Monday, April 04, 2011

How the Voting Rights Act contributes to gerrymandering

The Voting Rights Act requires some states to maintain "majority-minority" districts. These districts exist in the belief that only minorities can represent minorities. A black person can only be represented by a person with the same skin color. An African-American, by virtue of the color of their skin, has more in common with other people who have the same skin color, than they do with people in the community they choose to live in. That's the principle. For decades, it has been used to dilute the power of minorities, by herding them together into their own districts, so they can't interfere with the elections in other districts. Perversely, by granting people representatives matching their skin color, the Act has forced in many cases incompetent representation on a large segment of our population, eliminated their ability to choose candidates by essentially building "can't-lose" districts where they chosen democrat wins the primary or caucus and cruises to victory. The report of the Independent Bipartisan Commission on Redistricting hits on this problem without emphasizing it (H/T to Virginia Virtucon):
Voting Rights Act Requirements. Because an increasingly mobile African-American population means that they do not always reside in distinct communities, drawing compact majority-minority districts while maintaining communities of interest became the greatest challenge facing the student teams. So, given the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, student teams sometimes sacrificed compactness in order to achieve the appropriate number of majority-minority districts.
Let's parse that. "Increasingly mobile African-American population" means that the blacks are no longer sequestered in their own compact segregated communities, but instead are integrating into communities throughout the state. This apparently is a problem that we have to solve. "They do not always reside in distinct communities" -- they are blended in with other non-minorities, sharing communities, facilities, and having common interest with people of different races, colors, and creeds. Rather than allowing themselves to be identified by the color of their skin, these minorities have chosen to live with people they have something REAL in common with. Kind of like you don't have a community made up of sexy blonde women -- people don't restrict themselves to living with people who "look like me" anymore. "drawing compact majority-minority districts while maintaining communities of interest" -- it would be nice if this meant what it said -- that they were balancing the needs of the VRA in creating majority-minority districts with the real-world idea of instead grouping people with REAL common interest, not just common melatonin levels. Unfortunately, it's clear that's not what is meant -- because of the "drawing compact districts" caveat. It would be easy to draw a compact district that put communities of interest together, if they meant communities of real interest. So clearly, they mean "communities of interest" to mean "common skin color". The implication is that even though blacks have moved away from each other, they still share this common bond that is more important than the bonds they have chosen to be important. So we drag them back together, by the color of their skin, because the VRA knows better than them what their "community" really is. "sacrificed compactness in order to achieve the appropriate number of majority-minority districts" -- see, the blacks chose to live amongst the non-minorities, so we sacrificed drawing districts based on where people live, so as to cut out the blacks from where they live and virtually put them back in their sequestered, segregated "communities" they chose to abandon as meaningless. The VRA was passed in a time when the Rev. Martin Luther King could only dream of an age when people would be judged, and seen, by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. He could hardly imagine that, decades later, the very laws which were supposed to start that process instead perpetuates it. It is time to abandon the voting rights act, and let the minority community do what the rest of us minorities do -- choose who we associate with, and fight amongst other minorities over who will represent us. Sure, they might not elect a minority, but they will have a stronger voice as more elected officials are beholden to their support. Rather than one crank special-interest representative everybody can ignore, there will be a half-dozen serious representatives who need to serve their constituents of all colors. And if that means the minority community doesn't get what they want, they can join the club, with all the religious minorities who are underrepresented, all the social conservatives who fight to be heard, all the environmentalists who don't get to be grouped together in a voting block, and all the other frankly more reasonable groupings that could exist. Like I said, nobody takes all the blue-eyed, brown-haired people and thinks they need a blue-eyed, brown-haired representative -- because we know how silly it would be to think that every blue-eyed person thinks alike, or has the same interests. It's time to stop pretending every minority cares about the same things, thinks primarily of themselves as that minority, and has a unique set of concerns that couldn't possibly be understood by people with the wrong skin tone.

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