Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Democrats: Make Redistricting More than a Post Script this Election

Every decade, the United States government takes on a massive, audience-participation math project. We attempt, as accurately and as expeditiously as possible, to count noses and houses. This constitutionally required activity is done to give us a handle on just how many people live here, the characteristics of those folks, and exactly where these people chose to hang their hats. So, come 2010, we will all be players in the 23rd decennial census. That's just two years away, and plans are already well underway for this massive undertaking -- yes, your government is planning ahead, even to the point of conducting a census dress rehearsal this year. Be afraid. Be very, very afraid.

Uncle Sam isn't just inviting us to the party; we are required, by law, to join in the census fun. And everyone of us should stand up and be counted, because the numbers it generates will impact American politics not only for the following decade, but potentially generations to come. This head count has three main purposes:

  1. Apportionment: determining the number of seats each state has in the House of Representatives
  2. Redistricting: determining voting district boundaries within states
  3. Funding: determining the allocation of government services
Democrats are rightly focused on the White House, as well as widening our margins in Congress. But we would be foolish to let the issue of redistricting be relegated to a post script in this election. As the saying goes, she who fails to plan, plans to fail. And, when it comes to redistricting, good planning requires paying attention to the down ticket races, too. It's often state legislatures and governors that redraw and approve new electoral maps. Sometimes, however, the process is overseen by an appointed state commission that might include elected officials such as the secretary of state. Sometimes, in fact, the secretary of state has a tie-breaking role on an otherwise partisanly balanced commission or task force. Whatever redistricting process your state is planning to use -- and it may have changed from 2000 -- it's important to exercise what citizen oversight we can so Democrats don't get taken to the cleaners -- and to protect against excessive Republican gerrymandering.

But this is not just about Congress, folks. Sure, the redistricting battle set to take place in 2011 -- based on the final census numbers due to the President on December 31, 2010 -- will redraw House districts all over the country. And, like so many things in politics, there will be winners and losers. States that have lost population since 2000 will lose House seats, and this will be painful for those states in a myriad of ways. But also remember that the loss of House seats will result in a loss of electoral college votes for that state, as well. Yes, redistricting affect presidential politics, too, because electoral college votes for each state are determined by the number of House seats that state can claim, plus their two Senate seats.

Just think for a moment how this could play out. Think of a pretty consistently blue state like Michigan, for example -- which also happens to be the only state in the union with a net loss of U-Haul trucks leaving the state. On the flip side, the five states with the largest numerical population growth -- and it's these numbers that decide the number of congressional seats -- accounted for more than half (52 percent) of the nation’s population growth from 2004 to 2005. All but one of these five states -- Florida, Texas, California, Arizona and Georgia -- were red states in the 2004 presidential elections. In our winner-take-all electoral college system, if these red states get more congressional seats and thus more electoral college votes, the deck becomes even more stacked against Democrats dreaming of Pennsylvania Avenue.

If it's not one thing, it's another. No rest for the wicked. Etc, etc, etc. But Democrats need to multitask this election, and remember that we're not only vying for control of the 111th Congress and the 44th presidency of the United States, we are also choosing state officials who could gerrymander politics at the federal level for decades to come.

1 comment:

kenclarkforaz said...

I am so happy to see this issue covered. We are attempting to pass a ballot initiative in Arizona to make congressional and legislative districts more competitive.

Arizona could have 11 out of 30 competitive state seats and 4 out of 10 competitive congressional seats. Minority-majority districts and geography prevent us from making them all competitive.

This has a huge impact on state and national politics, as we would be reversing the 40-year old national trend toward ever-safer districts.

It also creates a chance to target districts for races that were otherwise off limits.

Please learn more at www.fairdistrictsfairelections.org