Gerrymanders appear here to stay

“Gerrymander” comes from an 1812 attempt by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry to gain political advantage by contorting a district into a salamander shape.

According to Doc Elder, local history professor and radio personality, 34 state legislatures control the drawing of congressional districts. Other states vary, or only have one representative.

Wendel Sloan

Wendel Sloan

“Power can be either concentrated or diluted by gerrymandering,” said Elder. “Some states create congressional districts that concentrate a minority into one enclave. This virtually guarantees the district will have a representative amenable to the minority group, but denies them a chance to influence other congressional elections.

“Conversely, some states have created districts that put minorities in a number of enclaves, without a legitimate chance to influence outcomes.”

Elder thinks gerrymandering is bad for democracy.

Citing North Carolina, Elder said 51 percent of votes cast in 2012 congressional races went to Democrats. In a democracy, that should mean seven of the 13 House seats would go to Democrats.

But because of the Republican-controlled state legislature, most registered Democrats were lumped into four districts.

So Republicans captured nine of 13 seats while receiving 49 percent of votes.

Nationwide in 2012, Democratic congressional candidates received a plurality by more than 1.4 million votes (1.2 percent), but Republicans won a 33-seat advantage.

“This is clearly not ‘democracy’ as one would usually interpret the word,” said Elder.

Ben Lujan’s 3rd congressional district in New Mexico has 100,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, according to Elder. Steve Pearce’s 2nd district has voted Republican in 16 of 17 elections.

“This seems to be gerrymandering. However, New Mexico’s three districts were mandated by a district court judge in 2011, using essentially 2002 boundaries — so it cannot be blamed on legislative action,” Elder said.

“A fair method of representation would be a proportional division of seats within a state,” said Elder. “Sadly, I do not foresee such a compromise being adopted.”


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