[EM] WSJ Gerrymander story

DEMOREP1 at aol.com DEMOREP1 at aol.com
Sun Mar 17 00:32:25 PST 2002

D- A story from reality land----

Wall Street Journal


Red-Light District

It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering.

Wednesday, March 13, 2002 12:01 a.m.  EST

Every census sets off a new round of political mischief called
gerrymandering.  For the past few months, state legislatures have been
redrawing their own districts along with those for their state's
congressional delegations--ostensibly to make sure each district has the
same number of people.  When one party controls the entire process (as
is the case in 20 states this year) it routinely engages in blatant
gerrymandering.  When control over redistricting is split, both parties
usually conspire in crafting pro-incumbent gerrymanders.  We are now in
danger of creating a system that allows elected officials to choose
their voters, rather than the other way around.

Elbridge Gerry (whose name was pronounced "Gary") gave gerrymandering
its name in 1812 when, as governor of Massachusetts, he drew a district
that his opponents said resembled a salamander.  But Gov.  Gerry's
handiwork is child's play compared with what the latest computers can
do.  New software allows politicians to draw districts so partisan that
the only way for an incumbent to lose is by alienating his party.  In
Michigan, a GOP-controlled legislature has created a congressional
gerrymander that stuffs six Democratic incumbents into three seats.  In
Georgia, Democrats controlled the mapping pens and drew a congressional
plan that pushed four GOP incumbents into two districts.

This kind of partisanship has long been tolerated by voters who view it
as just politics or so much inside baseball.  It's time they woke up.
The new, computer-driven gerrymandering is now dramatically reducing
political competition to the point that most voters will have no
effective choice at all at the polls.  In 2000, more than 20% of House
members had no major party challenger.  George W.  Bush won Florida by
only 537 votes, but 10 of the 21 Florida House incumbents ran
unopposed.  Political analysts in both parties agree that there will is
significantly less competition under new district lines in 2002.  Only
some 30 of the 435 House seats will competitive this November.

In North Carolina gerrymandering is clearly predetermining political
competitions.  Last year, the Democrats rammed through a redistricting
plan that effectively locks in their legislative control for the next 10
years.  Nonpartisan analysts say that in the 120-member state House the
number of safe Democratic seats has increased to 87 from 58.  The number
of "swing" or competitive districts was reduced to 20 from 46.  In other
words, less than one in five districts is winnable by either party
barring extraordinary circumstances.

Would-be candidates pondering a run for state Legislature bailed out in
droves once they got a look at gerrymandered districts.  When filing
closed earlier this month, a record 49 seats had only one candidate on
the ballot.  In the state Senate, 24 of the 60 seats will offer voters
no choice this fall.  So a stunning 43% of the North Carolina
Legislature has, in effect, already been elected.  Two years ago, only
19% of legislative elections in the House and Senate were uncontested.

Elections in many semifree Third World nations routinely offer more
choices than many North Carolina residents will have.  In the county
that includes Charlotte, the state's largest city, only three of the 13
state legislative incumbents will face an opponent in the fall.  In
Greensboro, a freshman House Democrat named Katie Dorsett is running for
a vacant state Senate seat and will be unopposed in both the primary and
general election.

Courts have traditionally avoided becoming involved in challenges to
gerrymanders, usually ruling that the process is inherently political.
But last month, a North Carolina state judge, Knox Jenkins, ruled that
the gerrymander was unconstitutional because it unnecessarily divides
counties in violation of the state constitution.  Lawyers for the
Legislature argue that the need for the state to comply with the federal
Voting Rights Act trumps the state constitution.  But many other states
have been able to square their state constitutions with the Voting
Rights Act without having to draw absurd gerrymanders.

On Thursday North Carolina's Supreme Court unanimously enjoined the
state from conducting its May 7 state legislative primaries pending a
full hearing on Judge Knox's ruling next month.  Yesterday the state's
Board of Elections postponed all voting on that day, including the U.S.
Senate primary.

Judge Knox will consider a request by several Republicans to have the
gerrymandered districts redrawn.  Throwing out the plan under which
candidates have already filed would be unusual.  Since the alternative
Republican-drawn plans have their own clearly partisan tilt, the court
would have to go through the arduous process of drawing its own maps.

But it's possible the court will find that this time the gerrymanderers
in North Carolina have simply gone too far.  Back in 1787, the North
Carolina Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional an attempt by the state
Legislature to take away the right of trial by jury.  The court noted
that if the Legislature could do that, "they might with equal authority
.  .  .  render themselves legislator of the State for life, without any
further election of the people."

Two hundred fifteen years later, incumbents are using high-powered
computers to create lifetime sinecures for themselves.  That kind of
privilege and protection is certainly not what the Founding Fathers had
in mind when they overthrew a monarchy to form a republic.

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