December 2017Monthly Archives

Is Gerrymandering Really Democratic?

There seems to be a lot of political talk in the news at the moment, perhaps more than ever. In some areas it introduces a whole new vocabulary, with which some of us might not be that familiar with. One such word you may have heard is gerrymandering, and hopefully this article will explain what it means. It’s a phrase much in the news nowadays and “‘gerrymandering” is actually a practice which is hotly disputed , ie the official drawing of the boundaries of an electoral constituency in favor of a party or a particular political group. In the upcoming October term, U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide in Gill v. Whitford if electoral maps drawn intentionally in favor one political party are acceptable under the U.S. Constitution. That decision might have a major effect on future U.S. Elections. But will it really change anything? Gerrymandering got its name from Elbridge Gerry, the 5th VP of the U.S., who served with President James Madison.

Gerry is one of those distinguished founding fathers several people know and is famous in his own right. Gerry signed both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation. He was one of 3 who refused to sign the 1787 Constitution because it then had no United States United States Bill of Rights. But primarily he’s remembered because in the year 1811, when he was governor of Massachusetts, the legislature approved extremely partisan state Senate districts that simply looked like salamanders. Therefore, the word gerrymander was born. He was a well known character around the Capitol Hill neighbourhood in Washington, D.C. He was often found walking deep in thought around the historic Congressional Cemetery, 18 blocks from the Capitol.

Of course, the best place to find information on all the founding fathers is online or on the many documentaries that cover their lives.  There was a great programme about American history that was accessible on the UK TV although the BBC started blocking VPN access so it might not be accessible now.

In fact you may be surprised to find Gerry’s grave there, he never went home to Marblehead, Massachusetts. There he sleeps, not far from J. Edgar Hoover, John Philip Sousa, Mathew Brady and several other notables. Carving Up the States. Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution requires that every decade the US government conduct a census. Current law divides the country into 435 congressional districts, each with a population of approximately 710, 000. In most states, the legislature draws boundaries for the state and U.S. Legislature districts, in a few, special commissions make that. Some technocrats have suggested that nonpolitical computers should do redistricting.

In 1962, in Baker v. Carr, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that federal courts could intervene in redistricting cases. One man, one vote, it ruled. Since that time the court has ruled concerning compactness and racial composition, however it never addressed an intentional partisan advantage. That is why waiting for Gill v. Whitford cases in Wisconsin, and another of my home state of Maryland, have such an importance. Other cases are pending in Texas and North Carolina. The evils of gerrymandering are very much in the eyes of the beholder. Both political parties do it every time they can, then attack the opposition when they do it.

Perhaps the applicable phrase here is President Donald Trump’s inelegant defense of his son’s meeting with a Russian agent offering dirt on Hillary Clinton: That’s politics!”. The Ills of Democracy. Psychology suggests that individuals perceives and interprets ambiguous or complex problems in the simplest form possible. We prefer things clear and ordered in order that they seem safer and take less time to process intellectually.

Further Reading:

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