Friday, January 25, 2013

One man, lots of votes


Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts in 1812, signed a bill into law that redistricted his state so as to guarantee that his political party would have way more than its fair share of seats in the Legislature and in Congress.

One of those new districts looked more like a salamander than a legislative district and led to the term “gerrymandering.” The concept and the practice are not limited to the 1800s. Gerry’s is a system of one man worth lots of votes and another man not so many.

In the elections just past, gerrymandered congressional districts in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have allowed Republicans to retain a 33-seat majority in the U.S. House despite losing the popular vote to Democrats by an aggregate of 1.1 million votes. And while Gov. Gerry is long gone, Republican National Committee Chair Reince Pribus and his henchmen are seeking ways to use the same skewed districts to guarantee a Republican presidential victory in the Electoral College even if they come up millions of individual votes short.

In 1964, in the case known as Reynolds v. Sims, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the basic democratic concept of one person one vote. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Earl Warren said, “Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests.” In other words, each citizen’s vote should count the same no matter for which party or candidate it is cast.

Let us hope for the good of the nation that the political establishment and the courts will put an end to today’s undemocratic gerrymandering tomfoolery. 




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