The president took it on the chin big time last night, but so did the odious, uniquely American practice of gerrymandering. It is named for Elbridge Gerry, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, who first altered district lines for political advantage when he was governor of Massachusetts. (His name is pronounced with a hard G — as in get – but the eponymous practice is not.)
But last night in both California and Florida, propositions passed that abolish the practice. Florida’s amendment leaves the task of redistricting to the legislature but requires that
Legislative districts or districting plans should not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or linguistic minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as possible, and, when feasible, must make use of existing city, county, and geographical boundaries. It needed a 60-percent vote to become part of the state constitution and it got 62.54 percent.
In California, the power to redistrict state legislative lines was taken away from the legislature two years ago and given to a nonpartisan commission. Yesterday, Proposition 20 passed, taking away the power to redistrict congressional lines as well. A competing proposition, No. 27, would have abolished the commission and returned redistricting to the legislature. It went down in flames.
How bad was the gerrymandering in California? After the spectacular gerrymander following the 2000 census, there have been 692 Congressional and state legislative elections in California. Only five — o.7 percent — resulted in a change of party. It will be fascinating to see what the turnover is in 2012.
This makes four states — the other two are Iowa and Arizona — that have gotten rid of gerrymandering. Only 46 to go.