Thursday, September 28, 2006

Democracy in America.

What would you think of a democracy where instead of electors choosing their politicians, it is the politicians who chose their electors?

Well, in most electoral disctrics, that’s what American democracy is about, and the reason is simple: gerrymandering. [i.e. Gerrymandering consists in redrawing voting districts to capture the maximum amount of possible votes for your side.]

Once again, Paul Harris [who already addressed the problem of the new electronic voting machines, see our post here] writes in The Observer about a problem not much discussed:

Beneath the scary headlines about the Patriot Act, government spying, the conservative media of the awful Fox News or the evils of voting machines, it is gerrymandering that is the most obvious - yet least discussed - problem with America's electoral system.

The reason is that too many politicians benefit from it, on both sides of the aisle. As a result, while in theory, all 435 of the House's seats will be voted on this November, in fact, barely 33 or so, will actually offer any competition.

Harris also explains quite well that this means that in most districts only the primary elections now matter and that since those types of elections usually involve voters from a party's activist base, they make "American politicians of all stripes more radical than most actual Americans”:

This explains a fundamental paradox about America. The country is often described as deeply divided: red v blue; left v right. But, in travelling across the US, what is often striking is what most Americans have in common. On issues like Iraq, abortion, evolution, and gay marriage there is often a basic middle ground of opinion that favours compromise with either a slight tinge of the left or of the right. America's general public is really neither red nor blue but a ruddy purple.

But the political debate is never discussed on the middle ground because in a system so thoroughly gerrymandered as America's, the root to power does not lie through the centre. It's a strange twilight world where both parties collude in an illusion of free competition in order to maintain their own position. They are quite literally in it together.

This could very well partly explain the incraes in radical rhetoric we have witnessed in recent years and months, including what we posted in our previous post.

What troubles me the most though is something that Harris did not mention is the role of the Supreme Court in all of this. On June 28th 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court – which is supposed to be the guarantor of US institutions –upheld most of the gerrymandering done in Texas by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2003.

What this actually means is that politicians in all U.S. states are now allowed to redraw and gerrymander districts as often as they wish (not just after census-mandated reapportionment and redistricting) to protect their political parties and seats, so long as they do not harm minorities.

Sadly, the news was hardly addressed by the media and in reality nobody seems to care.


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