Redistricting: The cause of political dysfunction
Published: August 2, 2011
Time posted: 8:46 am
RALEIGH — Maybe it’s appropriate that, as legislators in the state capital considered legislative and congressional redistricting, the real problems associated with the redrawing of electoral districts lines showed up in the nation’s capital.
Those problems are really simple: Politicians elected from gerrymandered political districts don’t represent the wider interests of the electorate, particularly growing numbers of moderate independents who have little allegiance to either political party.
Those moderate voters have less say in these safe, convoluted districts, generated by computer programs that allow mapmakers to reach down into individual neighborhoods to cherry-pick voters. The result is that many races are decided in primaries, rather than competitive general elections.
So, you end up with government of and by the people — the people who populate the extremes of both parties, the people who don’t believe political compromise is necessary to a functioning democracy.
People in the middle, many of them leading busy lives that don’t include studying the day-in and day-out of political goings-on, scratch their heads at politicians more interested in making political statements than in preventing financial calamity.
Most of these folks don’t understand that these politicians are an outgrowth of the very redistricting that’s been going on in Raleigh over the past several days.
Republicans, with their majorities in the state legislature, are in charge of the redistricting this year, which comes after every U.S. census. Democrats were in charge of the process the two previous decades.
Democrats complained loudly as Republicans here produced their gerrymandered, bug-splatter maps.
The Dems apparently suffered some memory loss, forgetting that lovely modern art landscape of a North Carolina congressional map used in the early 1990s.
Or, how about the 2001 state House map that included bizarre configurations in eastern North Carolina that required walking a line in the sand to get from one part of a district to another? (That map got tossed out by a court before ever taking effect.)
On a national level, the effects of sophisticated gerrymandering have been obvious.
A study done by George Mason University political scientist Michael McDonald shows the number of swing districts in the U.S. House falling from 161 in 1988 to 91 in after the last round of redistricting in 2000. That means of the 435 seats, less than a quarter are truly competitive. More than three-quarters of U.S. House races are settled in primaries.
No wonder Washington politicians can’t work across the aisle. When general elections don’t matter, talking to a member of the opposing party can be detrimental to your political career.
As I’ve stated previously in this column, it’s absurd to ask that legislative Republicans, after the historic elections of 2010, would give up the prize of legislative and congressional redistricting.
But after this go-around, and the certain court challenges to come, legislators need to do what is best for their constituents — all of their constituents. They need to create an independent redistricting process.
Doing so here and elsewhere will help end the country’s political dysfunction.
Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.