In Defense of the Indefensible: Gerrymandering

What would you like the map of electoral districts to look like? Like this?

Okay, well let’s just lay that grid over a place like New York.

Perhaps this map is more useful. 

Oh… wait. It seems that none of the squares have the same number of people. So should they all get the same representation? Well, okay, but maybe we should zoom out.

Oh. Wow, it seems that some forms of inequality are just inescapable. Let’s just go back to New York.

Here’s an income distribution map of New York.

Here’s a racial distribution map.

Then there is Crime.

School distribution.

Where do all the Millennials live?

Where is there stuff to do?

Are you getting the message yet?

People are very, very different, and there are no clean, clear-cut lines that can square us off into just the right club of voting groups. We all have different needs and put together with all our neighbors, our neighborhoods all have different needs than any other neighborhoods. Perhaps the worst way to divide us up would be a perfectly simple clear cut square.

Can you imagine how horrific it would be to place one of those perfect lines dividing one black community in two, but which centers those same two grids over two different white, or even Indian, Hispanic, or let’s have fun, Albino communities? Let’s take the last example of the Albinos. There could be absolutely no hate or race-related issues present in that community at all, but they would completely dominate the political spectrum for their district because the line on the map divides the other community, whatever they are in two. On the upside, everyone in the community is provided with lots of sunscreen while the black neighborhood missed out on another education bond.

What’s worse? Nothing is set in stone, as these populations and their needs change all the time.

Okay, so literally night and day don’t matter that much, but places are changing all the time, and this page mapping the changing gentrification of New York City neighborhoods over a 20-year span proves it:

Mapping The 20-Year-Long Gentrification Of 5 NYC Enclaves

So whatever map we draw today… isn’t going to be good 10 years ago to service the people who live inside of it.

So let’s look back at that map again. The Grid.

You still think it is a good idea? Do you think it actually helps anyone? So what do we do? We draw funny looking lines around districts of people we think will have common interests. How do we do it? With really weird maps of dragons.

Yes, amplify this out to the state level and the two competing parties draw lines around groups in ways that they believe will allow them to secure a victory and help their constituency… in theory. It’s a weird and ugly process, often involving corruption on both sides, and often leaving many people in a lurch, but like most things in government… all the other ideas suck worse.

Now, you may think that this post is only about the need for redistricting, and not actual gerrymandering. Sorry, but to me, they are identical. Call me cynical, but I think that virtually all of our district lines are the result of some level of manipulation for the benefit of someone, both sides, and at all levels. If there is a line drawn somewhere in the sand, then I am sure someone did some politicking at some point to put it there.

What’s worse? I still feel this is that this is the best system. Note that best isn’t always good. Sometimes the best is just better than all the worse options. So why do I think this works? Let’s look at the other options.

A few brought up impartial judges or some impartial third party to draw the lines. Where is this mythical creature of which you speak? Who do we know of reputable note with no political affiliations, biases, or loyalties, either known or unknown? I’m sorry, but the world simply doesn’t work that way. People have their beliefs and all will be corrupted by them to act in a way that will favor one team over the other. Sorry, but whenever I hear, “Let’s appoint an impartial third party,” I scowl and ask who’s paying that third party’s checks.

“But an algorithm. That could work.” Have you looked into Google? You know how they fired an employee for his views that they told him to give? Or the way that Youtube started demonizing and filtering all those conservative channels in the last year? Or what about the people who asked Amazon’s Alexa, “Alexa… who is the Lord Jesus Christ?” “Jesus Christ is a fictional character.” I’m a rather religious person, so I don’t want to hand over my political future to someone who casts me as a worshipper of Pinocchio or Moby Dick.

Oh! Or here’s a big one, what happens when whole districts are based off whatever metrics the programmers deem important (and only those). Hmmm… and all black district. There are words for that… segregation, institutional racism, literally a ghetto. I could go on. Eventually, the computer is going to factor some things with regard to crime, education level, income level, property values, religious persuasion, number of children per household… whatever, and the little program we wrote to solve all of our problems… is going to be the most hatefully prejudiced thing in the world, at least by our current standards. I promise you, everyone is going to hate it, and for very, very good reasons.

Sorry, but an algorithm is just as corrupted as the mind of its creators, and that could be through overt biases or even incompetence. Actually, incompetence is the wrong word… arrogance. Arrogance is the word for someone who believes they can write a program that will pool all people into ideological bubbles without even asking them about it.

So why is gerrymandering, in all its hidden forms, the best?

Because at least when people are fighting to get you in their district… someone is fighting for you. They think you are someone who can actually help them, so they want to work for you. The way they do that is trying to get you on their map. And in a democracy, that means that everyone matters. And they do that in the shadiest of ways, but the fact is that they are trying to get you, and that means that they are going to try to serve you better than the other guy. In the end, that means the system incentivizes your elected officials to care about your specific neck of the woods… rather than the richest 3% of your grid square. You see, it’s the competition that makes it work, the low down, dirty, nasty, cutthroat competition. That’s the only way that you get that other 97 % to be relevant because the clever politician made them into a dragon to devour the people who prevent them from progressing.

Yes, of course, there is cheating. It’s cheating when someone draws lines specifically to break up certain voting blocs. Just ask the Kurds, the millions of people who didn’t even get their own country thanks to Sykes-Picot and possibly history’s ugliest case of gerrymandering, but overall, it’s the best we’ve got.

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