Like St. George slaying medieval Britain’s dragons, a Florida judge has assaulted the dreaded gerrymander. And the consequences could be far reaching.
You know what the gerrymader is, don’t you? It’s a mythical beast that bedevils American politics, helping selected politicians to get elected (and reelected). How is this accomplished? By state legislatures manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to favor the party in power.
The practice is as old as the United States and the name dates from the early 1800s in Massachusetts. It is a combination of the words Gerry, for the state’s governor, Elbridge Gerry, and salamander, as a particular electoral district was jokingly said to be shaped like a lizard (illustration above).
The practice of creating oddly shaped electoral districts to create advantages for the party doing the redistricting has persisted for two centuries, and in the process has become increasingly pernicious. It is this practice that has given Republicans control of Congress and given America the pestillence of the Tea Party.
Florida is among the states most egregiously affected. Five years ago, fed-up Florida voters passed a ballot inititiative designed to end the abuse. But the gerrymandering continued unabated, and the voters went to court.
Last year, a court decided the state needed to revamp its 5th and 10th districts because they were so flagrantly drawn to favor the Republicans. The districts were redrawn, but the Supreme Court wasn’t satisfied. It ruled that eight districts had to be redrawn — and the districts adjoining those eight jad to be revised, too.
The redrawn districts were revealed this week.Here’s how AP describes the recommendations:
Florida Circuit Judge Terry Lewis on Friday recommended new boundaries for the state’s 27 congressional districts, some of which would make it nearly impossible for U.S. Rep. Dan Webster — one of the hard-line conservatives who pushed John Boehner to resign as speaker and then turned on Boehner’s No. 2, Kevin McCarthy — to win re-election from his current central Florida district.
The recommended electoral map affects both political parties. AP explains that it could lead “to the ouster of Democratic U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from her north Florida seat while resurrecting the political career of former Gov. Charlie Crist, who is expected to run for Congress as a Democrat. The judge also went along with a proposal that would make it harder for South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo to get re-elected.”
The judge’s recommendations could still be rejected by the Supreme Court, but whatever the final electoral map looks like, it will represent a victory for democracy. And it will blaze a trail for voters in other states to follow.