Thursday, November 09, 2006
The elections are over and the Great Game of Politics enters a new chapter. Everyone always remembers who they voted for President and Senator and even Governor. Below those marquee offices, the names start to get fuzzy. Most people (and by ‘most people’ I mean ‘me’) have a hard time remembering who their congressman is, let alone their assemblyman or state senator or school board council member. One reason for this is that Congressional Districts don’t make any sense. They have numbers instead of names, don’t match known geographical boundaries, and get redrawn once a decade (or more often if you live in Texas).
When I moved to West Palm Beach I ended up in the very misshapen 23rd District. This was when the scales really fell off my eyes about gerrymandering. This district had been drawn to encircle all the predominantly African American neighborhoods in South Florida. It ran inland along US1 from northern Miami for about a hundred miles up past West Palm Beach. My residence was in the small tentacle that crawled across Forest Hill Boulevard to catch the sugar plantation towns surrounding Lake Okeechobee.
The 23rd is flanked by the equally distended 19th and 22nd Districts (Del Boca Vista Phase III retirees and rich white people with beachfront property, respectively) and is wrapped on the north by Mark Foley’s old stomping grounds. Since I moved out of Florida the district has been redrawn but it still stretches from Miramar in the south to Fort Pierce in the north. This article from the Economist uses the 22nd and 23rd districts as part of a How To Rig An Election tutorial.
Alcee Hastings, a former federal judge who had been impeached for bribery (which was overturned for technical reasons on appeal), was the front runner for my district. Hastings was from Miami, which has a whole different set of needs than West Palm Beach and definitely has little in common with Belle Glades. It bugged me that an entire district would be drawn just for the sake of one corrupt politician. I was much more naïve then. Hastings has run unopposed in most elections since then and is now rumored to be in line for chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee.
My current district (Maryland 3rd) is also wildly gerrymandered. It stretches from Annapolis through Elkridge up to Pikesville, Towson, and Parkton. For a state as small as Maryland, that level of convolutedness is unforgivable. There are a lot of tests to determine how “fair” a district is to meet voting right requirements, but none include compactness. This frustrates my engineer’s sense of efficiency. There needs to be some sort of perimeter to area ratio requirement that can be minimized or equalized among districts.
This district just elected the second generation of Sarbannes to national office. He won with 65% of the vote, which tells me this is his seat as long as he wants it. I’m not too keen on the whole nepotism in politics idea right now. It hasn’t seemed to be too successful lately.
I pick weird issues to get worked up about. For years it was the marriage tax back when only Dan Quayle an I ever seemed concerned about. Now it’s gerrymandering. If some politician out there ever decides to ride to power on a platform of voting district fairness, I’m behind him or her. I think I’ll be waiting a long time.