Saturday, November 26, 2011

CNN: "Gerry-Rigged" looks at gerrymandering

Recently CNN has shown a one hour documentary “Gerry-Rigged”. And, no, this is not Gus Van Sant telling the tragic story (“Gerry”) of hikers lost in the desert. It’s about gerrymandering, the practice of drawing congressional districts to protect partisan political interests. The film takes the position that it will show the average voter why his or her vote may not "count" or at least "matter".  Not much for a sense of personal empowerment.

The tendency in southern states is to cram African Americans into the same oddly-shaped districts so that Republicans can maintain more control of white areas.  Gerrymandering tends to encourage political segregation.

The program gave many examples, such as in North Carolina, and the city of Chicago, where the Democratic machine uses it in refined fashion. 

On the other hand, gerrymandering sometimes keeps LGBT voters together, tending to protect them in local governments.

Portions of gerrymandered districts have to be topologically contiguous, but sometimes areas are joined with very narrow strips of land. 

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal reporter, said that the Supreme Court has repeatedly said that it won’t intervene with purely political machinations of gerrymandering unless race is involved.   The “legal standards” that make gerrymandering acceptable constitutionally are convoluted and tricky, and there are a number of Supreme Court cases.  Here is a reference from Ohio with a legal discussion, link. A recent case is the “League of Latin Citizens v. Perry” (2006). 

It's very believable that the deeply partisan nature of American politics, which gerrymandering bolsters, contributes to paralysis in Congress, as seen with this summer's unbelievable debt ceiling "debate". 

Toward the end of the film, there was a report on non-partisan districting in Iowa, a very “white” state.
Drew Griffin and James Polk report. 

Jeff Reichert’s film “Gerrymandering” is reviewed on the movies blog Oct. 30, 2010.

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