Gerrymandering should be ended once and for all

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Congratulations to Nebraska lawmakers and McCook school administrators for seeing to it that high school graduates are exposed to at least the basics of how our political system works.

The basics, like the three branches of government, balance of powers and rule of law somehow got pushed aside in decades past as other social issues drew attention away from the fundamentals.

Students, like naturalized citizens, will have at least a modicum of knowledge about how our representative government works.

Or will they?

While Hillary Clinton received 2.1% more of the popular vote in 2016 than Donald Trump, he won the election via the Electoral College, 304 to 227. That, and a similar result in the 2000 election has led to numerous calls for an end to the Electoral College, and a number of states have already short-circuited the process by tying their electoral votes to the results of the national popular vote.

Nebraskans might want to think twice about endorsing a change, however, since the current system gives voters in smaller states a slightly bigger voice in elections.

But thatís not the issue the Supreme Court recently decided, 5-4, to the chagrin of supporters of fairness.

The issue is gerrymandering, and the high courtís decision wonít be the last word -- that will fall to individual state legislatures and courts.

With our officially nonpartisan Unicameral, Nebraska should take the lead against the practice, which gives an unfair advantage to the party in power, be it blue or red. Thatís unlikely, however, as our single-house Legislature falls far short of the independent body envisioned by Sen. George W. Norris.

The recent Supreme Court case involved challenges to gerrymandering by both Republicans and Democrats.

The process got its name from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who signed a bill in 1812 creating a Boston voting district, shaped like a mythological salamander, laid out to favor his party.

By creative districting, politicians can, in effect, pick their voters instead of the other way around.

Boundaries can be used to dilute the voting power of the opposition party across several districts, pack the oppositionís power into one district to make it more manageable, or homogenize all voting districts to make sure a minority party never achieves a majority in any one district.

Is it any wonder that voter apathy is one of the biggest problems facing our country election after election? Is it any wonder potential voters are staying home, convinced the outcome of the election is already determined?

Much has been made of President Trumpís effort to include a question about immigration status on Census forms already being printed without it, but perhaps application of unbiased Census data to voting districts would be a better use.

If newly enlightened civics students do learn about abuses of the system like gerrymandering, letís hope it motivates them to get involved and find a way to end them.

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