Expect red states to get much more red and blue states to get much more blue.
Give credit to the Supreme Court for not just whiffing on the question of political gerrymandering last week, but also letting go of the bat and hurling it into the stands and hitting a kid in the face with it and knocking over Dad’s $8 beer in the process, too.
In a 5-4 decision, the five conservative Supreme Court justices basically threw their hands up at the question and said, “Not my problem,” and left it to the states.
But the states are the problem in the first place, so ... yeah, thanks for the help.
In the U.S., every 10 years, state lawmakers are asked to redesign district maps for their state legislatures as well as the U.S. House seats. This redrawing coincides with the nationwide census — the fresh count gives updated population numbers, which then allows for a readjustment in how many House seats each state gets in Congress and reveals to states how and where their population is changing.
It’s a process that needs to be done, because over time the population changes and shifts. Therefore, the representation needs to change and shift with it.
But, of course, politicians, the ones being asked to draw the maps, have a lot to gain if they can tilt the scales in their favor. And, without a doubt, they will if given the opportunity.
Gerrymandering is the name for the practice of drawing political lines with the intent to give a particular party an ingrained advantage in future elections.
To be clear, both sides do this. That was proven by the case before the Supreme Court, which considered instances from both North Carolina, which was accused of drawing a lopsided map for Republicans, and from Maryland, which redrew maps with one prime intent to depose a longtime GOP lawmaker and turn his district into a Democratic stronghold.
Unlike the past, big data has allowed map making to become incredibly precise. Computers loaded with piles of demographic data can sort it down to a level where, if desired, lawmakers could snake district lines block by block to try to empower or weaken certain voters.
As I wrote in a past column, you can find a good example of this by looking at Indiana’s House map and looking at Fort Wayne. Fort Wayne has one tightly packed, reliably Democratic district located south of downtown, but the rest of the districts are divided into small pieces of the city with large chunks of surrounding rural area that votes reliably Republican.
Of the six districts that cover Fort Wayne, the city is represented by one Democrat and five Republicans —17%.
Allen County, which includes a lot of rural area beyond just Fort Wayne, voted 52-47, 57-41 and 56-37 for the Republican in 2008, 2012 and 2016 presidential races.
Based on those numbers, one would assume Fort Wayne should be represented by at least two Democrats to four Republicans, but the way the maps are drawn currently almost ensure that’s impossible.
In 2018, Republicans won those five Fort Wayne statehouse seats with 71%, 54%, 63% and 71% and District 79 was unopposed. (District 79 hasn’t been challenged since 2012, when it was won with 67%.)
Likewise, the single, packed Democratic District 80 hasn’t been opposed by a Republican since 2010, when it was held by Democrats with 68% of the vote.
Outside of Martin Carbaugh’s district on the northwest side of the city, none of the other five Fort Wayne House districts are even remotely competitive and there’s a very good chance that is by design, not coincidence.
So, if the Supreme Court’s conservatives say, “Hey, not our ballgame, go nuts,” what incentive is there for either political party not to just rig the maps for the coming decade to the maximum?
In a red state like Indiana, could lawmakers find a way to squeeze out those last two Democrats in the U.S. House? Why wouldn’t they just crack up the District 80 Democrat seat in Fort Wayne and try to push that seat out?
It goes the other way, too. What incentive does Illinois have to give Republicans any leeway to win a seat? I’d bet Democrats could find a way to pack in enough heavily liberal Chicago votes and snake a thin district out to eat up some rural sections of the state to flip a few seats blue.
Think California and New York and Washington are too liberal now? Think Texas and Alabama and Indiana are too conservative now? Just wait.
The fallout you’d expect from this “So what?” attitude from the highest court in the nation is states even more deeply polarized than ever, elections that are less competitive than ever and voters who are more apathetic than ever.
If districts get less competitive, why would a legislator ever bother with bipartisanship? And — as we’ve seen play out in recent years — what would stop radicals on the extreme ends of the parties from trying to oust more moderate members of their own party in the primary?
Extreme political polarity serves no one well. It doesn’t serve the average person with nuanced views. It doesn’t even serve the radicals, because while they agree with one side, they’ll also be looking at the other side like some super villain.
But hey, at least if we don’t like the way things are going, we can vote our current leaders out.
Well, maybe ...