End Gerrymandering - And Response

Monday, November 30, 2020

If this past election has taught us anything, it’s that each of our votes truly matters and must be counted. To make sure that a fair election process happens every time, we must have fair electoral maps and end the practice of gerrymandering. We all need to play an active role in how our political maps are drawn during the upcoming redistricting process.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing our districts to reflect the change in our population recorded by the Census, which occurs every 10 years. Gerrymandering happens when politicians manipulate this process in order to draw electoral maps that ensure their party wins more districts which are out of proportion to the actual percentage of the population. Gerrymandering changes the value and weight of every vote. It’s unfair and it’s wrong -- no matter which party tries it.

Our political system relies on politicians who have integrity and do not use gerrymandering to ensure they get re-elected. Gerrymandering contributes to hyper-partisanship in our politics and allows politicians to pander to special interests, but ignore the people they represent.

2021 is an important year because we the people can call and lobby our elected officials as they draw maps. We can demand and attend hearings. We can make it known that it’s time to end gerrymandering. I’m asking my neighbors to join me and push for fair maps.

Elizabeth MacDuffee

* * * 

There is no legitimate excuse for gerrymandering in any form – never has been. With modern data-gathering methods, timely population records, and computers, it would be a simple matter to divide any populated area (town, city, county, whatever) into any desired number of portions all having essentially equal populations.

Take Hamilton County, Tn., for example. Current population is approximately 370,000. Say you want to divide it into nine essentially equal population districts (averaging a bit more than 41,000 people each), and you want to do it in an orderly and absolutely impartial manner.

Here's one way to do it: Looking at a map of the county, draw an imaginary East-West line from border to border that looks like it cuts off about the north one-third of the county. Then using census records, start at the north boundary of the county and work southward, counting people until you reach that imaginary East-West line. If the number enclosed is less than one-third of the county population, move the line southward and keep counting; if the original number is more than one-third, move the line back north a bit and subtract as you go.

Repeat that with a second East-West line that divides the remainder of the population in half. Given accurate data for people and their location in the county, any decent computer (and honest operator) could accurately and easily divide Hamilton County into three sections of equal population – North, Central, and South.

Then begin at the west edge of each section and draw a short North-South line that looks like it would encompass one-third of that section. Count the folks inside the area, and move that North-South line east or west as needed until that smaller area contains one-ninth of the county’s population. Move on to the east and draw another North-South line, dividing the section into a total of three equal-population parts.

Do that for the North, the Central, and the South sections of the county and you'll have nine districts each containing one-ninth of the county's population. The result is an odd sort of checkerboard, much simpler than the twisting lines of Elbridge Gerry’s old salamander of two centuries ago. The original odd-angled county boundaries are not changed in any way; only the newly drawn dividing lines represent any change from ordinary district boundaries. And every new-drawn line is either East-West or North-South. These new lines do not coincide with natural boundaries such as rivers and creeks, mountains and valleys, nor do they consider such human factors as rich and poor, black and white, or liberal and conservative. The new lines are essentially arbitrary, merely outlining nine equal population divisions of the county.

Oh, yeah, we can hear the screams already: We've never done it that way before! I want to vote with (or against) my next-door neighbor! It would cost too much! The arguments against such a simple and impersonal system are countless, whether or not they are valid.

There is one significant argument in favor of such a simple and almost mechanical system – the best argument for it is the personally manipulative basis of the present system of gerrymandering.

Now, I confess; I'm left-handed, and most of my life I've done even the simplest things differently from 90 percent of those folks around me. So, for the sake of argument, it is equally reasonable to begin at the west edge of the county and work eastwards, drawing two North-South lines to divide the county into equal thirds of population, and then use short East-West lines to divide each of those three sections (West, Central, East) into equal thirds, producing nine districts of equal population. The result would be mildly, not significantly, different from the order already described.

Yes, in its way this system is arbitrary. But it is more nearly absolutely and impartially arbitrary than any of the standard gerrymandering systems. Every district except the centermost will have one or two edges along the county line, with all of the other edges being true North-South and East-West. Only the centermost district will be a true rectangle, sharing no part of any edge of the county.

Yes, I know this is far to basic, too simple, too foolproof to be accepted by those who must implement it – the very politicians who have given us gerrymandering in the first place. That doesn’t mean this system, or something similar to it, is wrong or bad or impossible to implement; it merely means that it really is so fair, so impartial, so arbitrary, that no politician would ever suggest it or support it. And, we can imagine, even if it were accepted, the next batch of elected officials would still want to re-draw the lines.

So, let them re-draw the lines! There’s very little harm they can do, and the operation would be akin to the quadrennial property assessments. With the rigidity of East-West and North-South lines of division, it would be much fairer all the way around.  And then we wait ... for some modern politician to change (or just bend) the rules and take us back to gerrymandering.

Larry Cloud

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