The word gerrymandering has been used a lot lately and will be used even more so in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. Why? What does it mean? What practical ramifications are there?
Following the census that takes place every ten years, state legislatures re-draw state and federal political lines. The process can be called redistricting or gerrymandering. If it is done fairly (not perfectly), it is redistricting. If it is done in an extreme fashion, it is gerrymandering.
There is a temptation for the party in power in any state to try to draw boundaries to protect itself. Governor Elbridge GERRY of Massachusetts (later the 5th Vice President of the U.S.) succumbed to the temptation and drew up districts that looked like a salamander. The derogatory description of his plan was that it looked like a GERRYmander.
Using modern technology and data available to us in the 21st century, it is relatively easy to make sure that a district will be solidly “red” or solidly “blue.” Similarly, districts can be re-drawn on more sophisticated lines such as race, religion, income, or other considerations. A “best practices” model discourages such practices as they may be very well be called into question by our state or federal court systems. Currently, cases have been decided or are about to be decided in Michigan, Ohio, Maryland, Wisconsin and North Carolina. The stakes are high and the court results are by no means certain.
Why would districts be drawn in bizarre fashion to protect the interests of the party drawing the lines? As one of my college professors used to say frequently, “You can’t take politics out of politics.” Politicians want to protect themselves and their friends and to weaken their opponents. Politicians want to insure political dominance by their party. Politicians want to insure full employment for followers of their own party.
To overcome the temptation, the National Conference of State Legislatures is sponsoring a roadmap for fair actions. A multi-day conference in October will be held to address concerns.
Our neighboring state of Iowa has crafted a redistricting role for their state supreme court back in 1980 that many regard as a positive model. By past practice rather than legislation, Minnesota has followed in the footsteps of Iowa. Redistricting eventually goes to the courts.
Redistricting does not have to be done by the courts. The legislature can pass a bill drawing new political district lines. Like any other bill, it then goes to the Governor for approval or veto. As we learned in the 2019 legislative session, Minnesota has a divided government. Our State House of Representatives has a majority of Democrats and our State Senate has a majority of Republicans. It is difficult to reach consensus on any issue.
Let’s look at the census. Counting the population (not the citizens) is mandated by the U.S. Constitution. Check out Article 1, Section 2.
Drawing new political district lines is so important because the results impact our lives in many ways for the next ten years. It is all connected the federal census.
- While each state is guaranteed at least one member of the House of Representatives, the overwhelming majority of states have one member of the U.S. House of Representatives for each 711,000 people in its area.
- Minnesota currently has 8 members of the House of Representatives, but it could have only 7 after the 2020 census. It is not that Minnesota is losing population; we are actually gaining population. In 2010 we had approximately 683,000 people in MN over age 65; in 2020 it is anticipated that we will have about 965,000 people over age 65. The problem is that other states are gaining more population than Minnesota is.
- Big federal money is at stake. Minnesota receives about $8.5 billion dollars (with a b) in federal monies each year. The exact amount for a particular program depends upon how many people have been counted in the census. Specific qualifications are set for different types of programs; the census data provides the correct number of people in a given category.
- Planning is at stake. How many senior centers will we need in the future? How many hospitals? Schools? Roads? Mass transit?
- Businesses need the census. Where should factories or businesses be located? Where will they find prospective employees? Where are the likely markets for products or services?
We need a vigorous counting of the people as a starting point in the redistricting process. Yet, there are those who want to add a twist to the 2020 census by requiring people to state their citizenship status. Check Yes if you are a citizen. No, if you are not a citizen.
No where does the U.S. Constitution say the census should be for the purpose of determining the number of citizens in our country. Programs to provide needed support to people do not depend on citizenship. A hospital is for everyone. Public schools are for all. Members of Congress represent all people in their district. Citizenship is not a requirement. Why ask about it?
Let’s go back to “You can’t take politics out of politics.” Questioning citizenship is a way to discourage people for not completing the census form. We need full participation!
Minnesota has an 85% completion rate on the return of census forms, well above the national average of 74%. We need to expand on that good 85% participation rather than have a lower rate.
BE INFORMED. You need to go beyond what is printed in the newspapers. You need to go beyond what is being said on cable TV. You need to go to a trusted source and look for census information or redistricting references. “Google” Minnesota State Census 2020 or REDISTRICTING and do a little internet sleuthing.
You need to support Governor Walz, Secretary of State Simon, Attorney General Ellison and othe officials who support a full, complete, accurate census count in 2020.
We know we can COUNT ON YOU
Editor’s Note. According to the Common Cause organization, several states have taken positive steps towards ending gerrymandering: Utah, Michigan, Ohio, California, Colorado, Missouri and Virginia. Even conservative President Ronald Reagan said, “that’s all we’re asking for: an end to the antidemocratic and un-American practice of gerrymandering congressional districts.”