John Colson: Leading toward a less gerrymandered future
Hit & Run
As the nation girds itself for the upcoming midterm elections, in which the entire U.S. House of Representatives is up for grabs, and after that the presidential election in 2020, it seems a good time to look at what’s cooking in the overheated oven known as our national political system.
First off, it is no secret that President Donald Trump and his minions in the administration and Congress are doing their damnedest to throw the same kinds of monkey wrenches into the system that turned the 2016 presidential election on its head, and a few new ones, too.
The newest gambit, announced last week, is to insert a new question into the U.S. Census form, along the lines of, “Are you a citizen of the United States?”
The census, as readers may already know, is scheduled for 2020 — they happen every 10 years and are supposed to accurately report the true population of the nation, which presumably will have grown significantly since the 2010 census.
Interestingly, there have been reports that our recent population growth has been due primarily to immigration, mostly from countries whose majority populations are “people of color,” as the saying goes, mainly Latin or Asian nations, according to the experts.
A number of experts on the census systems and procedures have already blasted the citizenship-question idea as nonsensical in terms of supporting an accurate census count, because such questions are known to pose problems for immigrants (whether documented or not), who rightfully are nervous about the possibility of unwarranted deportation.
This is even more true today than at times in the past, given that our president has seen fit to demonize immigrants as a group and has stepped up deportation of immigrants in ways that violate their civil rights and, in some cases, end up sending people back to their countries of origin even if they are here legally.
The question is aimed at one goal only: to add to the intimidation and fear already poisoning the Latino, Asian and black populations, and to persuade them to stay home on Election Day and not vote.
The question flies in the face of the requirement for the census laid out in the U.S. Constitution, which calls for an accurate count of “every person living in the … United States,” according to the U.S. Census website.
There is no mention of immigration status as a qualifying factor in the process. The census even tries to count the transient and homeless population in an effort to arrive at as accurate a number as possible for the current population of the U.S.
But the truth is that Republicans have been working feverishly to find ways to suppress the vote among the non-white population, which the GOP believes is traditionally skewed toward support for Democrats. Purges of voter rolls have notoriously scrapped untold numbers of people from the voter registration lists in some states, while a host of other tactics have been aimed at scaring people of color away from the polls.
Trump’s citizenship question would only add to that suppressive effect, as has his suggestion that armed members of the police or military be stationed at polling places on election day. According to reports, the day after Trump announced his “citizenship” question, a dozen states pledged to file lawsuits over the matter, and the proposal to put armed officers on guard at polling places drew such heated objections from across the country that the idea apparently has been dropped.
Another tactic of ensuring pro-GOP election results has been the party’s reliance on gerrymandering of electoral districts in many states, which is done as a redistricting process, which is based directly on the outcome of the census.
The trick is to redraw a state’s electoral-district boundaries to cram Democrats all together in a small number of districts, leaving the GOP as the dominant party in a majority of districts in the state. And since state and federal representatives are elected by district, the result is an overabundance of winners coming from the GOP.
Democrats, of course, have done this, too, but not in so methodical and diabolical a way as the GOP has over the course of the past three decades or so.
Here in Colorado, we apparently may have two questions on the 2018 midterm ballot aimed at taking partisan politics out of the redistricting process to ensure a fair pattern of representation based on numbers rather than outlandish manipulation of district boundaries.
Although the text of the two ballot questions has not been made public yet, and legal challenges have yet to be fully decided by the state supreme court, it appears the bills (or bill, depending on the outcome of court challenges) will set up a nonpartisan commission to redraw district lines following the census.
In addition, the gerrymandering-reform effort is intended to boost the number of independent voters on the commission, to avoid having either Democrats or Republicans dominate the redistricting process.
Around the country, allegations of gerrymandering abuses have spawned legal battles in at least four states, and the U.S. Supreme County is mulling over one particular case dealing with Wisconsin’s gerrymandered districts under Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his Republican-dominated state House.
Of all the ways in which U.S. democratic ideals are under attack in the era of Trump, the ills of traditional gerrymandering may be the most consequential, and reform of this tainted practice is long overdue.
Perhaps Colorado will lead the way to a less gerrymandered future.
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