Did you know that redistricting is supposed to benefit voters? In fact, that’s the entire purpose of redistricting – to take census figures, track shifts in population growth and demographics and adjust the maps accordingly so every voter has equal (or as close to it as possible) representation in our representative government.
I know that likely comes as a surprise in this state, where voter benefit seems to be the last factor considered during each reapportionment. The first consideration, of course, under our way of doing things is politician self-preservation.
I guess that’s to be expected when you have the job applicants creating the job requirements.
Which is why we shouldn’t do it that way. Because here’s what doing it that way gets us.
There is a nonprofit in Alabama named, ironically enough, Citizens for Fair Representation that is financing the drawing of all of our voting maps. You might think, given that name, that Citizens for Fair Representation is a collection of civic-minded voters who want to ensure fair elections for all.
It’s actually a collection of Alabama elected Republicans – from the president of the state senate to the speaker of the state house, and all the way down – who are paying out of their campaign accounts to have maps drawn.
Now, if you’re a map drawer and the client paying you to draw maps is an elected official, it’s a pretty safe bet that the maps you draw will not be detrimental in the least to the elected official paying you to draw those maps. Because if they are, you are soon to be an unemployed map drawer.
And this is how Alabama voters are selecting the people who represent them.
Not from a fair representation of the local population, but instead from a convoluted mess of a map that ensures safe, easy elections for the folks – and the party – paying for the maps.
Do you know who loses in such a scenario?
You do. Every single time.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s Democrats or Republicans pushing such partisan maps. Because the goal of drawing voting maps – at least as far as the voting public is concerned – should never be about Democrats or Republicans or liberals and conservatives, but instead about simple demographics and natural borders. It should be about including whole communities and counties, ensuring that local issues are addressed and local and state politics come first.
But that’s not how it is here. Which is why we have state House candidates running on abortion and congressional races where protecting the southern border is somehow a topic of interest.
Have you ever thought about that? About why candidates in statehouse races seem more concerned about transgender athletes than they do about why your local schools are underfunded or why the bridge that’s been out for six months still isn’t repaired?
It’s this gerrymandering BS.
In almost all of Alabama’s statehouse elections, there is zero general election mystery. We know from the day the party primary is over who’s winning that seat, because the district is so gerrymandered that the other party’s candidate has no chance.
That means that the candidate elected has no incentive whatsoever to listen to the constituents who might vote against him or her. Because in reality, that candidate will only ever face a true challenge from within his own party.
Even more depressing: that candidate doesn’t really have to appease the majority of the voters in the district. All he or she has to do is appease the base of the party in that district to all but be assured of victory.
That serves to lessen voter interest (why vote at all if you know your candidate has absolutely no chance?), which destroys citizen participation in the entire process.
In some elections – particularly special elections – House districts with 40,000-plus eligible voters are decided by less than 5,000 voters in a party primary. There was a special primary election a couple of years ago in which less than 1,500 people voted for the winner. He was elected to office in a general election in which less than 3,800 total people voted.
I get asked all the time why it is Alabama has such a corrupt government or why the people of the state don’t demand better from those we send to Montgomery. Why do issues like transgender athletes garner so much attention and so many proposed bills, but half of our counties lacking a practicing pediatrician or thousands of people straight-piping raw sewage into a field can go decades without a single meaningful discussion.
Gerrymandering is the answer to all of it.
Elected officials figured out a long time ago that if they get to select their voters, instead of vice-versa, they get to control the narratives. They get to push to the extreme edges of partisan politics and never concern themselves with the middle. Or with compromise. Or with meaningful legislation that serves the people.
The fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of voters in this state – and all states, for that matter – are not far apart on most issues, even the most controversial issues. We’re basically a good, meaningful conversation away from a compromise that we can all live with.
But we can’t even get to the conversation because the game is rigged.