Reapportionment and Redistricting Can Create Shapes Only Found in Politics
Art [noun] – The quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
Gerrymander [noun] – The dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.
While some may think it’s a relatively new process (historically speaking), gerrymandering is not new; in fact its origins go back to 1812 as noted by Dictionary.com:
American English, from Elbridge Gerry + (sala)mander. Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, was lampooned when his party redistricted the state in a blatant bid to preserve an Antifederalist majority. One Essex County district resembled a salamander, and a newspaper editor dubbed it Gerrymander.
Florida is the latest state to make headlines about their new legislative districts; though at its apogee in 2011, there were more than two dozen states with court challenges pending about their post-2010 census districts, and even the judge who ruled two congressional districts to be unconstitutional is uncertain what the next steps are.
At issue is a court challenge filed by a coalition of voting-rights groups, principally disputing all Florida’s congressional districts, but specifically attacking two of them: the Fifth and Tenth Districts. Florida State Legislature leaders did not refute the judge’s initial ruling, but they have a decidedly different take on the current circumstances.
On Thursday, the two sides tussled over who would fix the map.
George Meros, an attorney for the Republican-led Florida House of Representatives, said the Legislature “fully intends” to draw new districts. The task would only take a few weeks, he added.
“On a clean slate, the Legislature can act promptly,” Meros said.
But David King, the lead attorney for the voting-rights groups, said “allowing the folks that made a mockery of the process to redraw the maps (would add) insult to injury.”
Instead, the coalition proposed its own map that would revamp Rep. Corrine Brown’s district, one of two districts Lewis declared unconstitutional. The district now runs from Jacksonville to Orlando. On the coalition’s proposed map, it runs along the northeastern edge of the Panhandle.
“It is critical that that bizarrely shaped District 5 does not survive this process,” King said.
In that a picture can say a thousand words, here’s what the Florida Fifth currently looks like.
Unique to be sure, and impossible to say today what the immediate course of action will be in Florida, but they are far from alone in “The Art of Gerrymandering.”
There is certainly no shortage of other unique district shapes that dot the country; so here then are six of our favorite pieces of “gerrymander art,” courtesy of the 2010 census and the redistricting process.
Illinois Fourth District – Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (IL04 D)
Louisiana Second District – Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (LA02 D)
Michigan Fourteenth District – Rep. Gary C. Peters (MI14 D)
North Carolina Twelfth District – Currently Vacant
Pennsylvania Seventh District – Rep. Patrick L. “Pat” Meehan (PA07 R)
Texas Second District – Rep. Ted Poe (TX02 R)
Coincidentally, we ended in Texas because they are back in court, and in the headlines, over the districts that were actually used in 2012 (and are being used this year). This will be the third round of legal challenges claiming they are discriminatory toward minorities and favor the GOP, and it’s anybody’s guess where this may lead or how long it may take.
The actual benefits of gerrymandering, and the redistricting process as a whole, are always fodder for debate. Many think the process actually has far less impact than is believed, and there have been some very thoughtful and thorough analyses done to measure the real effects. Others think the entire process should be removed from the state legislatures, who are the current overseers in most states, and passed onto a citizen’s advisory board or similar organization.
California was one of the first to make such a move after the decennial census in 2010. The success of the effort depends entirely on the subjectivity of who you discuss the results with; and there are strong opinions on both sides. What is fact though is that the state senate still managed to wrangle itself into the picture.
Since California’s state senators serve four year terms, half of the body is up for reelection every two years; so it was decided to place half of the new districts (those that had elections in 2012) into effect immediately, while holding off on the other half until the 2014 elections. The problem was that the new districts overlapped many of the old districts, while at the same time they failed to cover areas contained within the yet to be effective districts (picture Swiss cheese).
Thus, at the beginning of the legislative session in January 2013, there were millions of residents who were represented by two senators, and millions who had no senator. After three weeks of floor debate, the esteemed members of the upper chamber finally came to agreement on which senators would “cover” which areas without representation; maybe not quite the “overhaul” of the process many were looking for, but at least there have been no court challenges, so maybe they’re onto something.
Is redistricting important? Absolutely. Is gerrymandering the evil many make it out to be? Maybe. Are the infighting and court battles likely to cease anytime soon? Very unlikely.
So while you ponder your own position on the redistricting process, enjoy a little “gerrymander art,” after all you paid for it!
Think we missed a district that is “art?” Note it in the comments here, comment on the post at our Facebook page or tweet us at @PracticalPols; and we’ll do our best to post it on Facebook and Twitter.