Manchester hosts gerrymandering presentation
Last week more than thirty Manchester Area voters gathered in the High School Library to learn about gerrymandering in Michigan. The Wednesday, June 14th event was hosted by local groups and brought the non-partisan Voters Not Politicians Regional Director, Andrew Banka, to town to talk about this widely-used but little-understood political practice. Banka’s presentation explained gerrymandering and the problems surrounding it, and the ballot initiative Voters Not Politicians is crafting to combat the practice.
What is gerrymandering?
Every ten years, the US Constitution mandates that a census be taken of the residents of every state. Using this count of people, each state is then directed to draw congressional districts (as well as districts for state and local elections). In practice, the elected state legislature draws the actual lines, with the requirement that the districts have an equal number of people in it. But there are very few rules guiding the shape of the district, and even fewer guiding the balance of voters within a given district. So, when Democrats are in power, they draw the map to the advantage of Democrats, and the same is true when Republicans are in power. Specifically, the party in power draws as many districts that advantage their party, and try to pack the opposing party voters into as few districts as possible. (Where people choose to live also plays a role in these imbalances, but experts disagree about how much.) So, while Michigan has an almost perfectly split 48% to 47% R to D electorate, our congressional delegation is 9 Republicans and 5 Democrats.
The primary consequence of gerrymandering is political polarization. Safe districts make it so that primary elections are more consequential than general elections, because the seat is safe for one or the other party. If a general election is important, it forces each party to appeal to the other party’s voters in order to win; this makes the winner more moderate. But if the district is already red or blue, then the primary election forces candidates to compete for the party base, pulling the winner to the extreme edge of the party.
If you ever wondered why Facebook was so unpleasant, gerrymandering plays a big role in this.
The morning of the presentation, in Alexandria, Virginia, an ardent and despondent Bernie Sanders voter named James T. Hodgkinson poked his rifle barrel through the chain link fence of a baseball diamond and shot several people, including Republican Congressman and Majority Whip Steve Scalise. Hodgkinson was then shot and killed by Capital Area Police.
Before the presentation began, Village Council President Pat Valliencourt introduced the evening by addressing the shooting, saying, “Given what happened earlier today, I think it is important to remember that we are all Americans, that we all love our country, and we all have a responsibility to make it work.” She went on to encourage everyone in the audience to take the presentation seriously, and to think very hard about our voting system.