These are trying times for our political system and for the people it is supposed to serve. Rather than serving to make the U.S. an even better place to live with an improved quality of life for all, too many politicians focus on re-election and interests that advantage some over others and tend to divide us rather than bring us together. Money seems to do the talking that counts with the pols.
Polling shows politicians viewed about as favorably as communicable diseases. Not surprisingly, most people do not vote regularly; and, many do not vote at all. The winner of the nasty, hotly contested 2016 Presidential election, for example, won with votes of barely 28 percent of eligible voters.
Among the reasons for Americans’ distaste and rampant apathy is the rigged drawing of Congressional and state legislative districts. The rigging is called gerrymandering, the process by which political parties re-draw districts, following decennial censuses, by picking voters to protect incumbents and their party. Gerrymandering is practiced in nearly all states. The Republicans, currently dominant in the Virginia legislature, are most resistant to reform, as were the Democrats when they were in power. Sadly, Virginia is a leading example of gerrymandering, rated fifth in the U.S. in its use.
Improvements in voter data and preferences information, and computer software which could result in making redistricting fairer and more genuinely competitive are used instead for evil — to lock up districts for one side. Besides being just unfair, gerrymandering sharply limits competitive elections. Current GOP candidate for Lieutenant Governor and an advocate for reform, Jill Vogel, said it makes many “elections irrelevant.” In a recent Virginia House of Delegates election for all 100 seats, 34 Republicans ran unopposed as did 24 Democrats and all but a handful of the rest of the “races” were won by prohibitive margins.
With the deck so stacked, party primaries determine the winners in all but a handful of Senate and House seats. In Virginia and many other states, turnout for party primaries is typically 5 percent or less of those eligible to vote — and those who do vote tend to be the hard core, more extreme party faithful.
In sum, the results of gerrymandering are:
1) Noncompetitive elections;
2) Low voter participation, well below half the eligible electorate. (Note: money and a perception that it determines outcomes also contributes.); and
3) hardcore, often more extreme candidates elected, folks who find it difficult to compromise with the other party, thus contributing to the dysfunction we see in Washington and Richmond.
There is hope for change on the horizon, however. A coalition of citizens called OneVirginia2021 is working hard all over Virginia to pave the way for the constitutional amendment necessary to reform gerrymandering. Effective reform would take control out of the hands of conflicted politicians and give it instead to qualified, nonpartisan technocrats. Also, there is a bit of a groundswell even among politicians, including many current officeholders, now speaking up for reform. They see a FEDUPNESS meter about to explode.
OneVirginia2021 believes there is, in fact, a majority for reform in the state senate, and growing interest in the House. More Republican converts are needed in the House. Both candidates for Lieutenant Governor support reform. Unfortunately, to date only one of two major party candidates for Governor is on board for change.
While OneVirginia has a lot of volunteers, they need more to lobby the House of Delegates and State Senate to support a constitutional amendment which must be approved by two sessions of the General Assembly to achieve redistricting based on the 2020 census.
Go to www.OneVirginia2021.org to learn more and to get involved. With your help and mine, the coalition can get it done now — not in 2030. To get there, we’ll have to shame some more politicians to do the right thing.