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How Michigan Voters Can Save Themselves from the Tyranny of Gerrymandering

by Kate Harveston, published

Nothing is less American than political parties. As a country, we fancy ourselves a meritocracy staffed by conscientious and well-informed voters.

But that can’t possibly be true so long as we continue harnessing ourselves to the wheel called partisanship, which turns and turns but goes precisely nowhere.

It’s a tragedy when progressive voters must align themselves with the tone-deaf, good-enough Democratic Party. While the Dems busy themselves figuring out how to appease voters without pissing off the moneychangers, progressive activists are insisting the party embrace the needs of Middle America instead of bankers.

Meanwhile, insofar as moderate Republicans still exist, they’re sitting on the sidelines while thieves and thugs steal the party of “limited government” right out from under them to build a world overseen by the hugest government imaginable: a theocratic kleptocracy where only the wealthiest are entitled to dignity.

Unfortunately, partisanship isn’t just a silly little design flaw in the human brain. It’s also a weapon wielded by cynical politicians who’ve figured out they can no longer win elections fairly in a country which is civilizing itself in a way that’s incompatible with extreme political dogma.

What Is Gerrymandering?

Enter gerrymandering. It’s a funny word for an anything-but-funny concept. Gerrymandering is where politicians use either computers or data scientists to redraw voting districts to render them less competitive in upcoming elections.

In other words, a Republican-led redistricting algorithm might reshape a district with 49 percent of Republican voters and 51 percent of Democratic voters to nudge that 49 percent over into a decisive majority.

Those Democratic voters they shave off and lump in with a neighboring district might end up making far less of an impact there than they did under the originally drawn congressional map.

The same thing occurs in Democratic-controlled states like Illinois and Maryland.

See it? It’s a perfect one-two punch of laziness and presumptuousness followed-up by political cynicism finely sharpened to a point.

We all grow up convinced by parents, and then ourselves, that membership in exclusive clubs (“political parties”) gives us a de-facto hold on a moral high ground.

By the time we reach voting age, our minds are a little less plastic and we’re a little more willing to accept that the words “Republican” and “Democrat” are sufficient stand-ins for other words like “right and wrong.”

Gerrymandering is contributing to making us ethically and morally weak as a people. It’s also turning our once-great and once genuinely functional democracy into a process whereby the American people -- in the name of party unity -- surrender more and more of their power each election cycle to folks who will never, ever give it back.

But while Gerrymandering might be a consequence of a series of bad decisions we’ve all helped become Pavlovian, that’s not to say we can’t do something about it. In fact, a nonpartisan group in Michigan is already firing some very important shots in this war against corruption and inertia.

What Can Nonpartisan Groups Do About It?

Several courts in the U.S. have already seen cases concerning gerrymandering. To prove gerrymandering shenanigans, concerned groups must prove that district lines were drawn in a way that deliberately leverages race and other demographics or which was obviously done in a politically motivated way.

A group called Voters Not Politicians wants to do something about it in Michigan. According to Katie Fahey, a founder of the group, “The system could not be any more corrupt.”

She continues: “Partisan gerrymandering happens … behind closed doors with lobbyists, locking themselves up, figuring out what the maps are and just passing them without the public.”

Near her home in Grand Rapids, Fahey says, it’s not at all unusual to find residential streets whose citizens are represented by three different members of Congress.

Specifically, the group is delivering signatures in the hopes of bringing about formal changes to how, and how often, districts are redrawn. They propose a nonpartisan system that would revisit district lines every ten years as a matter of course.

The result, they say, would be a system fairer to all involved, regardless of party affiliation.

It is true that Republicans seem to have benefited the most from gerrymandering in recent years. Things are so bad that Five Thirty-Eight describes the current pro-GOP bias as “record-setting.”

It is also true that both political parties engage in the process anytime the public grants them an exclusive monopoly on the lawmaking process. Nobody gets to wash their hands of this.

It’s also true that, if gerrymandering is not addressed, the 2018 midterm elections might see Democrats taking home most of the votes and still remaining a minority party.

Remember I said political parties are the least American things Americans participate in? Do you believe me now? Majority rule seems to be dead and buried.

So let’s ask ourselves the only question that really matters, because answering it satisfactorily could deliver us from the tyranny of gerrymandering once and for all:

Do We Really Need Political Parties at All?

Politics as a process isn’t inherently a horrifying rancorous bloodbath every two years — partisanship makes it that way. America’s furthest extremes on the political continuum are duking it out right now and moderates are left with nowhere to go.

For example, we’ve seen some of the most intense displays of violent, extremist behavior coming from the alt-right recently than we’ve seen in a long time. And folks like Trump choose to pander to that crowd instead of the moderates.

It’s the consequence of not being able to have civil discussion about how to shave off those extremist sentiments.

Folks everywhere feel “forced” by the idiotic design flaws of our democracy to re-register as unaffiliated voters with no party affiliation, but that closes them out entirely from the primary process and therefore, arguably, the most important part of major elections.

And that’s by design. Crappy politicians know how to use these clubs and parties to narrow our choices and our political vocabulary and the degree to which we expect our voices to count for something and result in real change. A bifurcated politics will always appeal to our basest natures and will always result in real progress grinding to a halt.

The Republicans can double-down on everything that makes them appealing to their base while the Democrats don’t need to be any better than “not Republicans.”

Political parties — therefore gerrymandering — don’t just protect the lawmaking caste from voters, but they also actively contribute to our collective dumbing-down. They train us to look for little Ds and Rs beside the names of public servants, but no further.

We all trade in assumptions and personality cults now, instead of the pursuit of real knowledge.

Politics is supposed to be a civilizing process — not a weapon. Here’s hoping the news out of Michigan inspires the rest of us to get our act together.

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