A largely quiet tactic to disenfranchise voters of all persuasions has become a target of reform-minded citizens in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections. While we have seen widespread pushback against voter suppression, unreliable voting machines, and unchecked spending in elections, gerrymandering -- the process of selectively re-drawing voters' districts to ensure the outcome -- has reached a critical mass in the fight for American democracy. This is a tactic favored by incumbents of either political party, and as such this is a non-partisan issue affecting the public at large.
This short clip from my documentary PAY 2 PLAY illustrates how gerrymandering works and how an equal number of voters can be strategically divided so as to guarantee districts that will vote a certain way. Featuring Marianne Williamson, an impassioned reformer, as well as the insight of Jerry Springer, whose previous jobs included Mayor of Cincinnati and Ohio gubernatorial candidate.
Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens writes in his book Six Amendments that we even need a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution to prevent this disenfranchisement in states across the country:
Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historic boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.
One of the considerations that prompted Stevens to make this recommendation was the 2013 government shutdown, which let extremists dictate the fate of the majority because their districts were safely conservative. Stevens also cites the notoriously malformed District 30 enacted in Texas in 1991, which looks like fractals on a bender:
And while some states have taken the initiative to reform their state's re-districting process, such as California's ballot-initiative success, the Supreme Court stands to decide if such citizen-helmed efforts are legal in a case coming from Arizona. Justice Antonin Scalia lamented "severe partisan gerrymanderers" in a 2004 opinion, but we'll see if he the man who believes in the devil can concur that with gerrymandering, the devil is in the details.
In Ohio, where the last election yielded all predicted winners based on their districts, even opposing activist groups joined together for a revamped redistricting process. Progress Ohio and Opportunity Ohio united as the Voice of the People Coalition in response to a report by League of Women Voters released post-midterms, which revealed how elections were essentially predetermined in Ohio due to gerrymandering.
This unlikely push from progressive organizers and a conservative think tank in turn helped spur both political parties to reach a deal on the redistricting process this week. "I am very pleased with what we have and I think this is moving forward in a way that will create much greater fairness," said Richard Gunther, a political science professor at Ohio State University who has worked with League of Women Voters and Common Cause to improve the process. This is "vastly better than what we currently have. Both parties made significant concessions. Neither side got everything they wanted."
This is just the beginning, as we put our country back together into communities, not commodities.
Rootstrikers is asking the Justice Department to investigate gerrymandering's impact on the 2014 elections. Please join this effort, learn more about gerrymandering at our site, and see PAY 2 PLAY to watch how great candidates are denied the chance to serve because of their snake-like Ohio district.