The Serious Game of Gerrymandering

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Posted: May 09, 2011 12:01 AM

Hey, kids.  It’s that time of decade again; Gerrymandering Season!

The more that I engage in politics, the more amazed I am at how thoroughly America’s founding fathers addressed matters of federalism.  Yet, one of the necessary mechanisms that they gave us for representative government stands out as severely lacking in sufficient safeguards from mischief.

Every ten years, in response to migration and changes in population, the nation evenly divides up its 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives.  According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “the census has one fundamental purpose: to ensure that the representation of each state in the U.S. House of Representatives reflects the relative size of its population as compared with other states.”

The census has another effect not directed by the Census Bureau.  The legislature of every state redraws their congressional districts to distribute the population evenly among their United States Representatives.  Based on the 2010 census, every member of Congress represents an average of 709,760 people.

Way back in 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry gave strategic redistricting a bad name when he wrapped one district around nearly two-thirds of another.  The ink was barely dry on the Federalist Papers when this stratagem was first invented.  Soon after releasing the first gerrymander (amalgamation of Gerry and salamander) into the wild, Edbridge Gerry was rewarded with election as America’s 5th Vice President.

Over the past 150 years, the courts have attempted to temper the effects of gerrymandering with rulings that require districts to be contiguous and compact, respect racial and other demographics, and not give the advantage to one political party.  Yet, the old parlor tricks continue to come out soon after every census result is announced.

Earlier this week, I participated in my state’s redistricting debate by testifying to both chambers of the Colorado legislature.  During the Republican huddle before we broke for testimony, the Republican state legislators conjectured that the Democrats were trying to gerrymander Colorado into a 5 to 2 advantage in the congressional delegation.

The first testimony we heard was provided by a county level chairman of the Democratic Party who opened up with, “The Republicans are trying to gerrymander Colorado into a 5 to 2 advantage in the congressional delegation.”  His statement gave credence to the adage that once you identify with a particular party, the world is edited to fit with your ideology.

The apex of the philosophical argument is whether each district should reflect a competitive mix of party affiliation or communities of interest.  In other words, even distributions of Republicans & Democrats or clustering of farmlands versus suburbs.  I believe that representation in Congress according to communities of interest was the founders’ original intent, moderated by the each state also having two U.S. Senators (effectively dorked up by the 17th Amendment).

My fellow Republican citizens and I did not share our redistricting testimony at the State Capitol out of the motivation of being fair.  We are motivated by fear – fear of Colorado getting caught in the same vortex that is pulling California into the economic sewer.  The state that gave us Ronald Reagan now seems to be engineered for perpetual liberal domination through expert Democratic Party redistricting.

For an enlightening and entertaining exploration of the reapportionment challenge, try your hand at gerrymandering with the online Redistricting Game, developed by the USC School of Cinema-Television: www.redistrictinggame.org.

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