OUTSIDE THE LINES

Posted in Rants on October 4th, 2017 by Ed

There is real hope that the Supreme Court could deal a blow to partisan gerrymandering schemes during this term, which bodes well for the aftermath of the 2020 Census.

But it wouldn't be 2017 if I let you get excited. Don't get very excited. This isn't going to end gerrymandering or even partisan gerrymandering; it may put an end to partisan gerrymandering so blatant, so "Ha ha fuck you what are you gonna do about it" bad that when the map is rejected in Federal court one can only say, "You could have gotten away with it, but you got greedy."

Look. Gerrymandering is no longer an art. It is a science, thanks to GIS software, massive data mining of social and demographic data, and bitter partisanship. People who are good at this sort of thing could gerrymander a Republican majority in the Illinois State Legislature (which is currently 2/3 Democratic). If you think I'm kidding, trust me – I'm NOT an expert and I can do it. As long as one throws shame out the window and is willing to draw the most patently ludicrous districts without any reference to reality or legal precedent, it can be done.

The era of party bosses eyeballing wall maps and drawing districts with a marker are gone. This is block by block, house by house precision. The technology has made political power and sheer gall the only impediments to gerrymandering the hell out of a state.

Turning 45% of the vote statewide into 60% majorities in the state leg as Wisconsin Republicans did may no longer pass muster if the Court does rule against the state. However, defining what is and isn't "partisan gerrymandering" will not have a clear definition. Like many things dealing with this topic it will have to be treated on a case by case, "I know it when I see it" basis. The Courts have long recognized that race is a relevant factor in redistricting, so…I mean, you don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out how to draw districts in a way that favors your party while using "Well, we were just keeping Communities of Interest together!" as cover.

A favorable ruling would be a rare bit of good news in this otherwise abysmal year, but go into it with your eyes open. This is, at best, going to end only the most comically over-the-top abuses of the redistricting process. All of the ordinary gamesmanship and attempts at system-rigging will putter along. That would be a net positive, but certainly no reason to have a ticker-tape parade.