Gerrymandering, How We (Finally) Got Here
I’m married to a lovely human who was raised and taught to believe that Republicans represented his economic, if not his human, interests. And I’m not gonna lie, it nearly broke us. He didn’t vote for he who must not be named, but he did vote for a unicorn in 2016. And we couldn’t engage around politics at all for months (which in practical terms meant we barely spoke) until it became clear to him that what was playing out on the National stage wasn’t just absurd but was truly and deeply dangerous.
In the intervening months, when he was trying to figure out what the hell had happened to the Republican order that he had relied on all of his adult life I kept offering the same refrain: “gerrymandering is what enshrines minority rule.” He would counter with things like “how about term limits?” Okay, maybe, but couldn’t we also draw fair maps? “Social Media?” Sure, but if the maps weren’t drawn to favor the ruling minority, social media wouldn’t have the same influence; it couldn’t convince people that down was up and up was down.
I offer no opinion on term limits, which are on nobody’s agenda, and smarter people than I will comment on social media. But this is the year that every state with more than one Congressional District redraws their maps based on the decennial Census. And the Census is likely flawed, intentionally, by having been interfered with by various minions of Individual 1, and by the pandemic, which was also . . . oh never mind.
A couple of maps to illustrate the issue
This is a visual of Florida CDs 4 and 5. CD 4, the district in which my friend Donna Deegan ran “like her hair was on fire” in 2020 covers all of the very red county of Nassau to the North of Jacksonville, and most of the very red county of St Johns to the South of Jacksonville. The City of Jacksonville is coterminous with Duval County. From the County in the center of the district, the map is drawn in such a way that District 5 carves out the “urban core” of Jacksonville, (and we all know what “urban” is code for, right?) and then shoots across the northern border of Florida a two-hour drive to Tallahassee. It is an absurdly shaped district. Not as bad as Jim Jordan’s in Ohio, but pretty bad.
Then there’s this one, on the extreme right, which seems to carve out CD 18 as the lone Republican District among its neighbors for Brian Mast. CD 20 creeps into a lot of other Districts, but the only beneficiary is 18. If folks with more local knowledge would like to weigh in, we’d be happy to hear about it.
What is a State Legislature to Do?
- The Florida State Legislature, which went home last March and hid in their man-caves until November, then went back to Tallahassee and announced that the pandemic was “not their problem to solve”, is perfectly capable of punting on this. However, they are mandated to redraw the maps ahead of the 2022 election.
- They likely won’t get state data from the Census until at least October, which will give them an historically late start, but if they are interested in being proactive (all evidence to the contrary), they could start the process using other datasets, then verify and double-check their choices once they get final numbers from the Census.
- This is an approach that is being used by beltway think tanks, like the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and has been suggested in numerous articles.
- The Constitution contains language about the Census but doesn’t mandate it as the sole source of re-districting data.
- It’s also possible to do this in other ways: non-partisan commissions, algorithms that spit out districts based on population, recognized neighborhoods, zip codes, county boundaries and other variables that are not “streets Republican legislators recognize as containing likely R voters.”
- They won’t do any of this, of course
- It’s just important to create a record that there are other ways of proceeding.
Here’s an indication that they’re not interested in fixing this problem:
This situation happens in every election cycle that ends in a ‘2. And apparently, in past ‘2 cycles, Florida candidates were allowed to gather petitions from any voter anywhere across the state, until the maps were settled—because who knew where the lines would be? After all, the district I live in, which starts in the Northeast corner of FL, once ran due South to the Florida Keys. But this year, the Florida Supervisor of Elections has published it’s booklet on collecting ballot petitions—see the first blog in this series about how screwed up that system is—and they are mandating that all of the required thousands of ballots are from “the district” one is running in, even though those district lines will not be known for months.