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ETpro's avatar

How do we undo the damage gerrymandering and other attempts to rig elections have done to democracy in the USA?

Asked by ETpro (34145 points ) January 1st, 2013

Anger fueled by lies and distortions about the new Affordable Care act and false charges that Obama was turning the US into a communist state helped the GOP turn out their base en masse in the low-turnout, mid-term election of 2010. With the surge in angry white men voting, the GOP grabbed total control of a number of states, taking majorities in both houses of the state legislature as well as the governor’s office. In such newly red states, Republicans were free to pretty much do whatever they wanted. They launched voter suppression efforts in 31 states in the run-up to the 2012 Presidential election. One thing they apparently wanted to do with their new power was to rejigger voting district lines (gerrymandering) to make it nearly impossible for them to loose seats in the US House of Representatives and in state elections. In several states, the Republican representative can win with just 1 vote for every 2 Democratic votes.

Here are some independent examples:
•   Democrats win more votes in Florida, but GOP holds the House.
•   Gerrymanders helps GOP hold the House.
•   GOP gerrymanders its way to victory.
•   Boehner and House Republicans lack mandate to oppose Obama. Regardless of facts, Boehner has claimed such a mandate, and acts as if he plans to use it.

How do we return the nation to something like real democracy, where each one person has one vote despite their party affiliation or what district they live in? Do you think those opposed to authoritarian, single-party rule should call attention to efforts on any party’s part to rig elections, or should we just go along with it under the theory that everybody cheats?

Mind you, this is not a partisan screed. If Democrats do the same in upcoming elections, I will be every bit as critical of them. My interest is in preserving democracy, in protecting it from single-party rule by ANY party.

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9 Answers

zenvelo's avatar

In California we set districts by bipartisan Commission. Part of what drove us to that is that both sides would gerrymander as much as possible. In the San Francisco bay Area, after the 1980 census, there was a district that had a piece of northwest San Francisco, a little bit of Richmond across the Bay, and a bit of Marin County. It was the safest Democratic seat in the country.

bossob's avatar

Congress has been accumulating power for decades via disenfranchising the value of a citizen’s vote. I believe it would be of interest to citizens of both parties and to our democracy to take back that power.

1. Campaign Financing: Only voters can contribute to the campaigns of a candidate for whom they are legally entitled to vote for.

2. Eliminate the electoral college. It disenfranchises DEMS in red states, and REPS in blue states. It would spread the media money around.

3. After more than 200 years of practicing, we still can’t guarantee fair and honest voting procedures and results. It’s disgraceful.

4. Make lobbyists conduct their business at the home, in-state, offices of Reps. and Sens. Their access to my congress person shouldn’t be more privileged than my access. Lobbyists should be allowed in D.C. by invitation only.

5. I don’t have a solution for the absurdity of gerrymandering congressional districts, but when the politicians start picking their constituents, instead of the other way around, it subverts the democratic process.

It’s been on my mind to look into the federal requirements regarding the process of re-districting. Thanks for the question; I’m moving it higher up my to-do list right now.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s not clear to me that the damage is all that long lasting. Population changes happen very quickly. You can gerrymander one year, and a few years later, it has changed to the other party anyway. Or so I hear from the political scientists at my school.

Look at how quickly issues like gay marriage and recreational marijuana have changed. It’s taken a couple of decades maybe and things are totally turned around.

It’s hard for us to see what is going on when we’re in the middle of it, but I think it is important to not be defeatist or to assume that things will stay the same once the other side has a victory. It’s unlikely for that to be the case. Things will keep changing back and forth, but there will be an overall motion in a certain direction, a direction that is determined by demographic shifts.

AngryWhiteMale's avatar

I think the system is irretrievably broken, and the best solution may be to start over.

However, given that that is unlikely to happen, at least for the time being, and is impractical given the stranglehold corporations have on our political and power structures, I suppose any change will have to occur within the system we have now.

The first and most crucial step (and everybody knows it) is to get the money out of politics. It’s why McCain-Feingold was even conceived of in the first place; when even the careerists admit the eternal money chase corrupts and cheapens the institution, you know getting rid of the financial indebtedness to moneyed individuals and amoral corporations is at, and needs to be, at the top of the list. However, as we’ve seen, too many people prefer the status quo and will kill any attempt to institute real reforms.

As for gerrymandering, as @zenvelo points out, we here in California seem to have found a good solution in the citizens commission. However, because we Californians also tinkered with the primary/general election system by doing away with closed party primaries and instituting a “top-two” primary, it has resulted in the primary essentially being the election, and the general election being a run-off, which tends to favor the perpetuation of politicians from the two main parties, rather than leading to any real changes. Since this just started though, we’ll probably need to go through a few election cycles to see if this change is worth it or not.

bossob's avatar

Oh wait; you asked how, and I answered what. How is harder! I was very, very proud of the efforts by Dems in Ohio, Penn., Florida, and other states who organized on-ground movements to counteract the actions of the Rep. state governments. If I had had the money, I would have loved to put billboards across northern Ohio that said: ‘Thanks for your efforts, Dems. They are very much appreciated by voters in reliably blue states.’ (I’m in a reliably blue state, and felt impotent to help the cause.)

I’m thinking it would have to be a grass roots movement to begin electing candidates who support a Voters’ Movement. Most sitting members of Congress wouldn’t honestly support such a cause because they would lose perceived power and the easy paths for financial gain that have become synonymous with being a Congressional member. As much as I disagree with most everything about the Tea Party, I am impressed by the mechanics of their movement. I don’t know if a Voters’ Movement could emulate the Tea Party, because they wouldn’t have the bottomless coffers kept full by the fat cats who stand to benefit the most from their efforts.

I don’t think the movement could be stoked with hate and anger like the far right has used. Truth is, I don’t how to wake up the sleeping masses of both parties who are being steam-rolled by the power of the parties.

To address @wundayatta‘s comments, I agree that things are always changing, and I do try to step back and look at the big picture. But what I’m seeing is that the country is in a cycle where the power in Congress has shifted from being pro-people to being pro-corporation. The Great Depression killed corporate power, and people power started increasing, peaking in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It’s been on the decline since then, as the fat cats patiently worked behind the scenes, to develop a base to support their cause.

Corporations vs. The People, with Congress in the middle, has been the biggest, longest- lasting battle our country has endured. The Founding Fathers dealt with it, and warned us about it. I suppose we’re stuck with it. But I believe that it’s past time (at least I want it to be!) for the pendulum to start swinging back toward advantages for the people. You suggest patience, but it’s very difficult to achieve when the pendulum takes decades to move significantly. But since you have so many lurve, I’m going to take your learned advice and try!

JennyPrince's avatar

Jeremiah 10:23 says that it doesn’t belong to man who is walking to direct his step. For those of you who don’t believe in the Bible, you can ignore my comment. For those who do, it shows that man doesn’t know what he is doing and is on a collision course with disaster.

zenvelo's avatar

@JennyPrince Is that your interpretation? I don’t get that at all.

And I am not sure how that has any influence on improving the reapportionment process.

mazingerz88's avatar

@ETpro Thanks for posting this question. Recently I’ve wondered about this issue now that there will be another midterm election soon and tea party candidates have a good chance of keeping the House for the GOP, imho.

Linda_Owl's avatar

As long as ‘gerrymandering’ is legal, I seriously doubt that we can retain any real Democracy in the United States. And we basically have our government run by the big corporations & the banks & Wall Street – we need massive campaign financing reform, but I can’t see it happening any time soon. Most politicians end up much richer when they leave office than they do when they are first elected & this is due to the Lobby Money that is spread around Congress. Right now the only individuals who can afford to run for office have to be wealthy & they need to have a really good campaign director & they need to have very wealthy supporters. These wealthy individuals who can afford to run for office identify with other wealthy individuals – they are not concerned with the average Americans & they usually despise the Americans who have fallen below the poverty line. We are perilously close in the United States to becoming a police state with the way that Congress has changed our laws in order to prevent our citizens from forming protest movements. And we have so many people in prison that we are spending more money on our prison system than we are spending on teaching our children & sending our children to college. Also the “gerrymandering” has allowed the Republicans to destroy the power of our Union organizations with ‘Right To Work Laws’ which end up being the ‘right to work for less money’. I truly do not understand why the Conservative Republicans seem to be so dead set on gutting the Social Services Programs of the United States – but that is clearly what their intentions seem to be.

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