A Michigan congressman and a constituent recently had an conversation as they they waited to board a plane at Metro Airport. After learning the constituent had not voted for him, the lawmaker told her that if she wanted a representative who would listen to her concerns she needed to move to a different congressional district.
How did we get to the place where a member of Congress tells a voter that they have to move if they want their representative to care about what they think?
The answer to that question can be found, in part, in the way electoral boundaries are created. Every 10 years the Constitution requires that the districts for Congress, the state house and the state senate be redrawn to reflect the latest census data. This is to ensure that our legislators represent the same number of people based upon the concept of one person one vote.
Unfortunately, professional politicians have found a way around this and it’s called gerrymandering.
The name comes from the first attempt to manipulate a congressional district by Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry who, in 1812, signed a bill creating a district in the shape of a mythological salamander. The local press at the time described the new district as a gerrymander. The name stuck. In essence, gerrymandering is the manipulation of our political boundaries in order to preselect which party will prevail in any given election.
In the past, these attempts were largely based on guesswork, but modern technology lets political insiders get the outcome they want.
In effect, politicians pick their voters, rather then voters picking their representatives.
Infamous 14th District
Do you live In Farmington Hills? Except for one street, you live in the infamous 14th Congressional District, perhaps America’s oddest-shaped district. It looks like it was created by an impaired Lego builder, starting at the Detroit River waterfront west of Belle Isle and working it way east and then north to include West Bloomfield and Pontiac.
Do you live in Farmington? Then you are in the 11th Congressional District. Since all parts of a congressional district must connect, and Farmington Hills surrounds Farmington, one street in Farmington Hills was placed in the 11th district so Farmington city voters could be placed in an entirely different district.
Why? The kids in both communities go to the same school system. People shop in the same places. They drive on the same roads. The only reason for this placement is so that the politicians can pick their voters. The result is at least one politician feeling free to tell a voter to move if she doesn’t like how the representative is voting.
If you don’t like professional politicians picking their voters, you can do something.
Last week, a volunteer group called Voters Not Politicians launched a petition drive to change Michigan’s Constitution and to take the power from the politicians and return it to the people where it belongs.
We Couldn’t Do Worse
This proposed amendment will ensure that citizens, not politicians, draw the district maps without regard to which party gets political advantage. It creates an independent commission whose job it will be to draw these districts. Professional politicians can’t sit on the commission, but everyone else is free to apply.
Political insiders and their supporters will say that citizens are not capable of drawing political boundaries. Ok, but aren’t they the same people who have put us in this situation? How could citizens do any worse?
If you are tired of the political games, here’s what you can do:
If you are a registered voter, sign the petition.
If you’re really angry, volunteer to be one of the people getting ballot signatures. They need your help.
If you want to learn more or to get involved, here is the website.
It’s time we start picking our representatives again.
This blog posting was first published in Deadline Detroit. Reprinted with permission.