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Our gerrymandered (and proud of it!) majority and other ploys

Somerset Perry, Berkeley Law alumnus | January 25, 2013

After the Tea Party sweep in 2010, a group of Rust Belt states that voted for Obama in 2008 and then in 2012 were left with state governments completely controlled by Republicans: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio. Since then, Republicans in those states have become increasingly brazen in their attempts to sue their (flukey) victories to illegitimately tilt the playing field against Democrats through gerrymandering and tampering with the Electoral College.

GOP elephant cartoon

If you can’t beat ’em, gerrymander ’em.

In the past week, Virginia dove further into the mud and is now clearly the worst offender. On Inauguration Day, Republicans in the state Senate took advantage of the absence of Democrat Henry Marshall, a civil rights hero who was attending the ceremony, to pass a mid-decade redistricting bill. The Senate is evenly split 20-20 between the parties, so they wouldn’t have been able to get the bill through if Marsh was there, and the redrawn districts will allow the Republicans to gain a majority in the Senate in Virginia.

Mid-decade redistricting is not the norm: generally, each state redraws its districts once each decade after the Census, which Virginia already done. So, having already drawn themselves districts that allowed them maintain a tie in the Senate, the Republicans are going back to the trough again to finish the deed, and doing it when one of their colleagues, a civil rights hero, is attending the Inauguration. Dirty tricks, indeed.

But it doesn’t stop there: Virginia Republicans are also considering a bill that would change how electoral votes are awarded by the state in Presidential elections. Currently, whoever wins the statewide vote in Virginia wins the state’s electoral votes. Republicans want to change it so that electoral votes are awarded based on – drumroll, please – Congressional districts, which they’ve also gerrymandered to their advantage.

Pennsylvania has already considered this move, which would allow state legislators to control the outcome of Presidential elections. Virginia’s proposed plan would take it one step further: instead of awarding the two at-large electoral votes to the candidate that won the statewide vote, Virginia’s plan would award it to whoever won the most districts, further amplifying the effect of the original gerrymandering. In 2012, Obama won Virginia and its 13 EC votes by 3.9%. According to Slate, if the proposed plan had been in place, Romney would have won 9 EC votes to Obama’s 4, despite Obama’s clear advantage in votes. This has already played out in the House, where Republicans won a 33-seat majority despite losing the combined national vote in House races by over 1 million votes – and they’re proud of it.

Gerrymandering and tampering with the Electoral College are both methods to win elections without getting a majority of the electorate on your side. Republicans, it seems, aren’t interested in moderating their policies to attract voters and are instead planning to maintain power by changing the rules to make conservatives’ votes count more than liberals’. That’s not legitimate politics; it’s cheating.

But, still, everything’s fair in love and war, and politics is what we have instead of war these days. Democrats gerrymander as well, though not often in situations as acutely anti-democratic as these. We need to remove these decisions out of partisan hands and return them to the people. Redistricting should be done by nonpartisan commissions, as in California, and Presidential elections should be decide by the national popular vote, rendering the Electoral College and ploys to tamper with it irrelevant.

Cross-posted from Somerset Perry’s blog Wilderness Letters.