It is the responsibility of our state legislature to draw fair districts, yet they continually attempt the thwart the will of the people. Only active and informed citizenry and a legislature committed to fairness and rule of law can end this so that all voters’ — right, left, centrists — are heard each election cycle.
Please read this very short history of partisan Gerrymandering.
This suave and sophisticated gentleman is Elbridge Gerry. He was the son of a middle-class merchant in Massachusetts who managed to gain admittance to Harvard University – no small feat, really, in the late 1750s when in such a heavily class-structured place as colonial New England. For him equality and fairness were sacrosanct, he was one of the earliest advocates for independence from England, and one of the first signers of the Articles of Confederation after the Revolutionary War.
He was so committed to fairness that he at first refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights and he feared that the document, as it stood, would result in monarchial rule at worst or aristocratic rule at best. These were well founded fears when our young republic was just beginning. He helped draft the Bill of Rights – a document remarkable for constraining the rights of government in favor of rights for the people. Initially he refused to join any political parties because he was committed to fairness and equality in our political system.
Nearly every single problem in our current political climate is his fault.
After winning elections as governor of Massachusetts in 1811 he was allowed to redraw the state senatorial districts. After refusing partisan politics for most of his career he must have had a change of heart – perhaps losing his election bid four times to the Federalist party changed his mind. He and his team redrew each district so that the Democratic-Republican party would have a maximum advantage over the Federalist party. One of the odd districts that he drew resembled a giant salamander. This inspired a satirical cartoonist Elkanah Tisdale to of the Boston Gazette to opine that Gerry had created a whole new animal – the Gerrymander.
This inspired many other politicians throughout the ages to ask, “Really, is that allowed? I mean, we can do that?”
The answer is of course: “NO! No, you may not redraw districts along partisan lines and restrict peoples voting rights and silence opposition. That goes against everything we have fought and died for. It is an insult to the very notion of democracy and could destroy our belief in government for the people, by the people and of the people. It would only result in a bunch of party hacks kow-towing to party establishments rather than listening to the people who are supposed to vote for them. It would drive down voter turn-out so that only a few people in each district could have a say in their local, state and federal government. Resulting in a hidden oligarchy. It is wrong, wrong, wrong and –wait—still very wrong!”
Two hundred years after Gerry was called out on this it continues to persist. In 2015 the state of Florida was told that they would have to redraw their districts. It took a lengthy court battle led by the League of Women Voters of Florida to have the districts redrawn.
We should not have to fight lengthy and expensive court battles in order to safeguard our fundamental right to representative democracy. Yet, establishment party politicians insist that we should accept this as the normal.
The Congressional districts in Florida were eventually redrawn so that there was, at least, the appearance of fairness. But let’s take a look at these redrawn districts.
Especially interesting here is districts five and district four. Currently they are represented by Al Lawson and former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford. Before that district five was represented by Corrine Brown who had held that district for nearly 25 years (this was when the district ran in a north-south line rather than its current east-west axis). District four includes parts of Duval county and all of St. Johns and Nassau county. Relative to district five it has not changed much geographically nor politically. Ander Crenshaw represented this district for fifteen years. The current party establishment has not been challenged since Ronald Reagan was in office.
If you look closely at this district in the inset provided on this map you will see that they have effectively carved out the portion of Duval county that lawmakers thought would vote Democratic then stretched the district to include Tallahassee. What was the purpose in dividing Jacksonville from Jacksonville?
What is the result in all of this? Well, district five becomes a very safe Democratic seat while district four becomes a very safe Republican seat. We send these politicians to Congress to represent us, but instead, they only represent their party establishments. Then, instead of finding some type of principled consensus with the opposing party, they make political hay out of refusing to compromise. They do this not just out of political expediency but also because they fear being outflanked by a primary challenger in failing some type of political purity test. The red gets redder and the blue gets bluer and the ugliness continues.
We accept this as the status quo. We think that this is how it is always done and so it shall be. It does not have to be this way.
The status quo can change and there are all sorts of great ideas floating around. The people at Fairvote.org have some very interesting solutions that deserve to be looked at. These include ranked choice voting in which voters choose from among many candidates and the top vote-getters go into a run-off election until a majority candidate is found. This alleviates the need for negative campaigning as candidates have to find consensus among a wide swath of voters.
Another issue is the fact that partisan politicians draw these districts. I firmly believe that many of these people are good people but inevitably their political biases will get in the way. One interesting decision is to take human bias out of this altogether and draw districts from a computer algorithm.
Here is what Florida districts drawn from this algorithm would look like:
The map on the right was our current districts. Districts were redrawn in 2015 after the planned districts were deemed unconstitutional. The main difference is District 5 which took parts of Duval county and split Gainesville in two — these were seen as Democratic strongholds. The map on the left shows how our congressional districts would look like using the unbiased algorithm. If these were our districts politicians would have to appeal to a wide variety of voters, government mandated legislatures would not be able to control the vote. The ability to find consensus in Congress would be seen as a virtue. Politicians would have to re-learn the values of respect and consensus.
Elbridge Gerry is long dead. Let his legacy of party establishment corruption die along with him.
 Elbridge Gerry. (2013, June 27). Retrieved December 04, 2016, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elbridge-Gerry