I watched President Obama’s talk to the Illinois Legislature yesterday and, among his points, was a call to stop the gerrymandering that is so predominant in our partisan country. Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing the voting district lines to ensure the desired outcome. Usually, that means republicans draw the lines to help republicans get elected and democrats draw them to help democrats get elected. That is nothing new on the political scene as it has been practiced a long time.
This political cartoon, published in 1812, depicts the result of the Massachusetts legislature efforts to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists in 1812.
If you look at Alabama’s current legislative districts (https://ballotpedia.org/Redistricting_in_Alabama), you will see many if not most of our districts look very similar to the gerrymander cartoon. The same is true in most states.
In 2012, the gerrymander system worked just the way Republicans wanted it to – they won 57% of the US House seats even though they only won 48% of the total votes. That part of gerrymandering is not new news.
But one unintended outcome is that politicians no longer have to worry about getting defeated by the opposing party in the general election. Rather, they now have to worry about getting defeated in the primary by someone who appeals to the extremes in each party – republicans from the far right and democrats from the far left. Think Bradley Byrne vs Dean Young.
This, in turn, means that politicians get pulled farther and farther to the extremes in order to make it through the primary. They think, and are probably correct, that after they are elected, they cannot afford to work with the opposing party or be seen as being willing to “compromise” the extreme’s ideology in any way.
Thus, we get the increasingly dysfunctional, partisan gridlock we now have in Congress. In his 2016 SOTU address, President Obama called for changes to stop “politicians from picking their voters” and once again allow “voters to pick their politicians.” He reiterated that call yesterday in Illinois asking the legislature to model a better way by ending gerrymandering.
I hope they do.