Friday, November 9, 2012

State-level Corruption Is the Only Reason Republicans Still Control Congress

Does this look like it should be the House of Representatives map of a State that Obama won by
5 percentage points, 52% to 47%? No, no it doesn't.

The day before the election, I wrote about how stupid it is that we in the U.S. vote on a Tuesday, and how that should really be changed - there's no excuse for continuing to allow a slavery-era law optimized for horse-and-buggy travel to determine the day that Americans vote.

Today, I'm writing about another extremely stupid artifact of American democracy (in most but not all states) - the fact that drawing Congressional districts is a political process overseen by partisan politicians. Again, in most modern democracies (well, those in which geography still plays an important role in defining representation such as the U.K. and Australia, which is not the case in all democracies), drawing the equivalent of Congressional districts is done by an independent and objective commission that is created specifically for the purpose of drawing electoral districts.

In most U.S. states, however, the power of redistricting lies with partisan politicians - usually the state legislature and/or the governor. This has the extremely insidious outcome that politicians have the power to choose their voters, and not the other way around, as the Constitution (and democracy in general) envisions. This practice may be legal currently, but I view it as an extremely corrosive form of political corruption.

The Founding Fathers wanted the House of Representatives to be the elected body most responsive to the will of the American people - that's why there have always been more elected members to the House of Representatives than any other federal body, and that's why House members are up for reelection every two years. But, thanks to gerrymandering, the House of Representatives is now actually the elected body LEAST responsive to the will of the American people. For an example of this, see the above map of the results of the 2012 Congressional election in Pennsylvania - in a state that Obama won, 52% to 47%, Republicans won 8 of Pennsylvania's 13 Congressional seats.

The story is similar in Ohio, where Obama won the state by 2 percentage points, but Democrats won only 4 of the state's 14 Congressional seats:

This story repeats itself in a number of states in which Republicans control the state legislature - e.g. Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and others.

In fact, it turns out that Americans indeed voted for a Democratic House of Representatives - the best available current count gives the number of votes in favor of Democratic House candidates as 53,952,240 and the number of votes in favor of Republican House candidates as 53,402,643 - a 550,000 vote advantage for Democratic House candidates - a number that is only likely to grow as votes continue to be counted and certified.

The actual partisan breakdown of the 113th Congress will be very different from what the people want, however. Currently, Republicans enjoy a 233-193 advantage over Democrats, with 9 seats remaining undecided. That means that, in a year when Republicans earned less than half the popular vote, they will control a little under 54 percent of the House even if Democrats run the table on the undecided seats.

This is an absolute travesty and scandal, and it is an absolute insult to the principles of fair representation enshrined in the Constitution.

But the Republicans don't just have partisan, Republican state legislatures to thank; they also have the partisan, conservative Supreme Court to thank (a Court that I have previously argued has outlived its usefulness):
Partisan gerrymandering exists for one purpose: to cut off the ability of people who disagree with a state’s ruling party to influence future elections. It is a a clear violation of the First Amendment, which absolutely prohibits viewpoint discrimination. Yet the Supreme Court abdicated its responsibility to end this discrimination in its 5-4 decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer, where the conservative justices tossed out a lawsuit alleging that Pennsylvania’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally drawn to maximize Republican representation in Congress.
Americans voted for a Democratic president, a Democratic Senate, and, barring significant shifts in the vote tally, a Democratic House. Instead, they will get a House majority similar to the one that held the entire nation hostage during last year’s debt ceiling hostage crisis. If the American people wanted this to happen, they would have said so at the polls on Tuesday. Instead, Republican state lawmakers took away their right to democratically legitimate leadership — with a big assist from the conservatives on the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, voters are almost totally powerless to change this situation - which is exactly how the Republicans designed it to be, to take the power of decision-making out of the hands of the voters. Gerrymandering could be abolished instantly with a law passed by Congress stating that all redistricting must be done by independent, nonpartisan commissions - but a Republican Congress would never pass such a law, since gerrymandering is the only reason they still control the House of Representatives.

It also looks like the legal system won't provide a solution either - the Supreme Court, siding as usual with powerful state politicians instead of voters who are being disenfranchised, has abdicated its responsibility to end this kind of voter discrimination.

So what can we do? I'm honestly not sure - a Constitutional amendment would also solve the problem, though those have to originate in Congress, so that's a no-go. If one of the conservative Supreme Court justices dies and Obama appoints a more liberal justice, the case could be revisited in the courts and the injustice purged from the system that way - I think that's our only hope, at this point.

In the mean time, I'm considering moving back to Europe - I've just about had enough of all of this American voter suppression bullsh*t.

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