Gerrymandering-- Both Sides Do It... True But Only One Side Does It Enough To Base Its Entire Future On
Earlier today we took a look at some pretty good news from North Carolina which, admittedly, has been pretty depressing lately for progressives. Though not as depressing as it once was. Sunday, David Frum, in his review of Robert Norrell's biography of Booker T. Washington, Up From History, reminded us how racist sociopath Alfred Waddell became mayor of Wilmington back when the Democrats were the party of bigotry and racism and the Republicans were still vaguely anti-racist.
Alfred Waddell, an out-of-favor politician remaking himself as a white-nationalist leader, became the most vitriolic nativist firebrand. 'You are Anglo-Saxons,' Waddell told a crowd. 'Go to the polls tomorrow, and if you find the negro out voting tell him to leave the polls, and if he refuses, kill him, shoot him down in his tracks.' In early November tens of thousands of black men were too frightened to vote, and the Democrats regained control of North Carolina. Two days after the election, Waddell led a mob in destroying [Wilmington's leading black newspaper]. They gathered the resignation of all Republican city officials at gunpoint, and Waddell was named mayor.That was in the late 1800s, when the Southern racists were busy undoing the advances African-Americans had made right after the Civil War. As Frum points out, "The 1890s were the decade in which Jim Crow had been formalized; in the 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to the segregation of public conveyances and inscribed the phrase 'separate but equal' into American law... Since the withdrawal of federal troops in the 1870s, these [former Confederate] states had asserted an increasingly extreme white domination over the former slaves. State governments had deprived freed blacks of the right to vote and sit on juries. They had sliced contributions to black education to pitiful fractions of the small enough investment in the education of white children. They had adopted increasingly formalized rules of racial subordination in public places. This system of domination was enforced by violence and the threat of violence. The violence was usually informal-- 'racial terrorism' as Robert Norrell aptly calls it-- but not always. Local authorities actively connived in it. State governments accepted it. And while the federal government might occasional issue some deploring statement, it seldom if ever did anything to prevent the violence."
Waddell's mob swelled to 2,000 men, including whites from all classes and vocations. When a shot hit one of them, the mob raged through Wilmington, with whites hunting down blacks in running gun battles through the city streets. The gunfire alerted militias and vigilante groups from outside the city to join the attack. Literally thousands of blacks ran for their lives. As many as 300 African Americans may have been killed. Eyewitnesses later recounted seeing wagon carts piled high with dead black bodies being removed from the city… The riot depopulated Wilmington of its large black majority.
Today, the political racism of conservatives is manifest differently-- although with similar results. Despicable and unevolved self-serving rightists still get elected to office by screaming "Nigger" and dividing working people so they'll vote against their own families well-being. No matter how many times you've watched this, you haven't watched it frequently enough:
In Sunday's NY Times, Sam Wang explained how the Republican Party has made racism work for itself politically... and not just in the Old slave states it now completely dominates.
Having the first modern democracy comes with bugs. Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin.
...Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued a progress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.
...In North Carolina, where the two-party House vote was 51 percent Democratic, 49 percent Republican, the average simulated delegation was seven Democrats and six Republicans. The actual outcome? Four Democrats, nine Republicans-- a split that occurred in less than 1 percent of simulations. If districts were drawn fairly, this lopsided discrepancy would hardly ever occur.
Confounding conventional wisdom, partisan redistricting is not symmetrical between the political parties. By my seat-discrepancy criterion, 10 states are out of whack: the five I have mentioned [Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin], plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, Texas was a combination of Republican and federal court efforts, and Illinois was controlled by Democrats. Republicans designed the other seven maps. Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.
...Gerrymandering is a major form of disenfranchisement. In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.
...Some legislators have flirted with the idea of gerrymandering the presidency itself under the guise of Electoral College reform. In one short-lived plan, Virginia State Senator Charles Carrico sponsored legislation to allocate electoral votes by Congressional district. In contrast to the current winner-take-all system, which usually elects the popular vote winner, Mr. Carrico’s proposal applied nationwide would have elected Mitt Romney, despite the fact that he won five million fewer votes than Mr. Obama. This is basically an admission of defeat by Republicans in swing states. Mr. Carrico’s constituents might well ask whether these changes serve their interests or those of the Republican National Committee.
To preserve majority rule and minority representation, redistricting must be brought into fairer balance. I propose two plans. First, let’s establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 states. In Ohio, one such ballot measure failed in November, in part because of a poorly financed campaign. Maybe those who prodded voters to turn out could support future initiatives.
Second, we need to adopt a statistically robust judicial standard for partisan gerrymandering. In the Supreme Court’s Vieth v. Jubelirer case, in 2004, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy voted against intervention in chicanery in Pennsylvania, but left the door open for future remedies elsewhere if a clear standard could be established.
The great gerrymander of 2012 came 200 years after the first use of this curious word, which comes from the salamander-shaped districts signed into law by Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. Gov. Gerry’s party engineered its electoral coup using paper maps and ink. But the advent of inexpensive computing and free software has placed the tools for fighting politicians who draw absurd districts into the hands of citizens like you and me.
Politicians, especially Republicans facing demographic and ideological changes in the electorate, use redistricting to cling to power. It’s up to us to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all, our House.