Gerrymandering has clearly moved up to the front burner of American politics. Indeed, few other issues merit greater urgency than solving a desperate injustice, one that has contributed greatly to America's political and social jeopardy.
Amid all the attention given to the presidential election, something politically earth shaking went almost unnoticed, in California, where Proposition 11 imposed neutral redistricting upon the state. Since this change will be much to the detriment of the majority Democratic party, it amounted to a stunning act of civic minded fairness on the part of a largely Democratic electorate. It was predicted that one almost certain result would be the loss of Democratic seats in Congress and the state legislature, in 2010.
From the Weekly Standard: "The practice of drawing less than honest legislative boundaries is as old as the republic itself. It got its name in 1812, when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who went on to become Madison's vice president, signed a redistricting bill that positioned his Jeffersonian Democrats in the legislature to take seats from the Federalists by concentrating their supporters in a minimum number of districts. The Boston Gazette ran a cartoon depicting the new district as a contorted animal and proclaiming the 'Gerry-mander, a new species of monster.'"
Since then, the monster has thrived and been used by successive major parties. New mapping software has made gerrymandering easier and more precise in eliminating competition to incumbents. Incoming Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, then chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, opined: "Every redistricting is a partisan political exercise, but this is going to put it at a level we have never seen. That's the gift that the Supreme Court and Tom DeLay have given us."
Effects are blatant. For example, despite this being a "landslide" year for Democrats, safe districting ensured that they would gain only 18 net seats (out of 435) in the House of Representatives. This malignant sickness is also responsible for some of the radicalization of most Republican — and many Democratic — officeholders, who need only cater to their districts' rabid base and can safely ignore the clear desire of most Americans for pragmatic moderation.
What the California bombshell suggests is that the Democratic Party will NOT enjoy the fruits of further gerrymandering. It may even suffer, if more blue states follow this course. [UPDATE: Under neutral redistricting, the Democratic Party gained seats.]
This puts the "democratic" officeholders in a bind. As individuals, they love their gerried districts. As legislators, statesmen, party members and Americans, they should loathe and take up arms against this horrid practice. See a lengthy and detailed series analyzing gerrymandering from top to bottom.
One solution might be for President Obama — or several governors — to call a meeting of all states, encouraging them to negotiate among themselves a uniform method (as they did with the Uniform Business Code) for ending a modern travesty. Recalcitrant states can be pressured with both lawsuits and a persistent information campaign. Doing this in an evenhanded manner could use the standard method — independent redistricting commissions.
Or, a far more clever approach would simply require minimal overlap between state assembly, state senate and Congressional districts. This solution would instantly transform politics for all of us, in all our neighborhoods, and eliminate the evils of gerrymandering at a stroke, while minimizing interference in the authority of legislatures. It may be hard, at first, to visualize, but let it sink in.
I hold out little hope for gerrymandering to be eliminated by politicians without intense outside pressure. At one level, there is all the difference in the world between good and bad politicians, and we have reason to hope that good ones are now entering power. But, at another level, they are all members of a political caste that has been complicit in the gerrymandering scam. If President Obama really wants to prove he is above this kind of thing, he could start in no better place.
Copyright © 2009 by David Brin. All rights reserved.
"Time to End Gerrymandering" (published in full here) was one of a series of 21 "Unusual Suggestions" posted following the election of 2008, when it seemed that everybody — columnists, political sages, bloggers and citizens — wrote missives about "what I'd do if I were president."
Christian Whiton and Larry Greenfield, "The End of Gerrymandering"
David Brin blogs at Contrary Brin and comments on Facebook, Twitter, MeWe, and Quora specifically to discuss the political and scientific issues he raises in these articles. If you come to argue rationally, you're voting, implicitly, for a civilization that values open minds and discussions among equals.
David Brin's science fiction novels have been New York Times Bestsellers, winning multiple Hugo, Nebula and other awards. At least a dozen have been translated into more than twenty languages. They range from bold and prophetic explorations of our near-future to Brin's Uplift series, envisioning galactic issues of sapience and destiny (and star-faring dolphins!).
Short stories and novellas have different rhythms and artistic flavor, and Brin's short stories and novellas, several of which earned Hugo and other awards, exploit that difference to explore a wider range of real and vividly speculative ideas. Many have been selected for anthologies and reprints, and most have been published in anthology form.
Since 2004, David Brin has maintained a blog about science, technology, science fiction, books, and the future — themes his science fiction and nonfiction writings continue to explore.
Who could've predicted that social media — indeed, all of our online society — would play such an important role in the 21st Century — restoring the voices of advisors and influencers! Lively and intelligent comments spill over onto Brin's social media pages.
David Brin's Ph.D in Physics from the University of California at San Diego (the lab of nobelist Hannes Alfven) followed a masters in optics and an undergraduate degree in astrophysics from Caltech. Every science show that depicts a comet now portrays the model developed in Brin's PhD research.
Brin's non-fiction book, The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Freedom and Privacy?, continues to receive acclaim for its accuracy in predicting 21st Century concerns about online security, secrecy, accountability and privacy.
Brin speaks plausibly and entertainingly about trends in technology and society to audiences willing to confront the challenges that our rambunctious civilization will face in the decades ahead. He also talks about the field of science fiction, especially in relation to his own novels and stories. To date he has presented at more than 200 meetings, conferences, corporate retreats and other gatherings.
Brin advises corporations and governmental and private defense- and security-related agencies about information-age issues, scientific trends, future social and political trends, and education. Urban Developer Magazine named him one of four World's Best Futurists, and he was cited as one of the top 10 writers the AI elite follow. Past consultations include Google, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, and many others.
All the Ways in the World to Reach David Brin