Our view: Time to end despicable gerrymandering

January 6th, 2018 3:30 pm

It may be that we take it as a practice as loopy as its name. “Gerrymandering” sounds like something from kid’s fiction (“The lad’s called this particular type of lark “gerrymandering”), or a fantastic beast in the mind of a 5-year-old (“She was sure the speckled giant in the dark garden was a real gerrymander!” )

It could be a case of too remote to care. Odds are you read about gerrymandering in a civics textbook in middle or high school grades, and from the start, it lacked immediate impact on your daily life. Now it’s nothing but an echo of an echo.

Or perhaps it’s a problem of “everyone does it.” Sure, the GOP gerrymandered Pennsylvania’s legislative districts in 2011, but both parties do it. That’s why it never changes. The “out” party decries it, but no one changes a system they love when they are in charge.

Time to shake those mistaken ideas. Gerrymandering is a scourge on fair elections, a cancer eating democracy. If it seemed less dangerous in the past it probably was. When a party took advantage of controlling redistricting decades ago, they did it with a chainsaw. They clumsily carved out districts using only rough ideas on which voters lived where.

Now, they are using a computer-controlled laser. Big data and sophisticated software let self-serving politicians slice voting districts by the block, by the house, by the slimmest spit of land allowing them to join disparate precincts into a convoluted whole, creating districts that give their party the best chance of commanding the legislature while diminishing opportunity for the opposition.

It doesn’t matter what side you are on, modern gerrymandering is a quest to gain majority control of government without winning the hearts and minds of a majority of voters, and that’s anathema for democracy.

All of which makes a tepid ruling by state Commonwealth Court Judge Kevin Brobson in a lawsuit against the 2011 redistricting both disappointing — he ruled the plaintiffs didn’t sufficiently prove the redistricting was unconstitutional — and encouraging as it at least bumped the case to the state Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments Jan. 17.

Brobson’s recommended findings and conclusions are dry and long but worth reading (find it at www.pubintlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/, it’s the last link dated 17.12.29 in the list.) The evidence and testimony from the citizens who filed the case is glaringly obvious: Republicans made partisan considerations their top priority in redistricting.

Sure that’s always the case, but no one did it this effectively before. They split cities and municipalities that clearly should have remained whole, they connected blocs of like-minded voters with hair-thin strips of land, they carve whole cities out of one county to put into a district dominated by another county.

It was a despicable — and much too successful — attempt to let legislators pick their voters rather than voters pick legislators. The high court should review the case with an apolitical eye and rule this charade for what it was.

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