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11.11.2004

What's wrong with a little gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering is a major part of the political power struggle these days, and has been for a long time. The question is, is it right? While it has worked out for my party, the Republican Party of Texas, I do have some serious questions as to the effect it has on our democracy.

While some of the ill effects of gerrymandering was recognized and addressed in the the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that law only outlaws redrawing of district lines for the purpose of reducing the influence of a ethnic group, it does not address re-districting for the purpose of increasing a party's political power. This certainly recognizes that gerrymandering can impact an individual's personal voting influence, but it only addresses ethnicity.

There are two schools of thought on this,
  • The party in power controls the state legislature, and they can redraw the lines in a manner that they think benefits the state which, of course, results in an improvement in their electoral situation. As they are the elected representatives of the people, the people are represented in the decisions, thus the decision is legitimate.
  • This process cuts out many people whose district may not even be in play in most races as a result of the redistricting. This unduly hurts the communities as their representative is not forced to take into account all views of the community, just the slices of several communities which happen to make up their district.
The funny thing is, both of these views may just be right. The decision is legitimate in a representative government, as the process and results are constitutional and reflect the views of the peoples' representatives; and it does weaken the dissenting voices in a community at the same time.

Here is the problem though, as a result of population redistribution re-districting must occur, and to confer legitimacy upon the decision it should be done by an elected, not appointed, body. However, there is no way that one can fairly mandate how districts are drawn. The diversity of cities, populations, geography and demographics in a given state dictate that districts be drawn on a case-by-case basis to ensure fairness, but as we have seen it can also introduce a different inequity.

So what is my solution? I don't have one.

While I feel that gerrymandering is inherently unfair to many, there is no real way in my opinion to fairly dictate how to re-district. If someone has an idea, I'd love to hear it, but I am afraid that any system that replaces the current one would be unfair, just in a different way. Professor Bainbridge suggests President Bush take it up as a legacy builder and Megan McArdle agrees, but I'm not so sure that is something Karl Rove would like to mess with. Meanwhile as a Republican (or a Democrat, it would not change my opinion) if its legal, do it. It advances your party's agenda, which is in the best interest of you members. Fair? No, but sometimes that's life.


UPDATE: Instapundit has some more perspectives on gerrymandering.

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