The Death of Democracy in the US

— article by State Senator Daylin Leach, reprinted from the Philadelphia Jewish Voice , 2006.

Voters no longer choose their politicians; instead, politicians choose their voters when they draw the district lines. I have been leading the fight to take the politics out of redistricting.

Redistricting has become a tool used by legislative leaders to ensure that elections are never competitive. As you know, the constitution requires that political boundaries are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population shifts. In recent years, politicians of both parties have become increasingly blatant about drawing these lines to ensure that there are as few genuinely competitive districts as possible. As a result, 95 percent of us live in districts where our vote essentially does not count because those who drew the lines have already decided which party will win.

More after the jump.

Current Pa. congressional districts by party.

Though gerrymandering has been a growing problem for centuries, new technology has made it increasingly effective. Let me explain how this works. Say there are two adjacent legislative districts, both of which typically divide their vote evenly between the Democratic and Republican parties. When the next redistricting comes around, the party leadership of both parties will make a deal to swap precincts so that instead of two 50-50 districts, the new map will have one district that is 70-30 Republican and the other that is 70-30 Democratic. People still walk to the polls on election day, but everyone knows who will win before the first vote is counted.

Iowa has actually passed similar reform. As a result, four out of five of Iowa’s congressional districts are competitive. That is more competitive districts than there are in Pennsylvania, New York and California combined. That state’s legislative races are similarly competitive.

The powers that be in both parties oppose this bill because it takes power out of their hands. The only way that reform will ever happen is if there is a public outcry demanding it.



  1. burrowsx says

    Daylin Leach is correct to point out problems with our district construction after recent census years. I would like to make some modest proposals to forestall such problems in the next decade.

    First, we need to re-establish the Voting Rights Act by making ALL states universally subject to Title V. The Supreme Court majority (wrongly, I believe) asserted that the restriction of voting scrutiny to a few states with a past history of racial discrimination invalidated federal pre-screening of voting rule changes and districting jurisdiction. The recent discriminatory changes in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Idaho, Ohio, Michigan support the fact that such legal restrictions on federal scrutiny are not just historically inappropriate, they are anathema to democracy.

    Second, we need a legal standard to assure that gerrymandering is mathematically measurable. For instance, if the square of a district’s perimeter is more than 20 times greater than its area, we might consider such a district gerrymandered. For instance, if a district has more than 12 legislatively specified boundary lines, such a district would be considered gerrymandered. By keeping districts compact and simply defined, the opportunity for complex dragon shaped areas is minimized. A federal standard in this regard would be preferable to less universal state standards of varying strictness.

    We can do this people. We have alternatives to despair.

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