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Gerrymandering is a Stain on our Democracy

Computer scientists have the technical know-how to create guaranteed Gerrymander-free voting maps. SO WHY DON’T WE DO IT???

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I’ve written about the topic of gerrymandering before (see Despicable Gerrymandering), but I keep on running across articles about the fact that it is still going on (see Asheville’s Woes are the Story of America), and I have to say that it really sticks in my craw. As I’m sure we all know, gerrymandering is the dark art of establishing a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. In reality, this practice has been going on since shortly after America became an independent nation. The term itself is named after Elbridge Gerry, who — as Governor of Massachusetts — signed a bill in 1812 that created a partisan district in the Boston area that was compared to the shape of a mythological salamander.
Gerrymandering sticks in my craw (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Max Maxfield’s re-interpretation of Wikipedia graphic)
The associated graphic depicts a few of the different ways in which 50 precincts can be apportioned into five districts, each containing 10 precincts. We start by assuming that 40% of the precincts vote “green” and 60% vote “yellow.” There are various ways the precincts can be apportioned so as to result in proportionate (fair) outcomes in which the green and yellow groups win in proportion to their voting. There are also ways in which the precincts can be apportioned so as to result in disproportionate (gerrymandered) outcomes. When I was a young lad, my dad brought me up with the English mantra: “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game that counts.” This was more than just playing by the rules, which was taken to be a self-evident requirement — it also involved taking the rough with the smooth and doing both with style. If you happened to win, you weren’t supposed to be cocky about it, and if the fates determined it was your turn to lose, then you were to be gracious in your defeat. Why don’t politicians understand this? This isn’t about Republicans versus Democrats — both groups are as bad as each other when it comes to gerrymandering. I’m guessing that each group honestly believes that they are the best option for the people they laughingly purport to serve, so they take an “the end justifies the means” approach to ensure they win, not realizing that — by doing so — we all lose. I honestly don’t understand how they can stand to look themselves in the mirror. I also cannot wrap my brain around how they can sit around a table orchestrating a Gerrymandering campaign without feeling any sense of shame, and then have the gall to shout “unfair” if the courts order them to do things more equitably. What I really, REALLY don’t understand is why a bipartisan group in Congress doesn’t have the guts to propose a bill making gerrymandering illegal and a punishable offense — it would be interesting to see who voted against such a bill and to hear their reasons why. It’s not as though we don’t have enough computer scientists with the technical know-how to create guaranteed gerrymander-free voting maps. SO WHY DON’T WE DO IT???

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Charles Pfeil

Max, I think your expectations of how humans should behave in a political environment are too idealistic. Our government servants, who take an oath to serve us, generally become politicians to change their city, county, state, nation for the better. Once elected, they find out that too many (often the leaders) have lost all sense of serving their constituents and their only driving force is to get re-elected to increase their “benefits” (legal or illegal) and ensure they have the maximum pension. It is indeed a gloomy outlook and it is heading for failure over time. Better to focus on positive things that we can understand, like electronics.

Elizabeth Simon

Unfortunately, I’m not sure that there is such a thing as a bipartisan group in Congress these days. The way that politics seems to be going, each side seems to be more intent on doing damage to the other side than to actually governing the country.
As my dad used to say “Kick the rascals out, elect new rascals”

Tom Burke

I live in MD, home of the infamous 3rd congressional district, one of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. Looks a lot like a Rorschach test:

https://marylandreporter.com/2015/08/16/fairness-is-the-place-to-start-on-redistricting-reform/

The states seem to have ultimate say in how their districts are shaped. My impression is that the party in power tends to want to reshape districts to help themselves stay in power.

In most cases, but not all, the SCOTUS lets the states do as they will. Until we have a national formula/method for creating districts, this sort of nonsense will continue.

Makes me wonder what things would look like if we had more political parties in the mix…

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