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After The Election, Gerrymandering

For all the attention paid to the national stage and governors' races, no one has really mentioned the elephant in the room: redistricting. 2011 will be the year when Congressional districts are redrawn based upon the 2010 census, and as usual,

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For all the attention paid to the national stage and governors' races, no one has really mentioned the elephant in the room: redistricting. 2011 will be the year when Congressional districts are redrawn based upon the 2010 census, and as usual, it will be ugly.

Rewind to Tom Delay's shameless efforts to redraw Texas right down party lines. You might remember it better if you recall Texas state Democrats fleeing to Oklahoma to keep the state legislature from having a quorum to vote on them.

The documentary featured above was released in October and is currently being screened across the country. Via The

The 77-minute documentary follows Reichert as he travels across the country talking to constituents and politicians – Republicans and Democrats alike – about gerrymandering. The film focuses much of its attention on the 2008 passage of Proposition 11 in California, also known as the Voters First Act. The initiative takes the power to redistrict California’s 120 legislative districts away from the state legislature in favor of a newly created 14 member, politically-balanced commission of voters. The passage of Proposition 11, spearheaded by California Common Cause’s Executive Director Kathay Feng, marks a dramatic change in the redistricting process. According to Feng, “[Proposition 11] is really about putting power back into voters’ hands, making sure that community testimony is listened to, that communities are unified, and so that when voters go out to vote that our votes actually matter.”

I applied for this commission and made it to the second round. Ultimately, I withdrew my application because it was far too invasive. I'm perfectly willing to give them my name and personal information, background and employment history, but it goes too far when it extends past my immediate family to in-laws, cousins, aunts and uncles. While I think the commission overall is a great idea, the process to get an appointment to this commission reaches too far into the private lives of private citizens.

One of the reasons for the noise in this year's midterms is the high stakes of redistricting. Both parties would like to arrange the districts so they get sure wins in a majority of them, which sets off a high-stakes political war over how to apportion them.

Gerrymandering persuasively captures the wide-ranging and bipartisan effects of redistricting, especially considering that most voters have no idea the extents to which politicians manipulate their district boundaries. For viewers who believe that redistricting is only a local issue, Gerrymandering credits much of President Barack Obama’s early political rise to a redistricting in Chicago. As Sam Issacharoff of the New York University School of Law explains, in the 2000 Democratic primary election for the House of Representatives, then Illinois State Senator Obama was defeated by four-term incumbent Bobby Rush. The district he ran in was solidly African American, and covered most of the South Side of Chicago. But two years later in 2002, Obama’s neighborhood was redistricted to represent a “heavily white liberal constituency.” He was reelected to the State Senate, and now represented a completely different district, even though he had not moved homes. This redistricting, which placed him in a more affluent constituency, is considered a major factor in now President Obama’s 2004 election to the United States Senate.

Depending on the outcome of this election, we could see another year where districts in most states are gerrymandered with Tom Delay-like precision, or a fairer apportionment. Watch California's process to see if an independent commission can be...well, independent.

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