7 million Democratic votes." Put another way,  1.7 votes were packed into Democratic districts and effectively wasted." Compared to the national total of House votes--121 million--the difference is huge--maybe even controlling. In Illinois,  Democrats did the converse, wasting about 70,000 Republican votes. "In both cases," Wang estimates, "the number of wasted votes dwarfs the likely effect of either Voter ID laws (which the Democrats fight against) or "voter fraud" (the Republicans' bête noire.)

Wang proposes two plans to preserve majority rule and minority representation: 1) Nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 states and 2) "Adopt a robust standard for partisan gerrymandering." The advent of inexpensive computing and free software "has placed the tools for fighting politicians who draw absurd districts into the hands of citizens like you and me." Republicans, especially, facing demographic and ideological changes in the electorate, use redistricting to cling to power. It is up to us "to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all; our House."

While Wamg considers the Texas redistricting to be a model, the process was quickly challenged by the "Project On Fair Representation, the same ersatz organization that sponsored Shelby County v. Holder. It contends, in Evenwel v. Abbott, that boundary lines should be drawn on the number of eligible voters, instead of on Census data, which, of course, counts every resident of a state. That would eliminate children, documented and undocumented immigrants, prisoners, and other non-voters. Although a three-judge federal panel dismissed their argument as one based on "a theory never before accepted by the Supreme Court or any circuit court," SCOTUS agreed to hear it on a 5-4 vote. If it prevails, according to Ari Berman, "electoral districts would become older, whiter, " more rural, and more conservative." In short, more Republican. Of the 38 congressional districts where more than 40% of residents are eligible to vote, for example, 32 are represented by Democrats in such cities as Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, and Chicago.

The Evenwel , as Berman clearly states, "is an attempt to further weaken the VRA by limiting representation for the very communities most harmed by the Shelby County decision, in particular Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans."  The vice-president for litigation at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund charges that "their persistence in bringing this litigation  is rooted in the goal of counteracting the gains that we have won under the VRA." If the plaintiffs' argument carries the day, ""a staggering 55% of Latinos --those under 18 or non-citizens--won't be counted, as well as 45% of Asian Americans and 30% of African Americans. The associate counsel at LatinoJustice  adds that 'it would signal a major retreat from the post-Civil War principle that all people should be fully counted as equal members of society under equal protection." 

The court will render its decision in June. The portents so not look auspicious>                    

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