How to Not Gerrymander

I noticed that New York’s legislative attempt to gerrymander 3 more democrat seats in congress has been called out of line by the court.  Gerrymandering is a bizarre form of election chicanery – you basically try to put as many of the opposing party members in as few districts as possible while keeping your party in districts that are usually non-competitive, with 52 or 53 percent of those districts being your party.

Getting rid of gerrymandering would be simple – but we have rules that enshrine gerrymandering on racial lines.  I can’t even disagree with them.  But when you enshrine gerrymandering for one purpose, you make it easier to gerrymander for other purposes.

As the 1813 cartoon shows, when a district’s shape is downright strange, it’s time to look for gerrymandering.  It may not be there – but it is time to look for it.  Avoiding gerrymandering is easy – pick a corner of the state – northeast, southeast, northwest, southwest, and move in a single direction, drawing your lines as the population dictates.  Easy and honest.  If you want a long-term control, switch corners with each decennial census. 

The challenge is that we have enshrined gerrymandering for racial equality.  In the larger states we develop districts to ensure the representative is black.  In the west, we make sure we don’t split up Reservations.  I have no problem with this – but these exclusions keep us from the simple methods of establishing districts, and provide more opportunities for the folks who like to gerrymander. 

Sometimes gerrymandering gets so bad even the courts notice it – and that’s what we are seeing in New York.  You don’t need election fraud if you can skew the map in your favor.  The original gerrymander was drawn to change partisan electoral advantage, not for any individual’s electioneering edge. 

Elbridge Gerry was in many ways a principled politician, and a man deserving of the title “founding father”.  He signed the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.  He refused to sign the Constitution because it did not include a bill of rights.  He was the nation’s fifth Vice-President.  Sometimes history provides us with a descriptor that doesn’t match our best behaviors.

If we ignore the partisan makeup of an area, and just follow the compass bearings, avoiding gerrymandering is easy. 

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