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Gerrymandering by Computer

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the logic-error-in-u.s.-democratic-process dept.

526

jefu writes "In the latest New Yorker there is an excellent article on redistricting and gerrymandering (more permanent URL). It discusses how recent gerrymandering is being done with the aid of computers. It also discusses how redistricting is polarizing voters and is making many seats in the House of Representatives 'safe seats' which effectively gives incumbents a permanent seat. It is not hard to see how this also tends to leave our 'elected' representatives in a position where voter input is less important to them than things like lobbying." Few articles about gerrymandering really get into how ugly and blatant it is.

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526 comments

Hmm (2, Informative)

Evil Adrian (253301) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643264)

Would have been nice to define a not-often-used word in the article so we all don't have to dig...

To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections. (Link [reference.com] .)

Give me my karma, baby.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643302)

Gerrymandering, or to gerrymander, is not obscure.

Post AC if you want to karma whore, the ACs deserve it!

It's pretty obvious what computers can do... (1)

ScottGant (642590) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643317)

You get more Gerries for your mandering needs.

I had my Gerry mandered once...when I was in the service. A shot cleared it up though.

Not so fast... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643341)

Give me my karma, baby

Not so fast, first you should, write:
I will memorize my English vocabulary lesson and never make fun of the teacher.
100 times on the board.

Re:Not so fast... (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643498)

Writing that 100 times is easy now: write once, copy and past 99 times.

Re:Not so fast... (1)

thedillybar (677116) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643595)

Why not copy and paste some...copy again, and paste some more...

While you're at it, you can find the optimal number of lines to copy so as to minimize the total number of operations.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643350)

Wow, you lack of education and basic dictionary skills are so overflowing with insight. Let me guess, you're either in High School or a CompSci program.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643365)

"Wow, you lack of education and basic dictionary skills"

Please, your grammar doesn't give you any right to be dictionary nazi.

Re:Hmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643554)

Actually a typo, but I agree it was inevitable in a flame.

Thalassocracy (for the Lyrics Guy) (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643351)

Wait
It isn't so great
Since you learned karate chop chop chop chop chop
You're walking machs
And I'm just swimming in the slop slop slop slop slop
You wave your wand at me
And make me dance flip-flop flip-flop flip
I want to sing for you
And make your head go pop pop pop pop pop

The Inuit man
Had not so much a Caesar
He had provision
Say

You're spraying in the windy
And I'm just pissing off off off off off
I'm literally deaf down here
From your canned philosoph oph oph oph oph oph
Softly can you hear me
Through the sucking of your quaff quaff quaff quaff quaff
I'm Thallasocracy
And you're just Romanov ov ov ov ov

The Inuit man
Had not so much a Caesar
He had provision

Who is Gerry Mander? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643267)

See subject.

Re:Who is Gerry Mander? (4, Informative)

lactose_incarnate (659200) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643303)

Word History: "An official statement of the returns of voters for senators give[s] twenty nine friends of peace, and eleven gerrymanders." So reported the May 12, 1813, edition of the Massachusetts Spy. A gerrymander sounds like a strange political beast, which it is, considered from a historical perspective. This beast was named by combining the word salamander, "a small lizardlike amphibian," with the last name of Elbridge Gerry, a former governor of Massachusettsa state noted for its varied, often colorful political fauna. Gerry (whose name, incidentally, was pronounced with a hard g, though gerrymander is now commonly pronounced with a soft g) was immortalized in this word because an election district created by members of his party in 1812 looked like a salamander. According to one version of gerrymander's coining, the shape of the district attracted the eye of the painter Gilbert Stuart, who noticed it on a map in a newspaper editor's office. Stuart decorated the outline of the district with a head, wings, and claws and then said to the editor, "That will do for a salamander!" "Gerrymander!" came the reply. The word is first recorded in April 1812 in reference to the creature or its caricature, but it soon came to mean not only "the action of shaping a district to gain political advantage" but also "any representative elected from such a district by that method." Within the same year gerrymander was also recorded as a verb.
Source: The American Heritage(R) Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright (C) 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Re:Who is Gerry Mander? (2, Informative)

AEton (654737) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643310)

Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts from 1810-12, signed a law that blatantly redrew districts to give his party an advantage (think 90% in one district of the opposition, 55% of your own party in the other x districts -- if you work the math out, it's a safe way for the ruling party to increase its representation.) Here's the link and a picture of the "Gerry Mander" editorial cartoon which we still remember: http://www2.uiuc.edu/ro/observer/archive/vol11/iss ue5/gerry.html [uiuc.edu]

Doing this stuff by computer is -scary-. It means that it's no more than an afterthought for a lawmaker to manipulate the rules of the electoral system.

At the same time, even "safe" incumbents have to do case work and at least occasionally vote the way their constituency wants; otherwise, the media will notice, the citizens will notice, and they'll get kicked out of office. We often underestimate the intelligence of the average voter.

Re:Who is Gerry Mander? (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643522)

What most people don't know is that Gerry had to be pressured into signing the bill. He disliked the plan for the same reason the oposite party did.

A comprehensive discussion of gerrymandering... (5, Informative)

tcopeland (32225) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643270)

...including nice charts and graphs can be found here on FraudFactor [fraudfactor.com] .

From the examples given in the FraudFactor article, both sides seem guilty of gerrymandering whenever possible.

Re:A comprehensive discussion of gerrymandering... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643328)

Thank you, Captain Obvious.

More frequent now (4, Insightful)

dachshund (300733) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643382)

From the examples given in the FraudFactor article, both sides seem guilty of gerrymandering whenever possible.

Not quite "whenever possible". At very least, redistricting has been historically confined to census cycles, by a sort of gentleman's agreement between the parties. The reason it's been in the news so much lately is a couple of Republican-controlled state legislatures (Texas, most notably) have escalated the process and begun redistricting more frequently.

No doubt the Democrats will follow suit as soon as they can. But the fact remains: this is a chain of events that didn't need to be set in motion.

Independent electoral commission (5, Interesting)

Stephen (20676) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643276)

It's crazy that in the US politicians are involved in drawing district boundaries at all. In the UK, we have an independent electoral commission who are in charge of this.

Re:Independent electoral commission (1)

crushinghellhammer (727226) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643378)

As it is in India. A strong central/federal non-partisan Election Commission is essential for the upholding of democratic principles.

Re:Independent electoral commission (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643417)

s/Election Commission/Democratic Worker's Party/

A strong central/federal non-partisan Democratic Worker's Party is essential for the upholding of democratic principles.

Re:Independent electoral commission (3, Insightful)

squarooticus (5092) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643398)

What does "independent" mean, really?

Are they "independent" like the NRA is to the RNC, or like the ACLU is to the DNC?

The problem is that these commissions are made up of people who are inevitably partisan, so what you end up with is only the illusion of independence, when in fact the party with the most adherents on the commission effectively draws the district boundaries to the benefit of its members, while making it look all nice and non-partisan. Not good: I'd rather have the honest appearance of partisanship and public pressure resulting from bad press than a hidden agenda and no accountability masquerading as an "independent commission."

In reality, there is no way to draw district boundaries in a "fair" way, because "fair" means different things to different people. The closest thing you can do is to permanently fix some method (algorithm) for drawing boundaries, which takes humans out of the loop forevermore; from that point forward, the rules of the game are at least known, so they don't change drastically every time a new party gets a 51% majority.

Re:Independent electoral commission (1)

Dr Caleb (121505) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643492)

In Canada, as in the UK, the lines are drawn based on population, not politics. Each candidate has 100,000 or thereabouts, people in their riding.

How much more fair do you want?

Re:Independent electoral commission (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643574)

Thanks for missing the entire point, Captain Obvious. The whole question is how you divide up the people into 100,000 groups.

Now why don't you climb back on the short bus on your way back to retard school (or just regular schools in Canada).

Re:Independent electoral commission (5, Insightful)

Stephen (20676) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643577)

The problem is that these commissions are made up of people who are inevitably partisan, so what you end up with is only the illusion of independence, when in fact the party with the most adherents on the commission effectively draws the district boundaries to the benefit of its members
This is an argument I've heard before from Americans, but all I can say is, it's really not like that.

Maybe it's that we don't assume that everyone is partisan. We have a long tradition of an independent civil service, which pretty much works most of the time. The members of the Electoral Commission are doing it as a career, they're not elected, or appointed by politicians. Keeping their jobs relies on them being non-partisan -- if they were elected or appointed they would have an incentive to be partisan.

The Boundary Committee publishes draft proposals and consults widely before finalising them. Of course, political parties try and persuade it to draw the districts one way or another, but they seem to be immune to that sort of pressure. They base their decisions purely on which are the natural clumps into which the population falls.

I don't hear people suggesting that the committee is biased. If this were widely believed, there would be an enormous scandal. The idea that there was any partisanship in the drawing of boundaries would in our eyes completely undermine the integrity of the election.

By the way, here are their web pages: Electoral Commission [electoralc...ion.gov.uk] , Boundary Committee [boundarycommittee.org.uk]

Re:Independent electoral commission (1)

wmspringer (569211) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643412)

Democrats have proposed something similar in the US; the commission would be basically half democrats, half republicans, plus another person chosen by everyone else together.

Re:Independent electoral commission (1)

Theolojin (102108) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643483)

It's crazy that in the US politicians are involved in drawing district boundaries at all. In the UK, we have an independent electoral commission who are in charge of this.

independent, huh? i suppose these 'independent' commission members have no political interests or leanings? they would not, for example, redraw boundaries so as to help their favorite party win control of parliament? people are people whether they are politicians or not

Re:Independent electoral commission (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643521)

The only good thing about US imperialism is that there's some fleeting hope that one day we'll absorb other countries, like the UK or India, or any other country with some god damn sense, and maybe their constituents will help fix our government.

Death to Democracy (3, Insightful)

KD5YPT (714783) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643280)

Here we have seen another step towards the death of democracy. Where those incumbents, who got elected by the people, no longer need to respond to people. Where the big money businesses can pay their way to get laws favorable to them pass. It will be the society of the rich people, for the rich people, by the rich people.

Re:Death to Democracy (2, Interesting)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643308)

This sort of thing has been going on for at least a hundred and fifty years. The only thing "news" about it is that computers are being used to work out the districts, not working them out by hand. I don't see it doing any more to kill off democracy than it ever has.

Re:Death to Democracy (1)

Rotten168 (104565) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643517)

About 10 years ago I remember seeing the "crab" districts drawn up by Democrats to make sure the black vote in the House of Representatives. They were like a 10 miles wide and hundreds of miles long, spreading out in crablike formations. Gerrymandering is hardly new, except to the uneducated Slashdot poster (which is the norm, unfortunately).

Re:Death to Democracy (1)

umofomia (639418) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643536)

This sort of thing has been going on for at least a hundred and fifty years. The only thing "news" about it is that computers are being used to work out the districts, not working them out by hand. I don't see it doing any more to kill off democracy than it ever has.
Well, not quite. The thing that sparked the whole controversy lately is that the redistricting was done outside of the normal census period. Before, there was a sort of "gentlemen's agreement" that redistricting would only be done after the census every 10 years. This was followed for the past hundred and fifty years until just recently, when Tom DeLay decided that Texas should be redistricted again just so Republicans could gain more seats, despite the fact that the redistricting was already done in 2001 after the 2000 census. Though it may be technically legal, it flies in the face of past precedents and makes everyone uneasy, resulting in the controversy we have today.

Re:Death to Democracy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643542)

The US is hardly the only democracy. While it is certainly the most powerful, if we were nuked to oblivion tomorrow, democracy would still live on, and in probably better form elsewhere.

Re:Death to Democracy (1)

medelliadegray (705137) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643620)

"It will be the society of the rich people, for the rich people, by the rich people."

oh PLEASSE, get off your crack... and get into reality... i mean where have you been?

It sounds as if you're implying that our society isnt like this already!

Re:Death to Democracy (2, Insightful)

moosemoose (620072) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643628)

due to gerrymandering there is a 98 retention rate for incumbants. virtually the only way to be removed as an incumbant is to become sexually involved with a (to be) murdered intern.

but does it really matter? think about it for a second. if you could cast the deciding vote between democrat and republican in each and every local, state and federal election, is there a way that you could arrange your votes so as to effect a difference in your life? pathetic isn't it? if you are a white, middle class male you might as well not bother. you cannot change a damn thing with your vote even if you win! the sad fact is that there is little if any democracy remaining in this country for this and many other reasons (some of which i will highlight):

1. virtually all laws passed by us or our legislatures are now subject to a serious (as opposed to not a chance in hell) constitutional challange. for all practical purposes the courts must approve all laws we pass (with the exception of laws increasing taxation which seem to be immune from constitutional challenge).

2. what democratic power there is, has migrated from local governing bodies, where your vote had more weight, to national governing bodies where your vote doesn't even rise to the level of the proverbial drop in a pond.

3. over the last 50 years the matters which we or our elected representatives are allowed to vote upon has been steadily diminished. on the state level for instance we are no longer allowed to vote on wheather or not an employer can require a high school diploma for a janitor's job.

4. the media coupled with special interest groups now have a virtual veto power over progress. in a battle between those in favor of technological progress and those opposed, the ludites will always win.

the net result is that democracy is one of the least effective methods of effecting change. more effective methods are:

1. protest and civil disobedience (especially when it comes to preventing something from happening).

2. press and media control.

3. appointment of judges.

the battle is over. the liberals have won.

Computer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643288)

Computer? Don't you mean calculator?

The Perfect Government? (4, Interesting)

That's Unpossible! (722232) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643292)

To me, the first problem with our government is that it's too large. The second, which is directly related to the first, is that it's filled with too many politicians. Our government tries to do too much, most of which it sucks at. These thoughts are the main reason I call myself a libertarian.

As King Longshanks once said (in Braveheart at least), "The problem with Scotland... is that it's full of Scots!" The problem with U.S. politics is that it's filled with politicians.

In the simplest way, how do we solve this problem (and thus issues with gerrymandering, lobbyists, the inability to elect anyone outside the two party system, etc.)? "Easy" ... just replace our representative democracy with a true democracy.

But wait, I hear you say, that would be rule by "tyranny of the majority."

Here is where my libertarian ideals come in to play. Of course this is all hypothetical, idealistic, unrealistic, and some might say, Unpossible... ahem.

But what if we eliminated this looming threat of tyranny under this truly democratic system? How could this be done? Well think about where tyranny of the majority comes from primarily -- issues related to control of private citizens lives.

Are you allowed to drink alcohol and smoke drugs? Look at porn? Own a weapon to protect your life and property? Practice atheism or a minority religion?

These are examples of issues where the tyranny of the majority could have a negative effect. I think the central thing to all these issues is that they should not be controlled by the government in the first place. If we had an ammendment in the constitution that clarified the constitution, that the federal government shall not make laws that seek to control the behavior of a person not explicitly harming another person, then what is left for the tyranny of the majority to affect?

Then when an issue comes up in front of our tiny, truly democratic government of the citizens of the United States, it's a referendum that we all vote equally on. If there are multiple choices, we use a smart voting style (approval, counting, etc), and not the insane methods used now to pick such unimportant things as our next President.

This is just an idea that has been brewing in my head, can anyone see holes in it and offer constructive criticism?

Re:The Perfect Government? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643357)

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Re:The Perfect Government? (5, Insightful)

crimethinker (721591) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643380)

If we had an ammendment in the constitution that clarified the constitution, that the federal government shall not make laws that seek to control the behavior of a person not explicitly harming another person, then what is left for the tyranny of the majority to affect?

Taxes.

The unproductive majority will claim that the wealthier minority must pay for all the social programs. Social programs, are, of course, not in conflict with your proposed amendment, because they aren't trying to control anyone's behaviour (other than "donations" to those programs by the wealthy minority).

Until the government restricts itself, or is restricted, to the specific powers granted it by We The People via the Constitution, we will always have a problem of tyranny - tyranny of the majority, tyranny of the lobbyists, or tyranny of one of the two major parties.

-paul

Re:The Perfect Government? (2, Interesting)

That's Unpossible! (722232) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643441)

Taxes.

Sorry, I didn't try to cover every aspect of the new government in my post. ;-) I was hoping the 'libertarian' aspect would convey my feelings that the government needs to be shrunk down immensely.

As a libertarian I don't believe in the federal government collecting taxes for entitlement programs or 95% of what they currently spend taxes on. The government needs money to run the legal system, to jail violent offenders, to run the military capable of protecting our country.

Re:The Perfect Government? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643534)

How much does a tank cost? How much does it cost to show someone how to use it? How much does it cost to have maintinance on that one tank? Then who gets the 'blessing' of making the tanks?

If there is fruad being perpetrated against the american people in the terms of dollars. Expose it. BELIVE me you can get just about any newspaper to run it. 'FRAUD in the goverment' would sell papers.

I do not mind the programs. Usually they have the right thing in mind, help someone. But usually there is so much greed/apathy/incompitance that money is just wasted. While the aproche of 'no programms' is a decent idea it just doesnt work. This country would be a misserable place to live with out some of em.

Re:The Perfect Government? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643476)

I say you Americans should just abandon the republic and go for a parlimentary system. The leader of the party with the most seats in the parliament would be your leader. The members of the executive would be elected representatives instead of being friends of the guy who won.

You really need to move away from this political circus show to a more serious issues based system. The California election for example had to be the best reality show I've ever seen. Arnold repeating time and time again "We gonna sweep kalifona clean and get rida this Gray Davis" was funny. I'm not hacking Arnold here I really do like some of his movies.

It just seems to me looking in from the outside that your political system is one big tv show. Every bill we hear about is the Grady bill or the Patriot Act or some other catchy name. Every politician has some stupid sound byte on tv and then a talking head tells you what to think. I don't know it just seems so plastic compared to our system. Sorry that's just the way I see it.

Re:The Perfect Government? (4, Insightful)

LaCosaNostradamus (630659) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643546)

I wish I could be constructive in my criticism, but it appears that my resulting decisions involve destruction instead. Permit me to explain.

Our alleged Republic has a pretty good Constitution already. It's too bad that no one cares to obey it. With blatant violations against many items in the Bill of Rights (speech, search&seizure, rights retained by States and people, etc.) that people wholeheartedly support since each violation supports their own tyrannical pet peeve, the rights and responsibilities of liberty implied in that Constitution have been nickel-and-dimed away into insignificance.

This is similar to the current depraved state of the Congress, which has been destroyed by each voter thinking that although the Congress as a whole is terrible, that their own rep is wonderful.

Amending a document whose moral authority is lost, won't fix this problem. Either the population spontaneously starts to re-assert the primacy of Founder thinking as expressed in the Constitution, or the entire system is violently overthrown. I'm betting on the latter, and as the years pass and more and more people wipe their asses with that beloved document, then the more and more I come to hope and plan that the revolution happens.

After all, violently asserting that the Constitution is dead, would only be placing a marker above its gravesite, making it obvious that it is dead (at least in spirit). The Republic was long ago transformed into an Empire, and empires are not ruled by the force of law and culture, but by force of arms ... as Afghanis and Iraqis are finding out on a daily basis.

You are correct in identifying that democracy is tyranny of the majority. You are wrong in desiring to let it loose. The prior Republic form of government gave men hope that this demon could be tamed, as well as the tyranny of the minority, autocracy. Men of good character desire neither.

Re:The Perfect Government? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643560)

I have I think a simpler solution - term limits for congresscritters. this would eliminate all these incumbent protection acts and obvious vote buying schemes like that latest medicare drug handout

Re:The Perfect Government? (1)

Nick haflinger (693368) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643588)

How about overturning the twelfth amendmant allowing state legislatures to appoint senators. Simutaneously make election to the house national and 'petition' driven. Each person will be able to choose a single representative and the 435 or heck push it up to 501 top vote getters are in. This makes the house in Tom Wolfe's phase "a heaving crapshoot" with the sort of parlimentary shenaigans we see elsewhere likely and the senate will have a constituency of a few dozen professional pols watching them like hawks. The major problem is idividuals will tend to subordinate to issues but that seems to be a systemic problem of government in general. Anyway bonus no districts no gerrymandering.

Ugly (4, Insightful)

ActionPlant (721843) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643294)

I know I posted on something similar maybe a week ago. What's ugly is that it was already seeming like our representatives (in general) cared very little for our wishes (consider the recent secret spending bill) and more for their pocketbooks. Obviously we can't expect everyone to be a martyr, but this is getting rediculous. We're a democracy in name only. We vote for appearances. Less and less of what we say we want is really heard.

Who, then, is really running the country? And how did they really get in office?

No, serious, I want to know. Because I'm starting to think that my voice really DOESN'T matter.

Damon,

Re:Ugly (1)

Evil Adrian (253301) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643387)

We're a democracy in name only.

Democratic republic, actually.

Re:Ugly (1)

ActionPlant (721843) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643430)

Um, yeah. The point being though that we supposedly operate in a democratic fashion (the people electing the representatives to legalize and enforce our wishes).

The problem is, our wishes at large seem to be held with very little regard anymore.

Damon,

Re:Ugly (4, Insightful)

Evil Adrian (253301) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643457)

Well, the problem with your logic is your misunderstanding of democracy. You believe that democracy means that elected officials are supposed to represent your opinion.

That is not the case.

The people you elect are elected to represent your best interests. To that effect, they may vote for things you (or the majority of people) don't like, but they are not there to represent your opinion, they're there to do what they think is best for the people they represent.

If they were there to represent your opinions, then we wouldn't need representatives at all, and we'd have referendum votes all the time.

Ahhnaaald.. (0, Offtopic)

msimm (580077) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643586)

He will crush our enemies.

Arnold says:
"Get your ass to mars."

"If it bleeds we can kill it."
"Dilan you son of a bitch whats the matter, the CIA got you pushing too many pencils?"
"The best activities for your health are pumping and humping."
"I have inhaled, exhaled everything."
"I'm not into politics, I'm into survival"
"If I am not me, who da hell am I?"

What does "Gerrymandering" mean ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643296)

Really, not all of us are energetic enough to search Google

Re:What does "Gerrymandering" mean ? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643358)

Do you realize how sad this statement is? Compare googling a word, and looking it up in a dictionary, which you'd have to go and find first.

jeez, posting your comment took more energy.

In the UK (2, Interesting)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643301)

there was a case a few years ago where Dame Shirley Porter was convicted of ~40 million pounds worth of gerrymandering in a votes for homes scandal. Of course she's actually paid very very little of it back (less than a few hundred thousand pounds, if I remember the Private Eye story correctly)...

What goes around, comes around, unless you can pay enough money to the right people....

Simon

Re:In the UK (1)

Zeinfeld (263942) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643567)

there was a case a few years ago where Dame Shirley Porter was convicted of ~40 million pounds worth of gerrymandering in a votes for homes scandal. Of course she's actually paid very very little of it back (less than a few hundred thousand pounds, if I remember the Private Eye story correctly)...

Thats alright, they found $30 million worth of her cash stashed away a couple of weeks ago. It is currently impounded and about to be forfeited.

The fair vote initiative (4, Interesting)

_Sharp'r_ (649297) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643305)

A buddy of mine came up with an initiative in CA to eliminate the bias in redistricting by using a set of easily-understood rules that could be set into law and would ensure a balanced outcome based on geography and population levels, not political benefits.

You can find the details at Fair Vote 2k2. [westmiller.com]

He's still working on getting it passed into law by the voters in CA. It's tough when it doesn't really benefit the party in power to change the system to make it fair.

Re:The fair vote initiative (1)

TwistedSquare (650445) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643519)

Reminds me a bit of proportional representation (which some, but not all, say is the fairest way). If it was introduced in the UK, the Liberal Democrats would almost inevitably come into power... but since they haven't been in power since before the Second (and maybe First?) World War, it hasn't happened because the other parties would lose out!

Re:The fair vote initiative (1)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643630)

Proportional representation has always led to splinter parties, inability for any party to gain a majority and coalitions dominated by tiny parties that can bring everything crashing down if their extremist plans aren't put into operation. It's nothing more than a plan to ensure that minorities have the final word and disenfranchise everybody else.

not all states have partisan redistricting (2, Insightful)

mz001b (122709) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643309)

In Iowa, for example, voter party registrations are not allowed to be used in the redistricting, so it is non-partisian. Several states have initiatives to switch over to non-partisan redistricting.

Re:not all states have partisan redistricting (1)

ActionPlant (721843) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643376)

I'd not heard this before. More states need to follow this example.

Damon,

Re:not all states have partisan redistricting (2, Insightful)

Unordained (262962) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643475)

that's not quite enough. a correlation can usually be found between other factors, such as income, ethnicity, or how close the area is to certain types of business ... and party registration.

they don't need to know who you plan to vote for to draw lines to their benefit.

the system itself, of using districts to 'bottleneck' the voting process causes this flaw. you could have a dozen areas, and overal a balanced voting population, and still wind up with a slight discrepency that puts more than 50% of the votes for A in one district, and have all the others be just below 50%. you'd wind up with 11/12 seats being B, and only 1 A. even though the population itself was evenly distributed, and the lines were almost perfectly "fair".

Nothing new (2, Insightful)

Hayzeus (596826) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643319)

Save for the fact that software is being used to help the process along. I find this less worrying than it appears -- ultimately the advantage gained by gerrymandering is slim and short term, since demographic change is inevitable, especially in a society as mobile as the US.

Re:Nothing new (2, Informative)

IntlHarvester (11985) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643406)

Generally, recent demographic change has made gerrymandering easier, not harder. There's a lot more income segregation in where people live than there used to be. That makes it easy to slice up suburban districts that include the 'right' kinds of voters.

Also, in some cases the only way you could make a "fair" district is through gerrymandering. I live in a sensibly-shaped district, and my congresswoman generally wins with 90% of the vote.

Surprise... (4, Insightful)

rsborg (111459) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643327)

Yet another move by politicians to make voting less meaningful. Is it any wonder why our voting percentages are so low compared to other democracies?

How much longer until our vote is purely symbolic and has nothing left to do with reality?

Although in the article, they mainly focus on Texas, it's pretty clear that the whole system is being gamed and gamed hardest by the Republicans.

How's the job market in Europe these days, I wonder...

Re:Surprise... (1)

squarooticus (5092) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643433)

: Although in the article, they mainly focus on
: Texas, it's pretty clear that the whole system is
: being gamed and gamed hardest by the Republicans.

False.

Gerrymandering is actually played hardest by professional racialists who do their best to construct minority districts in heterogeneous areas. This is historical fact: gerrymandering first existed for precisely this reason.

More than highlighting a problem with a particular political party, though, this system indicates a problem with geographic representation in general. But, before you go there, proportional representation has its own set of issues, and shouldn't be considered a panacea. :)

Re:Surprise... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643486)

it's pretty clear that the whole system is being gamed and gamed hardest by the Republicans.


Research, my boy, research.

Democrats have been abusing this practice in the Texas legislature for many years now. Only this year with a Republican majority, those "principled" Democrats chose dereliction of their posts (they absconded to Oklahoma) as a method of preventing the Republicans from getting their turn at the gerrymandering trough.

Fact: Gerrymandering is an immoral and unethical, yet perfectly legal way to increase political power.
Fact: Both Democrats and Republicans have been engaged in this activity for years.
Fact: For a Democrat (especially a Texas Dem) to whine about it smacks loudly of hypocrisy.

Opinion: Republicans (politicians) are focused on preserving the status quo of evil.
Opinion: Democrats (politicians) are Hell's own R&D team.

Is it any wonder why our voting percentages are so low compared to other democracies?
More opinion (backed up by empirical evidence): Maybe too many Americans don't actually know what the politicians and political parties actually stand for. We, in general, fail to discern the true actions and intents of those who would wield power over our lives. "Get educated: vote your brain, not your heart."

Opinion: Vote Libertarian, and live your own damn life.

Thanks(in advance) for the dialogue.
Love,
Bob the AC

Re:Surprise... (1)

fitten (521191) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643490)

Yet another move that is probably older than your grandfather's grandfather. This sort of thing has been going on for a long time. Look up the other links in the threads to see when the word was coined.

Seems I first learned this term in middle-school civics class (over 20 years ago).

Career politicians. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643329)

I believe this is one of many, why political positions shouldn't be a career. One of the founding fathers felt that one should get elected, do what's needed during the term, then go back to what one was doing before. No making a career out of it.

sweet merciful crap! (3, Insightful)

gid13 (620803) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643332)

From the article: "He opposes abortion, fights for balanced budgets, and voted for the impeachment of President Clinton. His Web site features photographs of him carrying or firing guns. Through it all, though, Stenholm has remained a member of the Democratic Party"

I wonder what you have to do to be conservative down there.

Also this makes me think that gerrymandering isn't the only threat to democracy in the states. It seems Michael Moore's claim that the Democrats and the Republicans are the same isn't so far off.

Re:sweet merciful crap! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643527)

It seems Michael Moore's claim that the Democrats and the Republicans are the same isn't so far off.

Great. Now I have to spend the rest of my miserable life knowing that that idiot Michael Moore and I actually share a common belief.

You insensitive clod.

Gerrymandering needs to stop (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643335)

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I DON'T CARE WHAT YOU SAY. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643338)

It really is better when the niggers are separated from the rest of us.

Gerrymandering not completely evil (2, Interesting)

lgeezer (168976) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643366)

The logical opposite of gerrymandering is automating the process to provide politically balanced districts, 50% left, 50% right. Leaving aside how "left" and "right" ought to be defined (and how "center" is accomodated), balanced districts would tend for shorttermism and inaction at the political level higher. If you don't expect to keep your job, you don't plan what you'll be doing after the next election.
Solution? An independent commission. The nearer their decisions create equal political fury from both (all) sides, the higher the pay.

Re:Gerrymandering not completely evil (1)

spitzak (4019) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643570)

You seem to be confused about what is happening. In fact the redistricing *does* balance the districts.

Image a state is 51% Republican and 49% Democrat (and lets assume nobody changes their vote). It is unlikely these are evenly distributed, for instances the cities may be 75% Democrat, while the suburbs 75% Republican. Now if somebody wanted to make Republicans take *all* the representative seats, they would want to slice the state up into whatever weird shapes are necessary so every slice had a piece of city and a piece of suburb and each was 51% Republican and 49% Democrat. Thus Republicans win in every district.

If instead you made as many 100% Republican districts as possible (using equally weird shapes), you would have just less than half left that are 100% Democrat. Therefore you have only slightly more than 51% Republicans in office. This in fact is a fair result, so it certainly is not in the intrests of the redistrictors.

Also note that the minority Democrats can cause trouble. If somebody interested in as many Democrats as possible did the redistricting, they would make as many districts as possible that are 51% Democrat. The leftover Republicans would be crammed into their own 100% Republican district. Notice that except for the Republican district, again there is even division, and that anything less even is worse for the Democrats.

I think the proper scheme is to use a computer to figure out equal-population areas where the total length of all borders is minimized (probably an NP-complete problem, unfortuantely). The percentages in each district for each party would certainly vary.

It's too bad we can't just register republican... (4, Interesting)

mellon (7048) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643372)

...and get our licks in in the primary. Really, to me, what this article says is that political parties really have become obsolete bodies whose only purpose is to disenfranchise the voters, and that we voters should simply ignore parties and vote pragmatically.

I don't register with a party affiliation because I find both parties so distasteful. I think it would be very wise for us independents to figure out for what party our district has been gerrymandered and register in that party, and if we run, run in that party.

It would be cool if the supremes solved this by ruling that all voters have to be able to vote in all primaries.

It Goes Both Ways (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643386)

In NC there is (was?) a district that was artificially constructed to get a Minority (black) Majority district. It ran from one largely minority area, up a highway (no wider than a mile on either side of the highway), and connected with another minority area many many miles away.

I think they threw it out.

Re:It Goes Both Ways (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643609)

Yes it was thrown out. Several districts were all thrown into one BIG district just so that could be. There were some REALLY ticked people around here. It basicly came down to a judge that said 'fix it or I will'. They didnt and he did. Those are the current districts being used.

That and the tax screw up the current governor helped create with the 'lottery tax' he wanted. That is the biggest reason a once majority democratic voting area has been voting republican. People kinda notice when they have no job and their taxs just went up. Then in the papers the goverment is saying 'they ran out of money'.

Reason for California recall (0, Offtopic)

gsfprez (27403) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643408)

the people here are mostly upset with the legislature - they are exclusively Democrat party, with a handful of Republican seats. The Democrat legislature seats which are Democrat held will NEVER be unseated in my lifetime, and they well know that.

That has created the absense of the everyday normal Democrat from being represented in California's legislature... it is now full of actual, real life Socialists and Communists - and i'm not using hyperbole... .they actually are Socialists.

They are actively fighting a spending cap in the state. They have actively sought out people to put onto welfare rolls.

All this because they know that they can never be unseated. They have no accountability, and they know that there will never be Republicans that can take over their seats.

The governor is just a figurehead here in the state. That's why its irrelevant to that a action movie actor is now governor - nothing is actually going to change because the legislature writes the laws.

The only thing we hope for here is that not all of them pass by 2/3rds, so he can veto much of what they send to him.

California is only 6 seats in the house, and 2 in the state senate from going 2/3rds Democrat, and able to make the position of governor ACTUALLY null and void... right now, he still has veto power.

Summary, Congress is aristocracy (3, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643424)

We have all known this for some time. Look at some of the people up there. The Senate represents party intrest only and the House is purely special interest.

If it wasn't for the need of Republicans to get seats in the House and Senate minorities would have been totally marginalized by Democrats. The Democrats speak a very good game of inclusion but they are in effect the party of exclusion. Gingrich and his cronies understood that and used it to their advantage.

The best solution to this would be to give each state X number of seats and then award those to the top X number of vote getters statewide. This would still protect the original intent of the framers of our Consititution and allow for more diverse people in office. It might finally allow a green or gasp, a libertarian, into the so called hallowed grounds.

People bitch and moan all the time about Presidential abuses but convienently ignore what goes on in the Senate (requirement of super majorities to vote is not in the Constitution - it is the exact fear the framers had - a government trapped by a militant minorty). Neither side will give up that power and hence they sell us out when making deals.

Whine about Electronic voting, Bush, and Diebold all you want. You really don't have a choice in who is elected to the House of Representatives... and apparently don't care.

They should do it by computer. (1)

tinrobot (314936) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643425)

let a computer pick random groups of zip codes that are adjacent to each other and distibute the districts that way. Make sure each district is apporximately the same population size. Let a judge or other neutral party manage the process.

Oh and don't let Diebold anywhere NEAR the computer.

first derivative (3, Interesting)

Geno Z Heinlein (659438) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643437)

Hmmm... maybe there should be a law that requires election districts to have the minimum possible perimeter. :-)

NC 12th district (3, Interesting)

chiph (523845) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643469)

If you want to see ugly, take a look at the North Carolina 12th district. It's been re-drawn more times than I can remember, and been ruled illegal almost as many.

The NC Libertarian Party offered to redraw the districts as a disinterested 3rd party to the process (theirs would have mostly followed county lines), but the Democrats & Republicans would have none of that, and so we have our snake-like boundaries [state.nc.us] . A better view is available in this pdf [state.nc.us] (area in gray).

Chip H.

What's new this time? (1, Troll)

Jay Maynard (54798) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643495)

Few articles about gerrymandering really get into how ugly and blatant it is.

It's been ugly and blatant for decades. The only change is who's doing it, and the Democrats are screaming because they don't control the process any more.

Wake up and smell the coffee, guys: turnabout is fair play.

Re:What's new this time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643548)

Ugh.

Prepare to get modded to oblivion for stating the obvious truth.

My sympathies.

Re:What's new this time? (-1, Troll)

Rotten168 (104565) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643561)

It's like anything else on Slashdot, it's been common practice by the Democrat majority for years but is suddenly outrageous because Republicans now run the show.

Welcome to /.

Re:What's new this time? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7643594)

> turnabout is fair play. Cool. Since some asshole cut me off on the way in today, I can drive like a jerk on the way home. Say, what way do take home?

State Constitutional amendments needed (2, Interesting)

wayward_son (146338) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643515)

In Iowa, the State Constitution says that congressional districts can't cross county lines (unless more than one district can be formed from that county, although not an issue in Iowa)

I believe something like this was discussed due to the controversy in Georgia. When the Democrats who controlled the legislature redrew the House districts, they drew them to give Democrats a blatantly unfair advantage. New districts were created that had a slight Democratic majority, while Republican incumbents ran against each other in extremely Republican districts. (Note: Georgia, like much of the South, tends to vote Democrat at a State level, Republican at a National level).

50 State Constitutional amendments like this wouldn't prevent gerrymandering, but it would make it a lot more difficult.

Gerrymandering is a tradition (3, Insightful)

mveloso (325617) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643516)

The reason gerrymandering exists is simple: you need to split people up into relatively equal-numbered-sized chunks, so each representative represents a mostly equivalent number of people.

Where those lines are drawn can be key to who gets elected.

Let's use a simple example. If each representative represents 100 voters and you have 100 relatives that live in a 2-block square, the best district for you would be a shape specifying the exact size of that 2-block square where your relatives are. You can pretty much guarantee that all your relatives will vote for you, or at least most of your relatives won't vote for someone else. Thus you're a guaranteed winner.

What's wrong with that? Are you not going to represent the will and desires of those 100 people?

Any whining about gerrymandering is done by the people that lose out. In this case, it's the Democrats (usually) that are whining about gerrymandering, because they're starting to get voted out of office at the local level. In the past, the Republicans were whining about it because they were "drawn out" of the election process by the Dems.

Really, it's just a game of tactical advantage played by people on all sides. Advantage today turns into disadvantages tomorrow. Whiners today turn into brutal gerrymanderers of tomorrow.

That's how it is.

And "independent" councils are nothing of the kind. Anyone involved in the political process is a political actor, and are by definition not independent. They live, work, and eat with everyone else...it's just that everyone agrees not to complain too loudly when the "independents" favor one part or another.

Re:Gerrymandering is a tradition (2, Insightful)

wmspringer (569211) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643606)

Unfortunately, a more accurate comparison would be that in an area to be divided into 3 districts, 102 people are your relatives and 198 are not. By placing 51 of your relatives into each of two districts, you get a 2-1 advantage in spite of being outnumbered nearly 2-1, which means that 1/3 of the people are not being represented.

We're not a democracy (1, Insightful)

Frennzy (730093) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643520)

...and never have been. We're a federal republic. Just thought I'd clear that up. Moving on, there are all manner of creative ways to eliminate gerrymandering. None, to date, have been effectively employed. The 'one man, one vote' concept could work, wherein we eliminate districting altogether...but that leads to under-represented folks in less densely populated areas, since politicos will pander to the highest concentration of votes. In other words, ALL candidates will spend all of their time and money in the big cities, making promises to those folks, while ignoring the needs of the rural communities. You could also mandate (gasp!) multi-party rep elections. That is to say, instead of allowing an icumbent to run unopposed, there *must* be a candidate from each party for the election to be valid. The subtext being that, if no one is there to oppose him, things must be going along just fine, and he is not needed. Add a twist, and make it three parties! Or four! Watch how many people become interested in politics then. Watch how many more voters make it to the polls, when given a range of choices instead of 'white meat' or 'dark meat'. Perhaps they are sick of Turkey altogether, and would prefer a nice cheeseburger. What happens when you offer the voter steak? Or veggie-dogs? There are plenty of other ideas as well. But to eliminate gerrymandering under the current system, one would need to wrest control of district boundaries from elected officials...preferably into a rotating panel of technogeeks who would rather simply get the damn things done so they can get back to their labs.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who was wondering... (1)

Rainier Wolfecastle (591298) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643545)

gerrymander Audio pronunciation of gerrymandering ( P ) Pronunciation Key (jr-mndr, gr-)
tr.v. gerrymandered, gerrymandering, gerrymanders

To divide (a geographic area) into voting districts so as to give unfair advantage to one party in elections.

n.

1. The act, process, or an instance of gerrymandering.
2. A district or configuration of districts differing widely in size or population because of gerrymandering.

[After Gerry, Elbridge + (sala)mander(from the shape of an election district created while Gerry was governor of Massachusetts).]

Thanks Dictionary.com

Ratio of area to perimiter (4, Interesting)

peacefinder (469349) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643563)

It seems to me like gerrymandering could be cut to manageable proportions by mandating a few simple rules, enforced in order of priority:

1) Districts must be contiguous.
2) No party registration data may be used while assigning districts.
3) Districts must encompass areas equivalent in population within 0.X%.
4) Districts must have a ratio of perimeter to area of no more than Y.
5) Redistricting may not move the geographical center of any district by more than Z miles per census cycle.

We'd need to do a little study to find apprpriate values for X, Y, and Z, of course. But does it really need to be any harder than this? It is about fairness of representation... right?

infuriating. (1)

OneOver137 (674481) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643571)

"In 2001, that process produced a standoff in Texas, with the Republican state senate and the Democratic state house of representatives unable to reach an agreement. As a result, a panel of federal judges formulated a compromise plan, which more or less replicated the current partisan balance in the state's congressional delegation."

Too many important issues are being pushed to the courts by representatives who are afraid of making decisions and losing face. Why is it that judges can compromise, but our elected officials populating the legislative branches seem to have lost that ability?

Independent boundary commission (1)

Hamster Lover (558288) | more than 10 years ago | (#7643637)

First, what gerrymandering is (from the web):

"Politicians could design their ridings (districts in the U.S.) to ensure that they would be re-elected. They could move areas that voted against them out of their ridings, or divide areas that supported their party into more, smaller ridings. The process is called gerrymandering, after Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry, who pioneered the technique in the early 19th century."

In Canada, prior to 1951, Parliament was soley responsible for drawing the electoral boundaries. Of course, the boundaries shifted with the political motivations of the MPs. Suffice to say that enough MPs developed a moral sense that democracy was suffering from the personal motivations of some and a permanent independent commission was struck to alleviate those concerns. The following URL goes into some history and discussion:

http://www.elections.ca/scripts/fedrep/federal_e /r ed/readjusting_e.htm

I have no idea how the process works in U.S., but it would seem that an independent commission, with the proper structure and powers, would be the fairest and would further the needs of democracy the best.

Anyone know what process is used in the U.S.? I would assume that some states have a committee for that purpose, but is it independent?
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