Tuesday, April 05, 2011

County Redistricting is a joke

My column in the News/Messenger this morning is about the extreme district maps put out by the Senate Democrats in an attempt not only to elect more democrats, but also to protect their specific incumbents; the house did much the same, with slightly better maps. But here at home, our own county maps are much the same, only in this case they seem to be drawn to punish lesser-liked incumbents, while protecting favored incumbents from challenges within their own party. I don't like gerrymandering to eek out better outcomes for a party. I'm less concerned about competitive races than I used to be, because I'm tired of having to care so much about who wins an election. I used to feel that while there would be differences, both candidates would act mostly for the good of their constituents. I certainly don't feel that way about a lot of democrats anymore, and as I said in my column, I imagine democrats feel the same about republicans. But there is a difference between splitting voters so that more conservatives are grouped together in one place, and more liberals in another, and splitting so one party wins more than their votes suggest. In some ways, the first is good grouping, putting like-minded people with similar concerns together. But when a state like New Jersey has 52% republican vote, but only 41% republican representation in the legislator, that's a problem. Bringing it back to the county, if the county had a majority democratic vote, it would be silly to still have a board split 6-2 for republicans, and it wouldn't reflect reality. Worse, while I would personally love the representation, it would frustrate those who felt cut out by the system itself. Our society can exist peacefully only to the extent that the people believe they have a say. When the Supreme Court says "abortion is legal, no matter what the people want", it causes strife, tension, and a feeling of disempowerment. Likewise, when one political party's voters feel that, no matter what they do, they can't get a majority because they all have to vote in one or two districts, it will make them rightfully angry, and they will feel powerless and hopeless to change things in the civil manner of elections. I love conservatives winning elections, because they have better solutions. I love when they can convince the mass of independents that conservative principles are better, and can get re-elected because, regardless of party, the people they represent feel appropriately represented, and just WANT to re-elect them. I wouldn't want to appoint conservatives to rule against the will of the people. In some ways, extreme gerrymandering does just that -- artificially puts one party in power at the expense of the will of the people expressed through the vote. You can't expect there NOT to be some games played with the redistricting maps, and I wouldn't want to put the process in the hands of unelected people with unknown biases and no accountability. Technically, we can vote people out if we don't like how they draw the maps, although I realise the maps are drawn to help them NOT be voted out. So, if I had to change ONE thing about redistricting, I would do this: No map takes effect until after an election held for the people who drew the map. This would mirror the federal constitutional rule that no raise takes effect until an ensuing election. That way, if the elected officials take too much of a liberty with the lines, the aggrieved voters can respond by voting them out. To make that useful, we'd also have to have a rule that every map needs two votes, with the second after the election. Unfortunately, this could drag the process on forever, so maybe instead there could be a referenda on the maps with a simple up/down vote of the electorate. For the county maps, there is an emergency meeting on April 17th. Show up and show your disapproval of maps drawn to protect incumbents at the expense of the voters. Explain why you don't want to vote in different precincts that aren't even in your district, and why your neighborhood wants to vote together, and not be split between districts.

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