Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bad Salamander

The Mass Moments list to which I subscribe recently reminded us of an ignoble anniversary -- the creation north of Boston of the gerrymander -- a legislative district crafted by Elbridge Gerry (pronounced "Gary") and shaped like a salamander. Very early in the history of the United States -- at the first opportunity, actually -- a politician figured out how to select his voters, while giving the appearance that the opposite was taking place.
How can people not go to jail for this kind of fraud?
Back in 2010, I wrote in some detail about the sordid geography of gerrymandering -- including some examples of shameless disenfranchisement. Article One: Enumeration refers to the fact that the framers of the Constitution tried to avoid exactly this problem, putting the geographic exercise known as Census at the very beginning of the document.

Right after the anniversary, I learned of a special summer course on redistricting offered by Tufts University in Boston. The course is intended mainly for mathematicians -- the word "geometry" is used instead of geography -- but it does acknowledge the role of Geographic Information Systems in creating districts.

The technology can be put to honest or dishonest uses; the key is distancing incumbents from the process, as former California Gov. Schwarzenegger makes clear in his comparison of Congress to herpes. Another practical explanation of the problem is found in series of hypothetical voting districts published by the Washington Post in 2015.

Seeing the limits of gerrymandering, some politicians are getting desperate -- fabricating voter fraud in order to justify any regulation that they think would give them an edge in choosing their voters. Congress also continues to deny full representation to more than 600,000 citizens in the District of Columbia. The concept of one person, one vote continues to be elusive.

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