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Does your vote matter? A look at gerrymandering and voter turnout

by Chris M. Stevens, printed in 4-5-18 issue

UNITED STATES – Ideals. The United States emerged as a democratic republic. Power to the people. One person one vote. Emphasis: leadership chosen by the people, no royalty, elites, or moneyed class.

Does your vote matter? Midterm elections typically generate low turnout. The outlook for the 2018 election however, appears as if turnout will surge. Can this election alter the direction of the country? Should the country shift direction? Are federal lawmakers now representative of the will of the people?

While the individual states maintain their own executive, legislative, and judicial branch of government, the same three branches of the federal government serve the entire country. Does the ideal of the United States still exist in terms of whose hands hold the Washington wheel?

Justice Editor Ian Millhiser of Think Progress (www.thinkprogress.org) cites a report from the Brennan Center for Justice that labels gerrymandering in favor of Republicans so skewed the “United States can barely be described as a democratic republic.”

Examples. During 2016 when President Obama nominated Justice Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court the Senate didn’t even hold a hearing. This despite the fact Democrat Senators represented 25 million more citizens than the 54 Republicans who had blocked Garland. The seating of Justice Neal Gorsuch following confirmation by the U.S. Senate represents a similar skewing of popular sentiment. Democrats in the current U.S. Senate, who opposed Gorsuch, represent 20 million more citizens than the Republican Senators.

Perhaps the most egregious example is the 2012 election. Democrat candidates for U.S. Representatives garnered 1.4 million more votes than the Republican candidates, yet the House membership of the 113th Congress included 240 Republicans and only 191 Democrats.

The successful 2018 election of Democrats Doug Jones as U.S. Senator from Alabama and Conor Lamb as U.S. Representative from the 18th District of Pennsylvania, both considered safe Republican seats, signals voters want a change.

Not going to be easy. The Brennan Center for Justice says for Democrats to capture control of the U.S. House in the 2018 election they must gerner at least an 11 point advantage over Republicans.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight, who has accurately predicted election outcomes the past few cycles, says the Democrats hold a 5.7 percent edge on a generic ballot. Far from enough to assure a change in majority status from Republican to Democrat.

The Brennan Center states if Democrats capture 47 percent of the votes in Alabama for U.S. Representative in 2018 they would still only hold one of the state’s seven congressional seats. The same report states in Georgia if Democrats capture 54 percent of the votes, a clear majority, they only hold five of the states 14 congressional seats.

How did the country arrive at this destination? Gerrymandering. Computers now allow those who control a state legislature, which draws both the state and federal districts, to ‘guarantee’ the election outcome.

To those who say the election of Jones and Lamb demonstrates it only requires turnout as the maps are ‘fair’ fail to note in the special election Conor Lamb won in Pennsylvania, Democrat turnout had surged by a full 15 percent more than the previous election. And yet Lamb still won by only 627 votes out of a total of 226,999 cast for him and his Republican opponent.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled the state had to draw new district maps for the 2018 election as the previous maps were so skewed. The 7th District had been drawn so irregularly it had been described as looking like “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.” The Republicans challenged the ruling to redraw the maps and lost, as the U.S. Supreme Court refused to step in and overturn the ruling.

The misuse of gerrymandering districts has plagued the country as both political parties engage in the behavior. The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a gerrymander case from Wisconsin that deals with the entire map of the state. The ‘Court’ has also agreed to hear the case of Benisik v. Lamone, from Maryland, which deals with only one district. Stay tuned.

Will the U.S. Supreme Court finally issue a ruling to prevent such extreme gerrymandering? The Attorney who serves as the Redistricting Counsel for the Brennan Center, Michael Li, says, “Taking these two cases, it’s clear the Supreme Court wants to say something about partisan gerrymandering… If it wanted to walk away from the issue it wouldn’t have had to take a second case…”

How concerned should Americans be that gerrymandering has skewed the system so far that elected officials now represent the minority with the financing to elect their like-minded candidates?

Dean David Birdsell of the Baruch College Marxe School of Public and International Affairs points to a disturbing trend without a change in gerrymandering when he says that by 2040, “… about 70 percent of Americans are expected to live in the fifteen largest states,” which will lead to how 70 percent of Americans “will only have 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30 percent of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.”

Does your vote matter?


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