Voters Don’t Decide Who Wins; Map Drawers Do

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

Top: Republicans control 13 of Pennsylvania’s 18 Congressional Districts. Bottom: Alternative map, drawn by State Senator Daylin Leach, gives Democrats control of 13 districts.

As a democracy, we are proud of our electoral system: We assume that citizens, through their vote, wield the ultimate power over our government and determine who shall represent them.

However, this is not the case in reality. Rather, legislatures, through their redistricting authority, draw electoral maps specifically engineered to re-elect themselves and their colleagues.

In 2012, the majority of Pennsylvanians (50.24%) voted for Democratic candidates for Congress while 48.74% who voted for Republicans, and 1.02% who voted for other candidates.

However, Democratic candidates prevailed in only five of the 18 congressional districts: Bob Brady and Chaka Fattah in Philadelphia, Mike Doyle in Pittsburgh, Allyson Schwartz in the Philadelphia suburbs, and Matt Cartwright in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Was this simply a matter of luck?

Packing and Cracking

The district map was designed to pack as many democrats as possible into these five districts. Fattah, for example cruised to victory with 89.28% of the votes, versus 9.37% for Robert Mansfield and 1.35% for James Foster.

By forcing the Democratic voters to “waste” votes in districts where they are a super-majority, the Republican politicians are able to construct 13 districts with sensible Republican majorities.

Conversely, Democratic seats in other Democratic strongholds such as Harrisburg and the Pittsburgh suburbs were prevented by cracking those areas into pieces and diluting them with outlying areas that lean Republican.

In other words, voters do not choose the representatives who share their values; rather, the legislators wielding their pens choose the constituents whose support they can count on in the voting booth.

The rest of the article, and TED Talk by State Sen. Daylin Leach, follow the jump.
Since the redistricting process was controlled by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and the Republican majorities in the state House, State Senate and Legislative Reapportionment Commission, it is not surprising that the results are skewed in favor of the Republicans as far as mathematically and legally possible.

If Democrats Drew the Map

To illustrate how easily the results can be skewed in the opposite direction, Pennsylvania State Senator Daylin Leach drew a map, which shows Democratic majorities in 13 congressional districts, and Republican majorities in the remaining five districts.

In other words, if the map had been different, the congressional election could have been completely reversed — 13-5 instead of 5-13 — without a single Pennsylvanian changing his vote. What a farce our elections have become!

In fact, one could draw an even more skewed map, with more homogeneous districts, giving Democrats small majorities in every single district, and leaving the Republicans with no representation at all.

Could it be argued that the Republican-skewed map was dictated by the rules and the demographics, rather than by political interests?

Both Leach’s map and the actual map feature contiguous districts almost equal in population. However, Leach’s map has more “compact” districts, whereas the actual map has districts which meander across the state in search of pockets of Democrats or Republicans as the case may be.

Furthermore, the Pennsylvania State Constitution requires legislative districts to avoid splitting counties, cities, towns, boroughs, townships and wards “unless absolutely necessary.” Some splitting is necessary, because Philadelphia is too large to fit inside single district. However, Leach’s map has three fewer splits than the  map adopted by the state assembly.

Our state’s congressional delegation should be truly representative of the makeup of our state, and the Pennsylvania State Constitution should be amended to enshrine this principle into law.

Obama Supplied Israel with Bunker-Busting Bombs

— by Ariela Fleisig

It was reported last night that President Barack Obama covertly authorized an unprecedented amount of aid to the Israeli military, including bunker-busting bombs.

Politico’s Mackenzie Weinger reported that Obama authorized the sale of deep-penetrating bombs to Israel, a deal that President George W. Bush consistently rejected:

Just a few months after taking office, Obama authorized the delivery of 55 deep-penetrating bombs to Israel, Newsweek will detail in an article appearing on Monday. Israeli and U.S. officials told Newsweek that Israel first requested the ‘GBU-28 Hard Target Penetrators’ in 2005, but the Bush administration did not okay the deal. Then, in 2007, President George W. Bush told Israel he would order the bombs for the country and release them in 2009 or 2010.

Obama delivered the weapons in 2009, the report says. While Israel had developed the capability to make its own deep-penetrating bombs, officials said, the U.S. sale was less expensive.

Weinger also noted:

The article will include additional information on the U.S.’s covert efforts to assist the Israeli military. U.S. Rep. Steve Rothman (D-N.J.) told the magazine that Obama issued ‘orders to the military to ratchet up the cooperation at every level with Israel.’

Weinger reported why the deal was made in secret:

Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Newsweek although U.S. military officials were fine with the sale, they had concerns about ‘how the Iranians would perceive it.’

‘If we say yes, have we somehow given someone a green light without intending to? Whether that green light was an Israeli green light to go do something or whether it was a message to the Iranians, OK these guys aren’t serious about talking, they are starting to arm themselves,’ Cartwright told the magazine.

Click here to read Weinger’s full article.