Action Alert: Building a path to the end of gerrymandering

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Our representatives are selecting their voters, as opposed to the voters selecting the representatives.  This is a situation that I think the American people should not accept.

–Barack Obama, 2/8/06

The disgusting act of gerrymandering is when partisan interests take control of the redistricting process, which is when congressional and legislative districts are redrawn and is usually conducted by state legislatures after the census, and use it to benefit incumbents and specific parties.  This is one of the more corrupt practices in state government – if you can believe that! – and is one of the more destructive forces on our republic today.

But there is good news.  There is a growing movement to end gerrymandering.  In 2008, Californians passed Prop 11, which moved the responsibility of redistricting from the legislature (who, like many other state legislatures, drew their own districts to their own advantage) to a nonpartisan committee.  Now, a group in Florida is trying to put an end to gerrymandering through yet another ballot initiative, and they need your help today more than ever, no matter where you live in the country.

Ben Franklin once famously said that America has a “republic, if you can keep it.”  One of the key elements of that republic is how our representatives are elected, and one of the key elements of that is the shape of their districts.  The shape of a district determines partisan and demographic composition of the voters, and can therefore determine the outcome of elections.  State legislators use this to their advantage – so much so that in every election for the past decade or so about 40% of state legislators have run unopposed (because their district is so gerrymandered that the other parties don’t even bother running someone).  Gerrymandering has been used to disenfranchise minority voters by both parties in the recent past (that’s why some Southern states need to report to the DoJ with their redistricting proposals before they can pass), whether it’s by concentrating minorities into one or two districts in a state or spreading them out so much that they’re an insignificant voting bloc.  Basically, gerrymandering makes politics less competitive, and therefore less responsive to the people.

But if you’re concerned about this problem (as you definitely should be) then today is your lucky day.  FairDistrictsFlorida.org is an organization that is trying to get an initiative on the ballot in Florida that would limit the gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts, and today they’re calling for as many donations as they can get.  They need to raise over $140,000 to pay for the processing fee that the state will charge them to validate the 1.4 million + signatures they’ve gathered to put this on the ballot.

As of my writing this, the organization has raised over $36,000 today.  But they still need your help – that’s only 360,000 signatures that they’ll be able to process if it stops there.  You can donate here, and I really encourage you to do so; grassroots movements like this are the only way we’re going to end gerrymandering.

If you’re curious about what exactly FairDistrictsFlorida.org is putting on the ballot, then here it is:

BALLOT SUMMARY: Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an

incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal

opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be

contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and

where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

FULL TEXT: Add a new section 20 to Article III

Section 20. STANDARDS FOR ESTABLISHING CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT BOUNDARIES

In establishing Congressional district boundaries:

(1) No apportionment plan or individual district shall be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party or an incumbent; and

districts shall not be drawn with the intent or result of denying or abridging the equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to

participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice; and districts shall consist of

contiguous territory.

(2) Unless compliance with the standards in this subsection conflicts with the standards in subsection (1) or with federal law, districts shall

be as nearly equal in population as is practicable; districts shall be compact; and districts shall, where feasible, utilize existing political and

geographical boundaries.

(3) The order in which the standards within sub-sections (1) and (2) of this section are set forth shall not be read to establish any priority of

one standard over the other within that subsection.

It is the same for state legislative districts, but with “legislative” instead of “congressional.”  You can read it for yourself here.

This may sound like a bit of a vague law that is hard to enforce, and that may be the case at first.  But it sets up limits for the state legislators to operate within, and if someone believes that they aren’t operating within the law, they can sue to make sure that the districts are fair.  Also, passing this law will send a message to the Florida legislature that gerrymandering won’t be tolerated by their constituents, and will hopefully curb gerrymandering on its own.

So, if you haven’t already, PLEASE DONATE!  And if you live in Florida, make sure to sign up to volunteer!

4 comments

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    • rossl on September 9, 2009 at 11:35 pm
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    Give money to end gerrymandering!

    • pico on September 12, 2009 at 12:35 am

    is on the issue of Prop 11, which we’ll have to see in effect before we can say whether it was a positive step.  Now the two parties have veto power over the redistricting process, which on the one hand prevents either party from unfairly deciding the lines, but on the other hand both consolidates the two-party system and also cedes an enormous amount of power to Republicans, which is kind of a bad thing in California.  But you’re right that the older process was a bad one, and we’re feeling out better solutions.

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