Despicable Gerrymandering

By Max Maxfield |

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating district boundaries in such a way as to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group.


Suppose I was to tell you that a political party could sway the scales to pick the winner of an election before it even happens. Surely you would agree with me that this would not be a good thing to happen.

I think I must be a little innocent (or a trifle dim), but it never struck me that this sort of thing would take place in a bastion of democracy like the USA. How foolish I was. Recently, however, my eyes were opened when I saw this episode of Adam Ruins Everything in which he explains the concept of gerrymandering.

According to the Wikipedia, the word gerrymander was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812. This scoundrel signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his democratic-republican party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a mythological salamander.

The bottom line is that gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating district boundaries in such a way as to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group, thereby helping of hindering a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group.

I saw the episode on Adam Ruins Everything several months ago, but then I forgot all about it. It was only when I was driving into work a few days ago that I heard a report on the radio about some area that had recently been so gerrymandered by the party in power that, even though the other party now had close to 1,000,000 more supporters, that second party now had almost zero chance of winning anything in any forthcoming elections. 

Doing something this low and despicable would simply never occur to me. From when I was a very little lad, my dear old dad brought me up to know that, "It isn’t whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game."

I don’t know about you, but this sort of thing makes me angry. In an ideal world, politicians should set a higher standard for the rest of us to follow. When they become embroiled in these kinds of shenanigans, it diminishes them, their party, us citizens, the country, and the very fabric of democracy. Any politicians that would stoop this low should be thrown out of their party and shunned as the bottom-feeding scum they are (and I say this with love).

I'm sorry. This has gotten my gander up (or dander if you prefer). What say you? Is this just "the cost of doing business," or does this sort of thing distress you as much as it does me?

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  • by  David Ashton
    Max - this confirms my assertion that so called "Democracies" are in fact not democracies' backsides.  Institutionalised and legalised corruption reigns supreme.  In this case there is a simple solution - make sure that electoral districts must be one single contiguous area.  And / or ensure that any changes are voted on by the electorate, or at least by all parties contesting an election.  But that would be too leasy, wouldn't it??
    • by  Max Maxfield

      @David: "...In this case there is a simple solution - make sure that electoral districts must be one single contiguous area..."

      I'm not an expert here, but I think the idea is to give everyone some say. Suppose you have some area where 90% of people are green and 10% are blue -- if you just let the whole area vote, all the representatives will be green -- the blue folks won't have any representation whatsoever.

      Again -- I'm not an expert, but I think the idea of making out the districts is to make sure everyone gets some amount of proportional representation.

      The problem is when the slimy politicians (as opposed to the other kind) try to usurp the process to fix things so their folks get as close to 100% representation as they can manage while other folks get as close to 0% as they can get away with.

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @David: "...In this case there is a simple solution - make sure that electoral districts must be one single contiguous area..."

    I'm not an expert here, but I think the idea is to give everyone some say. Suppose you have some area where 90% of people are green and 10% are blue -- if you just let the whole area vote, all the representatives will be green -- the blue folks won't have any representation whatsoever.

    Again -- I'm not an expert, but I think the idea of making out the districts is to make sure everyone gets some amount of proportional representation.

    The problem is when the slimy politicians (as opposed to the other kind) try to usurp the process to fix things so their folks get as close to 100% representation as they can manage while other folks get as close to 0% as they can get away with.

  • by  Elizabeth Simon

    @Max

    You just now found out about this? I suppose it comes of not growing up with it as I did. My father had a very cynical view of politicians. Unfortunately, he was for the most part correct. *Sigh*

    @David

    I think there is already a rule that electoral districts must be contiguous. I've heard of cases where that definition is stretched to the limit.  Picture two towns separated by a road where the towns and the road are in one district and the entire area surrounding both is in another district.

    I know in some states there is an "independent" commission with representatives from multiple factions. This helps prevent the worst abuses but it still seems that the party in power at the time of redistricting has an advantage.

    Using a computer to do the redistricting might work if we could guarantee that it's unbiased and based strictly on geography (city and county limits used where possible)

    • by  Max Maxfield

      @Elizabeth: "...You just now found out about this?..."

      I never heard about it happening in England, and I can't vote in the USA (I'm a permanent resident), so I never paid much attention until now.

      • by  Sean Ellis

        It has happened in England, but we have less of a free hand to make constituencies look like something sketched on a bar napkin by Dali and Mandlebrot after a heavy night.

        Instead, our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homes_for_votes_scandal

        • by  Max Maxfield

          @Sean: "...our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names..."

          Bummer -- I was sort of hoping the British (being noble and fair) would be above these sort of shenanigans -- that's what we English get for giving the Irish and Scottish (and women and undesirables and poor people) the vote! LOL
          • by  Sean Ellis
            We did at least have the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits, even if they did wriggle mostly off the hook in the end.
            • by  Max Maxfield

              @Sean: "...the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits..."

              I'm glad to hear it!!!

          • by  Tony Tib

            What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotten_and_pocket_boroughs

            I knew about them and I'm not even English....

            • by  Max Maxfield

              @Tony: "...What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?..."

              I hadn't heard of these (your link didn't work, but this one should) -- I was sad at first, but then I saw that this practice was targeted by the Reform Act of 1832.

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Elizabeth: "...You just now found out about this?..."

    I never heard about it happening in England, and I can't vote in the USA (I'm a permanent resident), so I never paid much attention until now.

    • by  Sean Ellis

      It has happened in England, but we have less of a free hand to make constituencies look like something sketched on a bar napkin by Dali and Mandlebrot after a heavy night.

      Instead, our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homes_for_votes_scandal

      • by  Max Maxfield

        @Sean: "...our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names..."

        Bummer -- I was sort of hoping the British (being noble and fair) would be above these sort of shenanigans -- that's what we English get for giving the Irish and Scottish (and women and undesirables and poor people) the vote! LOL
        • by  Sean Ellis
          We did at least have the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits, even if they did wriggle mostly off the hook in the end.
          • by  Max Maxfield

            @Sean: "...the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits..."

            I'm glad to hear it!!!

        • by  Tony Tib

          What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotten_and_pocket_boroughs

          I knew about them and I'm not even English....

          • by  Max Maxfield

            @Tony: "...What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?..."

            I hadn't heard of these (your link didn't work, but this one should) -- I was sad at first, but then I saw that this practice was targeted by the Reform Act of 1832.

  • by  Sean Ellis

    It has happened in England, but we have less of a free hand to make constituencies look like something sketched on a bar napkin by Dali and Mandlebrot after a heavy night.

    Instead, our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homes_for_votes_scandal

    • by  Max Maxfield

      @Sean: "...our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names..."

      Bummer -- I was sort of hoping the British (being noble and fair) would be above these sort of shenanigans -- that's what we English get for giving the Irish and Scottish (and women and undesirables and poor people) the vote! LOL
      • by  Sean Ellis
        We did at least have the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits, even if they did wriggle mostly off the hook in the end.
        • by  Max Maxfield

          @Sean: "...the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits..."

          I'm glad to hear it!!!

      • by  Tony Tib

        What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotten_and_pocket_boroughs

        I knew about them and I'm not even English....

        • by  Max Maxfield

          @Tony: "...What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?..."

          I hadn't heard of these (your link didn't work, but this one should) -- I was sad at first, but then I saw that this practice was targeted by the Reform Act of 1832.

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Sean: "...our overlords just ship out the undesirables using urban development programs with Orwellian names..."

    Bummer -- I was sort of hoping the British (being noble and fair) would be above these sort of shenanigans -- that's what we English get for giving the Irish and Scottish (and women and undesirables and poor people) the vote! LOL
    • by  Sean Ellis
      We did at least have the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits, even if they did wriggle mostly off the hook in the end.
      • by  Max Maxfield

        @Sean: "...the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits..."

        I'm glad to hear it!!!

    • by  Tony Tib

      What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotten_and_pocket_boroughs

      I knew about them and I'm not even English....

      • by  Max Maxfield

        @Tony: "...What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?..."

        I hadn't heard of these (your link didn't work, but this one should) -- I was sad at first, but then I saw that this practice was targeted by the Reform Act of 1832.

  • by  Sean Ellis
    We did at least have the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits, even if they did wriggle mostly off the hook in the end.
    • by  Max Maxfield

      @Sean: "...the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits..."

      I'm glad to hear it!!!

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Sean: "...the residual sense of nobility and fairness to prosecute the culprits..."

    I'm glad to hear it!!!

  • by  Tony Tib

    What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rotten_and_pocket_boroughs

    I knew about them and I'm not even English....

    • by  Max Maxfield

      @Tony: "...What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?..."

      I hadn't heard of these (your link didn't work, but this one should) -- I was sad at first, but then I saw that this practice was targeted by the Reform Act of 1832.

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Tony: "...What?  You've never heard of pocket boroughs or rotten boroughs in merry old England?..."

    I hadn't heard of these (your link didn't work, but this one should) -- I was sad at first, but then I saw that this practice was targeted by the Reform Act of 1832.

  • by  Tony Tib

    If you really want to learn something, read what Michael Barone has to say, e.g.

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/michael-barone-to-limit-gerrymandering-supreme-court-needs-just-to-affirm-equal-population-requirement/article/2635864

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/michael-barone-all-that-you-and-justice-anthony-kennedy-need-to-know-about-redistricting-and-gerrymandering/article/2647345

    As far as "independent" commissions go, just look at who appoints the members - it's easy to game this.  Same for computer - who writes the algorithms?

    And although our system isn't perfect, and never has been perfect, at least some elections do have consequences -- and I'd much rather have it that way than be ruled by unaccountable "experts" (who are human, too) or "enlightened" dictators/oligarchs (like China).

    • by  Max Maxfield

      @Tony: "...As far as "independent" commissions go, just look at who appoints the members - it's easy to game this..."

      The thing is that nobody should want to game the system -- if politicians really believed in what they were doing, and really cared that the people should get a real vote, and just believed in doing what's right and fair, then they would bend over backwards to NOT game the system!!!

    • by  Elizabeth Simon

      @Tony "... As far as "independent" commissions go, just look at who appoints the members - it's easy to game this.  Same for computer - who writes the algorithms? ..."

      There's a reason I put independent in quotes LOL

      Sadly, no matter what you do, there will be someone who tries to game the system.

      I agree though, it's better than the alternatives.

      • by  Max Maxfield

        @Elizabeth: "...it's better than the alternatives..."

        When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours), then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

        • by  Aubrey Kagan

          Max

          When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours),then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

          Churchill also said something like this, but perhaps not in a sad, tired voice..

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Tony: "...As far as "independent" commissions go, just look at who appoints the members - it's easy to game this..."

    The thing is that nobody should want to game the system -- if politicians really believed in what they were doing, and really cared that the people should get a real vote, and just believed in doing what's right and fair, then they would bend over backwards to NOT game the system!!!

  • by  Elizabeth Simon

    @Tony "... As far as "independent" commissions go, just look at who appoints the members - it's easy to game this.  Same for computer - who writes the algorithms? ..."

    There's a reason I put independent in quotes LOL

    Sadly, no matter what you do, there will be someone who tries to game the system.

    I agree though, it's better than the alternatives.

    • by  Max Maxfield

      @Elizabeth: "...it's better than the alternatives..."

      When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours), then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

      • by  Aubrey Kagan

        Max

        When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours),then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

        Churchill also said something like this, but perhaps not in a sad, tired voice..

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Elizabeth: "...it's better than the alternatives..."

    When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours), then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

    • by  Aubrey Kagan

      Max

      When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours),then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

      Churchill also said something like this, but perhaps not in a sad, tired voice..

  • by  Aubrey Kagan

    Max

    When the best we can say about our system of government is "it's better than the alternatives" in a sad, tired, voice (that's my voice, not yours),then things have come to a pretty sad state of affairs.

    Churchill also said something like this, but perhaps not in a sad, tired voice..

  • by  Max Maxfield

    @Aubrey: "...Churchill also said something like this, but perhaps not in a sad, tired voice..."

    Talk about the right man at the right time -- I love his speeches -- especially his "We shall fight on the beaches" https://youtu.be/MkTw3_PmKtc

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