Activist Comics: End Gerrymandering

You would think that your vote gets counted just as equally as others. But you'd be wrong. The reality is, depending on where you live, your vote is quite likely taken for granted in preemptive zoning by election officials.

This tactic of partitioning voter blocs to count on favorable outcomes as a whole was named after Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose imaginative map of voting districts was said to resemble a salamander. And even though his name was pronounced to sound like "Gary," most know the term "gerrymandering"--with a soft "g" as in "Jerry"--to mean not just re-districting, but purposely dividing communities to disenfranchise a voting populous.

Re-districiting is something that happens with census reports to adjust for population change, with the aim of accurately reflecting the citizenry. What once may have looked like a normal map, with cities and towns as logical zones to assign Congressional representation, has since become abstract fractal shapes with no rationale or justification other than being drawn around reliable voters. As computers have been engineered to analyze voter data and mapping data, the art of gerrymandering has gotten down to the city block.

In the recent midterm elections, Republicans claim they have a mandate from the 36% voter turnout, despite the fact that in 2012 Democratic House candidates received 1.1 million more votes than Republicans, without reclaiming a majority of the House--thanks to strategic districting. When does a vote not get counted as a vote? When your state officials draw a district that looks like the capital letter "G" (with serifs) then you probably are gerrymandered.

We need realistic, fair guidelines for drawing districts so that they actually reflect citizens and communities, as opposed to undermining them. This is a non-partisan issue, because disenfranchising voters affects everyone, and is largely employed by incumbents, sometimes even in coordination with the rival party. Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who famously dissented in Citizens United, has outlined an amendment to stop this abusive strategy in his book Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. Thom Hartmann has advocated requiring districts to be simple polygons, to minimize mapping chicanery. In California, voters approved a citizen advisory board that takes part in the re-districting process, holding hearings around the state to gather input from residents. Beyond reform models, we need to challenge these corrupt election officials on the state and local level who think nobody is watching as they selectively muzzle their own neighbors.

In this edition of Activist Comics, the appropriated comic book cover was updated to discuss gerrymandering, but it still features the original interaction between Lois Lane and the bad guys who are driving away in a convertible while laughing and taunting Superman. Sometimes it feels just like that.


END GERRYMANDERING is one of the Fix Six solutions featured in PAY 2 PLAY: Democracy's High Stakes, a new documentary about standing up to money in politics. Out 12/2 on DVD, available now in iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, and Disinfo.