Why we need objective redistricting laws

Every time a state legislative body finds itself redrawing districts, there is danger afoot. If the body is controlled heavily by one party or another, and if the governorship is held by a member of the same favored party, it is likely the districts will be redrawn to favor those in control. Prime examples include Massachusetts and Texas, the latter likely being the biggest redistricting problem in the nation. Republicans have ironclad control over the state despite the fact that whites are actually a minority and – let’s not be subtle or coy – blacks, Hispanics, and other national minorities tend to vote for Democrats.

As old people and those knowledgeable about history may remember/know, due to Texas’ past of horrific racism, it is one of a number of southern states that must seek federal approval before implementing changes to maps and voting practices. (See 1965 Voting Rights Act.) This makes sense. After all, sure, we can chalk some ultimately racist redistricting up to a simple desire to maintain power rather than racism, but let’s not be stupid. Southern states, including and perhaps especially Texas, have a high number of racist individuals. If left to their own devices, they absolutely would not be nearly as fair in the way they treat voters.

Recently federal judges in San Antonio redrew district maps for Texas. They had ruled that the GOP-drawn maps did not reflect ‘minority’ (i.e., not white) population growth in the state. A halt has been placed on that redrawing because there are issues which need to be reviewed, but there is a good chance the Republican-favoring maps will need to be fixed. This, I think, demonstrates the fundamental problem with arbitrary redistricting rules. This is a state issue, but there is also too much subjectivity present in the federal process.

What the U.S. needs in order to fix this gerrymandering is an objective set of rules. They may need to be complicated since populations do not spread evenly across a region, plus most states are not fit into any given geometric shape. However, this is the only reasonable way to ensure that one of two parties does not become too powerful in a single state or region (provided that that power is unrepresentative of population dynamics). After all, ever wonder why the U.S. is so absolutely polarized? There are probably a number of factors at play, but the biggest one is almost certainly the concentration of power had via redistricting. Barney Frank isn’t representative of a huge number of people, but his current district makes it seem as though he is. (And in 2012, reality will be more well represented, hence why he won’t run again.) Michele Bachmann is a crazy idiot who is only in power because the odd shape of her district. If all this strangeness and subjectivity were removed, the result would be far more moderate politicians; no one would need to appeal to the craziest of the crazy in order to get votes since the crazies wouldn’t appear to be the majority.