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Thread: Battle lines drawn over US electoral gerrymandering, as North Carolina's congressional map is struck down

  1. #1 Battle lines drawn over US electoral gerrymandering, as North Carolina's congressional map is struck down 
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    Gerrymandering dates back to the early 19th century and the nefarious activities of Elbridge Gerry




    10 JANUARY 2018 • 4:15PM

    An electoral map " motivated by invidious partisan intent" has been thrown out by two federal judges handing the Democrats a major victory on what is set to be one of the major political battlegrounds of 2018.


    The ruling, which saw North Carolina's congressional map struck down as unconstitutional on Tuesday, has nationwide implications and could pose a threat to Donald Trump's grip on Washington.


    As things stand elections for the House of Representatives will be fought on maps drawn after the 2010 census which, experts say, give the Republicans between 23 and 25 seats more than they are entitled to based on their share of the vote.


    Similar complaints have been made about maps for statewide elections, with allegations that gerrymandering for partisan political purposes is widespread.


    If voter ID law was the big political issue of the past few years, the fight over electoral redistricting is poised to be the battleground between the Democrats and Republicans in 2018.
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    3 Dec
    Laura Moser
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    Replying to @lcmoser
    3. And check out what they've done to North Carolina: pic.twitter.com/hSIFFvRomf


    Laura Moser
    @lcmoser



    4. Some of the jagged lines in the Texas 7th are easy to explain. That's Buffalo Bayou up on top. pic.twitter.com/dzteYorxTH
    2:52 PM - Dec 3, 2017






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    It has become the cause célèbre for Barack Obama since leaving office. He has joined forces with Eric Holder, who served as his Attorney General, and other leading Democrats in tackling a system which, they argue, gives the Republicans an inbuilt and unjustified advantage.


    Electoral maps in seven states are being challenged in the courts.

    The key case involves Wisconsin where the Supreme Court is due to rule on the legality of the Wisconsin electoral map, which gave the Republicans 60 out of 99 seats in the state assembly despite winning fewer votes than the Democrats.
    The ruling could have an impact on several other states where questions have been raised over the fairness of the maps.for both local and congressional elections.
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    What is happening?

    Gerrymandering is hardly new in American politics. It dates back to the early 19th century and the nefarious activities of Elbridge Gerry, one of the original signatories of the Declaration of Independence who eventually became US vice president.

    As governor of Massachusetts, he signed a law carving up the state's electoral map to suit his political party. The outline of one of Gerry's electoral districts looked like a salamander and thus the term gerrymander was born.

    Partisan tweaking of the electoral map has gone on ever since, but nowadays the practice does not rely on pouring over mountains of paper and yellowing charts.




    Sophisticated algorithms and computer programs make it possible to carry out the exercise with almost surgical precision. With a few clicks of a mouse, voters can be neatly parcelled up in a manner to suit the party in control of the exercise at the time.


    Electoral maps are redrawn every decade. In theory, they are supposed to be balanced and non-partisan.

    This time around the Republicans, working from the 2010 census, have been in the driving seat and they stand accused of blatantly cooking the electoral books - although the Democrats have not been averse to a bit of skullduggery in a couple of states.


    Elbridge Gerry CREDIT: BETTMANN/BETTMANN

    Research by the Brennan Centre for Justice, a non-partisan group which carries out research on the functioning of the US political system, is pretty damning.

    "On the troubling side, there is clear evidence that aggressive gerrymandering is distorting the nation’s congressional maps, resulting in both large and remarkably durable levels of partisan bias," it concluded.

    "We care about having elections which produce representative results," said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Centre. "Elections to Congress would be representative of the people as a whole."

    Where is it happening?

    Legislators in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Texas and Maryland have all been accused of fiddling the congressional maps for partisan purposes.

    However, the courts have already ordered Florida and Virginia to redraw their maps.

    Maps for state legislative elections have also been called into question, notably in Wisconsin where a key ruling is expected from the Supreme Court early in the new year.


    Which party is responsible? In the majority of these states, the Republicans are in control. However, questions have been raised about two Democrat-run states, Maryland and Illinois.

    How is it done? Electoral maps are redrawn after each census. They should ensure that the number of seats parties win in elections to either state assemblies or the House of Representatives in Washington equates to the number of votes they win in an election.
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    But in some states, voters have been sliced and diced to produce distorted results.

    In North Carolina, where the votes split fairly evenly between Democrats and Republicans, the GOP has 10 of the state's 13 seats in the House of Representatives. Pennsylvania, another "50-50" state has 13 Republicans in and 5 Democrats in the lower house.

    But the map came unstuck when Judge James Wynn delivered a withering condemnation of the Republicans manipulation of the electoral districts.

    Those drawing up the maps have access to a wealth of data which enables them to make an educated guess how people are likely to vote.

    At its crudest black and low-income voters can find themselves crammed into a handful of electoral districts, but such gerrymandering is extremely vulnerable to legal challenge.


    There are now far more sophisticated techniques. Catalist, for example, which has carried out work for the Democrats, crunches 700 different bits of information including shopping patterns, frequent buyer cards and even whether somebody holds a hunting licence to predict how somebody is likely to vote.


    Why Does it matter?

    Critics such as Miles Rapoport, a fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Centre, believe that the distorted maps are unfair.

    "Voters in districts which are completely uncompetitive because it has been gerrymandered find their vote has lost its meaning.

    "Races become uncompetitive and I think that hurts our politics. It can be very unfair for a party which is out of power and they get very limited representation.

    "It has a major impact on congressional elections It is estimated 23 to 25 more seats would have been won by the Democrats if there had been fair districting.

    "It will make it very hard for the party to take the house unless there is a landslide."

    Mr Rapoport believes the current map means that the Democrats will have to win the congressional elections by more than 10 points to take control of the House of Representatives.
    "This is remarkable and undemocratic."


    The Candidate

    Laura Moser is the Democratic candidate for Texas's seventh congressional district.
    The vote across Texas splits roughly 50-50, but currently Texas has 25 Republican members of Congress and the Democrats 11.


    Laura Moser CREDIT: WASHINGTON POST

    While optimistic about her chances in next year's election, she fears that the redistricting efforts of Republicans have made her job rather more difficult than it should be.
    "In some cases, they are picking the voters that they want. In my district, they have shaved some voters off in the east. This district was not drawn to be competitive."
    She has posted the intricately drawn electoral maps on Twitter. They show a line arbitrarily drawn halfway long a couple of streets or a single block taken out of her district
    "Gerrymandering might seem technical, but the unexpectedly huge response to my thread shows that people are wising up. They have long suspected that the system is rigged, and these maps lay it out in a way everyone can understand."
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    5. But let's zoom in a little more, where things start to get really bizarre. Why, for example, is one block of Linkwood Drive excluded from the district? pic.twitter.com/FWsxadNhcq


    Laura Moser
    @lcmoser



    6. Or here, in my neighborhood of West University: why are half of Pemberton and Fenwood in a different district? pic.twitter.com/s0WGaqcnOY
    2:55 PM - Dec 3, 2017






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    "England once had its rotten boroughs," she added. "I am not going to claim that I would definitely win but for gerrymandering, but the odds are stacked against me."

    The Wisconsin Case

    Bill Whitford, 77, is a retired law professor, an avid biker, backpacker and basketball fan. He is also the lead plaintiff in what some observers believe is the most important electoral law case in three decades.


    Within the next few months the Supreme Court will rule in the case of Whitford and Gill - Gill being Beverley Gill, the chairman of the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
    In Wisconsin, the Commission used the 2010 census to redraw the electoral map in such a manner, it is alleged, to tilt the electoral balance in favour of the Republicans.


    Bill Whitford CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN

    In the 2012 and 2014 elections the Democrats won more votes than their Republican opponents, but the GOP took 60 of the 99 state assembly seats.

    The Republicans in Wisconsin denied fiddling the map, arguing that it merely reflected the way in which the population is distributed in the state with Democrat voters concentrated in urban areas while GOP voters are spread more evenly across the state as a whole.

    However, the lower courts disagreed, throwing out the 2011 redistricting plan, ruling that it was an “an aggressive partisan gerrymander” that locked in a Republican majority in the state assembly under “any likely electoral scenario.”
    Wisconsin has asked the Supreme Court to reinstate the 2011 map and overturn the original decision.
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    Nice
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