'Fiscal Cliff' Drama Reveals Flawed System; Gerrymandering Threatens Democracy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

'Fiscal Cliff' Drama Reveals Flawed System; Gerrymandering Threatens Democracy


Byline: Robert Zubrin, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Gerrymandering is, by definition, a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan or incumbent-protected districts. As the nation breathes a sigh of relief, having barely escaped economic disaster delivered by various factions in Washington playing recklessly on the edge of the fiscal cliff, with ample promise of more havoc to come, it is essential that we ask how it is that our political system has become so dysfunctional. Where has reason gone? Why is no one willing to compromise? The public screamed for weeks for timely action to solve the crisis, yet the politicians were heedless and nearly sent us plunging into recession. Why?Many reasons could be offered, but one of the principal contributing factors is gerrymandering. With the boundaries of their districts wildly contrived to favor their own political party, there is no reason for lawmakers to pay attention to the concerns of those outside the circuit of primary activist groups and PACs or to govern from the center to appeal for support among independents. The practice of gerrymandering is legal technically, and it recently celebrated its 200th anniversary in this country. However, it has come to dominate the American political system as never before. According to The New York Times, in 2012, just 35 congressmen, or 8 percent, were elected from competitive districts whose votes were within 5 percent of the national average, while 242, a majority of the House, were chosen from districts engineered to be so uncompetitive that they diverged from the national average by more than 20 percent.These results are shocking. The American people are being disenfranchised, with disastrous consequences. Regardless of precedent, gerrymandering remains a method of rigging elections to secure officeholders against the judgment of the voters. It is a crime against democracy and a license for political dementia - and it is time to end it.How can this be done? While it is apparent that weird district shapes are contrived by politicians conspiring to disenfranchise the electorate, what objective standard is there for assigning fair boundaries?In fact, there is a standard. The degree of contrivance behind the design of a set of districts is directly related to the oddness of the shapes employed to reach the election-rigging objective. There is a precise mathematical way to measure such malformation. That is, if you take the square of the perimeter of any shape and divide it by the shape's area, you arrive at a number, which can be called its irregularity. For example, the irregularity of any square, regardless of its size, equals 16 (because (4s) 2/s2 = 16). On the other hand, the irregularity of a rectangle whose long side is 10 times the length of its short side is 48. …

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