How redistricting is undermining democracy

In a commentary on YNN (“On the Agenda: How redistricting undermines the Constitution“) Harvey Kronberg argues that the redistricting process in Texas is to undermining representative democracy in Texas.

The only election mandated in the United States Constitution is the first Tuesday in November, but if only a Republican can win a Republican district and vice versa, the constitution is undermined and the only elections that count are the party primaries in March.

Kronberg, one of the most respected political analysts in the state, is overstating his case a little. The U.S. Constitution does not actually specify the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November as election day. That was established by law. Still, Kronberg’s larger question is a good one.  It is also an important question.

What is the state of representative democracy in Texas if politicians are designing districts to limit competition? Clearly, that is exactly what many legislators intend to do. Members of the Legislature are openly talking about how they want to make sure that incumbents are not paired against each other. That is, one of their primary standards is protecting incumbents from competition.

It is ironic that the Republicans who most vigorously endorse the virtue of competition in the free market are so anxious to banish competition from politics. It is also ironic to see the Democrats who so tearfully talk about protecting average Texans are so willing to see them represented only through a political lens. It is amazing to see the “tea party” politicians who most energetically attacked “politics as usual” last fall are now enthusiastically embracing one of the oldest tricks in American democracy.

Ross Ramsey’s Texas Tribune story on redistricting opened by noting, “Texas state representatives will choose their voters today — grabbing the ones they want, ditching the ones they don’t…” This reflects how redistricting has turned representative democracy on its head. Anyone who has seen the districts in the House’s redistricting plan can see that citizens are being treated like pawns to be moved around the chessboard and sacrificed in protection of their kings.

This is all part of the game that politicians take for granted. For them, sometimes the Republicans take control and game the system, sometimes the Democrats take control and game the system. They think that Republican gerrymandering in Texas is offset by Democratic gerrymandering in California. Even if they want to embrace the idea that the cheating balances out, they forget that not everyone is well represented by the two major parties. Average voters lose when party bosses load the dice.

The extinction of moderates is the most visible symptom of this form of political corruption. The Texas Legislature and the U.S. Congress are both in need of the moderate voices that would help construct compromises. When we allow this kind of partisan redistricting we’re enabling another decade of the politics we say we abhor.

We also need to keep in mind that our democracy is increasingly resting on the party primaries that few citizens take part in. As Kronberg points out:

Texas is a state of 25 million, eight million voted in the last presidential election. Five million voted in the last gubernatorial election. You know how many people vote in the Republican primary? On average, only around a million of your most ideological neighbors.

The questions Texas have to ask themselves is: How much can we let officials rig our political system and still call it a democracy?


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