Meant to get back to this sooner, but when I have had an hour or two to sit on the couch and have some coffee, I'd much rather turn on the Playstation than write about politics. Or read a book. Or anything, really. Writing about politics in America is stress producing. Anyway, where were we? Oh yes… gerrymandering.
That's a map of Travis County (i.e. Austin, Texas). All those oddly shaped pastel colored areas are the various and sundry congressional districts that have had bits of Austin added to them. One city … five districts … five different congressional representatives. One democrat amongst them. One democrat, and four very right wing Republicans represent the most liberal city in Texas. I live in District 35 in that little bit that snakes up into the blue at the most northern point. I am thankfully represented by Democrat Lloyd Doggett. I feel incredibly lucky.
Here is an image that shows you where some of these districts go outside of Travis County. Pay particular attention to District 35. Notice how it's a long, skinny snake of a thing. On its southern end, about 80 miles away, you'll find San Antonio. District 21 is another I am familiar with. It's comprised mostly of the very staunch Republican hill country area with just a little bit of Austin added in. If I could be bothered to go find a map that is zoomed even further out, you would see that the remaining three districts that represent Austin all stretch out to distant locations except for their tiny little bits of Austin, but I think you can see the pattern. Take a district with lots of Republicans and carve a path to Austin so a smidgen of it can be added and thus dilute the liberal votes of that area and leave them represented by people who don't represent their interests.
Gerrymandering happens everywhere and not just in Central Texas or even just in Texas. Everywhere. In Texas, it's Republicans. Maybe somewhere the Democrats are in power, and they do it. The people in power rewrite the borders of the districts in ways that guarantee they will remain in power by carving up areas of potential opposition (i.e. voters unlikely to vote for them) and stick them with large blocks of voters who will vote for them. Before the most recent redrawing of the lines, I was in a district that ran from my house all the way down to the outskirts of Houston 140 miles away. And before we moved across town to the house, my district ran from south Austin all the way down to the Mexican border. It hasn't always been this way.
The crazy gerrymandering in Texas started becoming a problem in 2003. The Republicans in our statehouse decided they couldn't wait five more years to move all the lines and did a mid-decade redistricting, and boy did they go crazy with yhe lines. They got in trouble for it, and eventually they were told to do it again. The end result of all that line redrawing is the mess we have today. A mess that benefits only one party.
So when I say my vote and the vote of so many others is worthless. I actually mean they are worthless. The districts have been designed to make some people's votes worthless. Prior to my home being moved into Lloyd Doggett's district (or him being moved into my district, however that happened), it wouldn't have mattered who I voted for, or if I even voted at all, the outcome was that the Republican candidate would win. It was the same in all Republican stronghold districts. It was designed to be that way. Any block of voters who might vote differently were split up amongst these districts, and their votes no longer mattered. Well and truly would never make any difference at all, and possibly even worse, their representation wasn't ever going to represent their interests (or even listen to them, don't ask me how I know that).
So more people started feeling hopeless and like their voice didn't matter, and they stopped going to the polls. In some cases the entrenched power was so assured of victory the other parties didn't even bother running candidates. For six years, I was represented by someone who ran for office completely unopposed. Talk about not having a reason to go vote! I still did, but I did often wonder why. And this low turnout at elections continues to expand as more and more people feel like their votes don't matter, or find it more difficult to vote as states work to inhibit open and easy voting through shorter early voting periods, fewer voting locations, and excessive identification requirements … all done in the name of solving an illegal voting problem that no one can find proof of existing.
And you know what really gets my goat? The fact that due to the slicing and dicing of the voting population into districts that benefit the Republicans, Texas appears to be a state that is exclusively a Red State. If you look at our elected officials, it does appear that eveyone but a tiny minority of people support the Republican Party, but that simply isn't true. At each election, somewhere between 40 and 45 percent of Texans vote for Democratic candidates. Seems to me, that makes Texas pretty darn purple. Keep that in mind the next time you feel the urge to point at laugh at Texas and say we are getting the representation we deserve. We aren't. We are getting the representation we are allowed to have thanks to a system designed to work against anyone who doesn't swallow the current party's platform line hook, line, and sinker.
When the system is designed to work against fair and equal representation, what's a voter to do? Well, they can keep futilely voting and making no difference, or they can just stop voting. Obviously, the solution to the problem is to fix the actual problem (bizarre voting districts), but how the hell do we get that done when the only people who can fix it are the people in power, and they are not at all likely to do so. People in power don't want to give it up or share it. It's a problem I don't know how we will fix. Maybe it can't be fixed, so futilely voting and making no difference or not voting at all, I guess it doesn't actually much matter. Things will stay the same either way.
I'm going to apologize for this post for being somewhat disjointed. I've been sickish, thanks to seasonal allergies, and even on a good day, I have trouble lately giving much of a damn about politics. I could probably spend another day editing and rewriting, but I just want to get this done and up so I can move on to the next topic, which is the one I really want to talk about.
Next up … the continued shifting of the American political landscape rightward. I don't mean more people are voting rightwing. I mean everything in the political spectrum from the far right to the far left has been moving ideologically further to the right. For example, Obama is a classic centrist Republican, but in today's current political atmosphere, he's seen as being liberal. I promise, Futility, Part Three will be a better post, because I'm more excited about writing it. Though I suspect it will take me a while to write it, because I really want to get it right.