Politics

The Incumbent Protection Racket

How gerrymandering hurts democracy

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This year's election will be exciting. Given the disenchantment of voters with President Obama and the Democratic Congress, there is every prospect that your Democratic representative will be shown the door. Given the generally anti-incumbent mood, there is every prospect that your Republican representative will be out on the street.

In your dreams. When analysts say this is going to be a competitive election, they don't mention that for most districts and most voters, absolutely nothing is going to change. Come January, the U.S. House of Representatives is going to look a lot like it does right now.

There are 435 seats in the House, and every one of them is up for a vote on Tuesday. But the consensus is that no more than 100 are "in play," with a chance of changing party hands. The other 335 races will hold all the suspense of a Harlem Globetrotters game.

Nor will all the competitive districts actually make the switch. The GOP needs to gain a net of 39 seats to win control of the House, and Republicans would be thrilled to pick up 50.

Does that mean lots of entrenched career pols are going to be evicted? Fewer than you might think. Many of the changes will occur not because a member of Congress loses but because a member has decided not to run. Even this year, the typical incumbent has nothing to worry about.

One important reason is that once every decade, after each census, politicians in most states get to redraw congressional and legislative districts. They usually take the opportunity to advance the interests of one party or the other or both. Such gerrymandering often yields weirdly shaped districts designed to assure that whoever is in office stays in office.

It works. In the U.S. House of Representatives, over the past five elections, incumbents have been re-elected at an average rate of 96 percent. According to my unscientific calculations, a congressman is more likely to be eaten by a polar bear while panning for gold in Key West than to be voted out of office.

In California, where state legislators have elevated gerrymandering to an art form, it's almost unheard of for a state representative or senator to be evicted at the polls, or even for a party to suffer a setback.

Douglas Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College, reports that since the legislature created new lines in 2001, only one of the state's 53 congressional seats has changed from one party to the other. In a total of 212 elections, only two incumbents have lost.

None of the 40 state Senate seats has switched parties. In the 1990s, by contrast, courts drew the boundaries, and 10 congressional seats and seven state Senate seats changed partisan hands.

California exemplifies the disconnect between voters who want to exercise authentic self-government and elected officials who prefer not to let a little thing like democracy deprive them of their livelihood. The latter group is very good at stifling competition at the polls.

The solution is obvious: Take the decisions away from those who have a powerful interest in the outcome, and give them to an independent commission. Californians voted in 2008 to do exactly that. But this year, opponents managed to get another ballot initiative to return control to the legislature.

What arguments do they offer? Because former elected officials, candidates, and lobbyists are barred from serving, they say in the official voter guide, "those who have deep experience, knowledge or interest in government will be excluded." Right. And burglary laws should be repealed because burglars were not invited to help draft them.

The commission, the critics lament, would "strip voters' power to determine who represents us." The theory is that when we elect legislators in rigged districts to create new rigged districts, democracy triumphs. But the point of the commission is to give voters a power they so obviously lack when politicians get to choose the people who are supposed to choose them.

One of the bedrock beliefs of our democracy is that here, the people rule. Gerrymandering is the legislators' way of saying: Not if we can help it.

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  1. The solution is obvious: Take a map and a chalkline and start snapping. Make it an even grid. “Independent” commissions have a way of getting taken over.

    Sure, different rooms in your house might end up in different districts, but it’s a small price to pay.

    1. The most important part is that no human decisions should be involved in the process. Write an algorithm to start with county lines and work down from there to cities, then zip codes until a fit is found purely based on population numbers and geographical continuity.

      1. Yeah, but who writes the algorithm??

        1. Some group of non-partisan computer scientists. And given a more fleshed out version of the requirements I wrote above and a lack of foreknowledge of future census results, it would be near impossible to intentionally tweak the outcomes.

          1. I completely agree. Gerrymandering disenfranchises voters. Lay a grid down on California (adjusted for population density) to create the new districts, and tell the politicians to fight for our votes.

          2. Plausible, but of course the rabblerousers will start with their conspiracy theories.

    2. A grid is not the best. The best way is overlay a hexagons.

      Take the number of persons in the state divided by the number of representatives allocated and that should yield the number of hexagons.

      Of course, popular representation needs to get restored in the House of Representatives closer to the founders’ ratio of 1:30,000.

      Since Congress fixed the number of representatives to 435, that act in effect created a petite senate.

      In essence, Americans have one big senate with roughly 80% of the membership up for re-election every two years and with legislative tasks divided up between the gross senate and the petite senate.

      1. 10,000 members of Congress? How about no.

        1. Sounds like the Star Wars Old Republic.

    3. Well districts are supposed to have relatively equal populations, which is the argument FOR gerrymandering, i.e. “This is the only way we can ensure the populations are equal!”

      But I agree that it should look more or less like a grid, with some boxes just being longer to incorporate a spread out population.

      1. Well, obviously some people will be forced to relocate to make the district populations even. And those decisions will be made by robots programmed by chickens pecking at punchcards.

        1. OK! That really was funny! maybe noone else recognized the higher order of difference, but credit where….LOL

  2. According to my unscientific calculations, a congressman is more likely to be eaten by a polar bear while panning for gold in Key West than to be voted out of office.

    Anybody know a zookeeper? Maybe we can call that Plan B?

  3. Follow local political boundaries as much as is feasible.

  4. When analysts say this is going to be a competitive election, they don’t mention that for most districts and most voters, absolutely nothing is going to change. Come January, the U.S. House of Representatives is going to look a lot like it does right now.

    Even if the incumbent is thrown out…

  5. they don’t mention that for most districts and most voters, absolutely nothing is going to change

    What? I think I’ve been lied to for 12 months. I’ll never trust NBC, CBS, ABC, FOX, MSNBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, or anyone else, ever again. Also ESPN, the bastards.

  6. Also, they can talk about how unpopular Pelosi is in national polls. But that doesn’t mean squat because she’s not voted in or out nationally. As long as San Fran likes her, she’s in.

    1. And man, do they like her.

      Retards.

    2. I used to say this about Jesse Helms back in the 80s and 90s.

  7. TO THE WEAK-KNEED REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRAT?..TO ALL THE COMMUNIST IN THE IG,FBI,CIA,AND U.S. Senators and the left wing media outlets?..Wake up america!!!! This goverment is the most corrupt we have had in years. The good old boy network is very much in charge.Mr. obama and pelosi are the puppet masters.How many of their good friends benefited by the agreement ” what a farce. All of the u.sSenators voted for this. I am ashamed to say I voted for the these corupted self serving politicians.With good reason they picked an out of towner to be president.All u.s departments need an overhaul. We need to rid ourselves of the puppet masters and the dept heads that bow down to obama and pelosi.I am sick of the lip service I have been getting from these dummies over violations, their friends are getting away with.in the goverment . Barack Hussein Obama , threatens friends and bows to Mmslim.
    INPEACH OBAMA ,GOD OPEN YOUR EYES.///For us there are only two possiblities: either we remain american or we come under the thumb of the communist Mmslim Barack Hussein OBAMA. This latter must not occur.THE COMMANDER.
    OBAMA goes about his business by speaking the lie. II Thessalonians 2 says that he comes “with all deceivableness of unrighteousness.” Revelation 13:12 says, “and he spoke as a dragon….” Revelation 17 tells us that he was a false prophet, a prophet being one whose calling it is to speak and to teach. The armies of the world may have guns and tanks and bombs to bring people into submission; but the power of speech and ideas is a mighty power. In his initial attempts to destroy the cause of God Obama used a serpent to deceive the woman with crooked speech: “You will be like God.” Now he uses a “dragon” who speaks crafty, lying words. His speeches will be heard by millions who will hang on his persuasive rhetoric. The content as well as the form of his speech will attract. Like most false prophets, he will even be sincere and passionate. But he is a liar. He adds dashes of truth to the mix, so that his lie tastes like truth. He will use all the right catchwords, using the language of the church, even throwing in a Bible text or two. But he is the ultimate Liar, and will deceive many.
    OBAMA will use every tool available: school teachers, politicians, news broadcasters, artists, musicians, scientists and doctors, lawyers and businessmen. All will be pressed into the service of OBAMA to deceive men. But especially he will use those whose calling it is to persuade and to teach — men who claim to be preachers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.===================Both communists and National Socialists prospered in this climate in which the common people powerfully rejected the whole concept of a liberal democracy.
    In the 2009 election campaign obama put himself forward as the strong and decisive leader which america had been longing for. As many have commented, all the Party really offered was order, discipline and authority since they had not drawn up any detailed policies ?quot; however, it was indeed the order, discipline and authority which the america were longing and craving for! Moreover the party made it clear that, when elected, they would form a dictatorship ?quot; not a democracy, but this, again, was exactly what the people wanted!============ THE COMMANDER,,, REPOST THIS IF YOU AGREE .. THE END OF AMERICA-

    1. Cool story, bro.

      1. Sock puppet, bro.

    2. The COMMANDER!

      1. Sounds like a villain from Mandrake the Magician…

        1. I was thinking of Terry Jones as. . .the Bishop!

    3. MORE CAPS!!!

    4. COMMANDER please give me a link to your wonderful web page. I am a mixed-race Buddhist-Muslim-Catholic and I would consider joining your movement. Who are you against?

      1. Who are you against?

        Yes.

    5. I kind of lost you somewhere between “The weak-kneed” and “the end of america”.

  8. Subject: STOP OBAMA
    Message:
    obama people have no idea of the extent to which they have to be gulled in order to be led.” “The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one.” “All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it.” “Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise. “pelosi don’t see much future for the Americans … it’s a decayed country. And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social &^% …obama feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance … everything about the behaviour of American society reveals that it’s half &^%, and the other half &^& How can one expect a State like that to hold TOGTHER.They include the angry left wing bloggers who spread vicious lies and half-truths about their political adversaries… Those lies are then repeated by the duplicitous left wing media outlets who “discuss” the nonsense on air as if it has merit? The media’s justification is apparently “because it’s out there”, truth be damned. State: *usa Obama chuckles at America*
    If YOU PASS THE NORTH KOREAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU GET 12 YRS HARD LABOR, YOU PASS THE AFGHAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU GET SHOT. Under the Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison,There is no immigration allowed in China, India, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Turkey and MOST other countries YOU PASS THE AMERICAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU GET A JOB, DRIVER’S LICENSE, ALLOWANCE FOR A PLACE TO LIVE, HEALTH CARE, EDUCATION, BILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT SO YOU CAN READ A DOCUMENT. WE CARRY PASSPORTS IN OTHER COUNTRIES OR FACE JAIL TIME. REPOST THIS IF YOU AGREE!! ((STOP COMMUNIST OBAMA)) THE COMMANDER

    1. Cooler story, bro.

    2. Is this^ an auto-bot or does somebody actually spend their time writing and posting this.

      1. I think more Decepticon.

        1. +10,000

      2. Looks like an average LaRouche sandwich board. And like those, my brain can’t process the text so it’s not even going to try.

        1. I used to work right next to a LaRouche field office (?), and would see those folks in the coffee shop. That post is a good approximation of talking to them, except needs more delusions of grandeur.

    3. YOU PASS THE AMERICAN BORDER ILLEGALLY YOU GET …BILLIONS OF DOLLARS SPENT SO YOU CAN READ A DOCUMENT

      Wow, I get billions of dollars just for crossing the border? Is that like Passing “GO” on steroids or something?

      1. Don’t mock the COMMANDER! I love his comments.

        1. They are all swayed by Obama’s DECEIVABLENESS

      2. Okay. Only one billion.

    4. I kind of lost you somewhere between “subject:” and “the commander”.

  9. Commander isn’t using the caps lock enough to really prove what he’s saying is correct. It also lacks references to chemtrails, the fake moon landing, and my precious bodily fluids.

    1. and bold needs more BOLD

  10. OBAMA IS USING CHEMTRAILS TO POLLUTE OUR PRECIOUS BODILY FLUIDS!! WAKE UP AMERICA, HIS ECONOMIC POLICIES ARE AS FAKE AS THE SO-CALLED MOON LANDING!!1! HE TOOK UR JRBS!121!! PILTDOWN MAN!!

    See, is that so hard?

    1. Having “COMMANDER” before your name makes your comment seem militaryish and authentic.

      A question:

      Would it be better to be completely like North Korea, or just more like North Korea?

      1. ‘Kause it’s Kooler.

    2. Worser… Obama’s using the ROADS to deliver the chemtrails!

    3. Holy Hell, this could be a great ‘bot if somebody wanted to spend the time to whip one up. Just like the old Scott Adams Dilbert Mission Statement Generator.

  11. Another ballot issue I have. I’m lazy..yes…so label the goddamned incumbent in case I feel like voting against them.

    And why do we even bother to label party affiliation below the state level. Does it matter whether the local dog catcher is red or blue?

    1. It’s so the sheeple know who to vote for.

      Team red can never vote for team blue, and vice versa. It’s in their handbook or something.

      1. Ohhh, the irony of the use of ‘sheeple’!

    2. you’re right. there should be a box to check to vote straight anti-incumbent.

    3. Where I am (NY) they DO label in the incumbent.

      1. And sometimes, even with a ‘convict’ number on their new jumpsuits. Just not often enough.

    4. That’s the way it is here in Oregon. State reps you know but no one below that and none of the judiciary. Incumbents are identified either.

    5. And why do we even bother to label party affiliation have elections for positions below the state level. Does it matter whether the local dog catcher is red or blue?

      FIFY

  12. Many of the changes will occur not because a member of Congress loses but because a member has decided not to run.

    Right on. I’m bailing before they kick my sorry ass.

  13. to be eaten by a polar bear while panning for gold in Key West

    Is this a euphemism for something homoerotic? I don’t get it.

  14. So this election will not, in fact, be the most important election EVER in history(as hyped by the usual hypemongers)?

    1. No it won’t. Maybe the most important since the civil war, though.

      it’s a referendum on who we want wasting our money and killing brown people. So choose wisely.

      1. who we want?

        1. No change necessary. The folks in charge are doing well. Just let them do their job.

      2. it’s a referendum on who we want wasting our money and killing brown people. So choose wisely.

        What if I don’t want my money wasted at all? And if I only want to kill three brown people and not 10?

  15. WAKE UP PEOPLE! BREAKFAST IS THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY.

    1. In corinthians 69:187 jesus said to the dad from Friday: “and thou shalt leggo my eggo”.

    2. Do bong hits, coffee and cigarettes count as breakfast? If so, I totally agree, it IS the most important…meal?

    3. COMMANDER WAFFLES I will follow you wherever the battle takes us, especially if it comes with a side of pork sausage.

  16. As James Bovard pointed out, our “elections” are just reverse slave auctions–the slaves choose which master will wield the whip. The whip gonna hit our backs either way.

    1. OUCH!

  17. This election is not anti-incumbent, it’s anti-liberal. Liberals know this, that is why they made up the talking point of an anti-incumbent election so they can pretend the epic slaughter of democrats will not repudiate liberalism itself.

  18. For you Californians out there, the single most important thing you can do in this election is to VOTE NO PROPOSITION 27!

    It’s nothing more than a naked power grab by incumbents and their well-connected, big-money donors.

    Proposition 27 Revealed!
    http://soquelbythecreek.blogsp…..ealed.html

    1. 27 is the second most thing. 19 is THE most important thing!

      1. I think they’re both equally important.

        On another note, why does California have Propositions and Florida has Amendments? Are there more Johns in California?

  19. Does that mean lots of entrenched career pols are going to be evicted? Fewer than you might think. Many of the changes will occur not because a member of Congress loses but because a member has decided not to run.

    They decide not to run because they know they will lose.

    You are making the same mistake Mangu makes.

    1. Or because they’re running for higher office.

        1. Which begs the question, why do people spend millions to get a job that pays tens to (maybe) hundreds of thousands? Or why do they take the paycut in the first place if the private sector is more lucrative? I refuse to believe everyone in public office is there because they want to “serve” their country.

          1. Because it’s about power.

            When you’ve got all the money you’ll ever need, it seems that having money and just money isn’t enough. People want power too.

  20. Gerrymandering hurts? I did not think ole’ Brown stuck it to Linda. Hit me with a moonbeam.

  21. This is the great unknown problem. I can mention gerrymandering to 100 college educated adults and get 99 blank stares.

    The other problem is that by the time we get even to the primary elections, everyone who isn’t a sociopath or a megalomaniac (or both) has been weeded out.

    1. This is the great unknown problem. I can mention gerrymandering to 100 college educated adults and get 99 blank stares.

      A feature, not a bug.

  22. I just wanna take a second and say how thoroughly awesome it is that English has a word for a politically-drawn district.

    1. Bass-ackwards?

  23. I remember back in high school for my US government class, the teacher had us draw congressional districts for California so that a particular party would win the state by a certain margin. I used the 64 crayon box to separate districts. The coast looked like, well the coast of California – fuckin rainbows man!

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