Flashback: Gerrymandering

In anticipation of the shutdown of Apple’s MobileMe service, I am re-posting some of my old blog entries before they become harder to retrieve.

This entry was originally posted on November 3, 2003.

Comedian Bill Maher made a comment, as the California recall race was getting underway, in which he said that, between Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Florida in the year 2000, and the California recall, that it seems like the Republican Party is willing to do anything to win an election except get a majority of the votes.

We can certainly debate the merits and the accuracy of that observation, but it’s one that has stuck in my mind since he said it. To that list, I would add the discovery of a wiretap in Philadelphia mayor John Street’s office, and the constitutionally questionable attempts at redrawing the congressional districts in the state of Texas.

The act of redistricting congressional districts is one of the most partisan, political things that can take place in a state capital. The word “gerrymander” comes from a congressional district, created in Massachusetts by Eldredge Gerry, which resembled a salamander. That was in 1812.

Democrats and Republicans are equally guilty of it. It’s a way for the party in power to strengthen its power. It usually works, although it occasionally backfires.

I have a very simple solution to the issues that come about (regardless of whether or not the Texas case passes the appropriate constitutional review) and the way more and more voters rightly feel disenfranchised.

There are 435 congressional seats up for grabs every other year. It’s been that many seats since Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959. This is a nation whose total population is pushing 300 million. That means that it averages out to nearly 690 thousand people, per elected representative. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t see how any one person who claims to be the closest and most direct in service to his or her constituents can effectively do that when they’re hearing 690 thousand voices at once. It doesn’t help any when you consider that as recently as a hundred years ago, it was closer to ten thousand people per representative.

I propose, therefore, that, beginning with the 2006 election, every congressional district in the country be cut in half as evenly as possible. As a result, the house of representatives will have 870 seats in place of the previous 435. The representatives will be somewhat more, well, representative.

It won’t solve all of our country’s woes. And it might even create a few of them, when you’re factoring in that the budget for congressional staffing will literally double, and renovations will be needed at the capitol building to support all of the people who will now have a seat there (and in times of a deficit, that’s not the most fiscally responsible thing to do, I concede).

And it just might be the impetus to revive interest — and faith — in our political system.

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