When you get to choose sides in any game, the strategy is to stack the deck by grabbing the best players.
That's what the political parties have been doing for many years through redistricting — stacking the deck for their elected teammates by grabbing enough politically friendly voters that losing an election becomes nearly impossible.
In the game of politics, this is known as gerrymandering. It is a destructive distortion of the way the game is supposed to be played.
According to the rules, the boards and commissions that realign state legislative and congressional districts are supposed to base their remapping on population shifts. The idea is to keep the districts relatively equal in population, to also keep them compact, and to avoid splitting communities into different districts. Instead, partisans holding the majority on the remapping boards lasso pockets of politically friendly voters in an effort to make a district safe for one party or the other.
Problem is — and it's a big problem — by insulating an incumbent from a credible challenge, legislators at both the state and federal levels find little need to compromise with their colleagues in the other party.
And so we have what we have now: vitriol and stalemate. An ugly political divide that is slowly but surely damaging our democracy.
What to do?
Reverse what our electoral process has become: state and federal legislators picking their voters, as opposed to voters picking their representatives.
There are glimmers of hope. State and federal reform measures have been written, and support is coalescing. Fair Districts PA is one such movement, and Ardith Talbott, of Solebury, is among its hardiest advocates.
"This is about fairness in the system. It's about knowing that the elections aren't decided before we go to the polls," says Talbott, one of the activists who spoke out in our recent series on gerrymandering.
Creating a fair system is the goal of a number of state bills calling for redistricting reform: SB 22, HB 722, HB 569, HB 563, and HB 1114. All differ in detail but share a common theme: establishing independent redistricting commissions made up of voters, not politicians. One measure would include folks with beneficial expertise, such as a computer scientist, a demographer, and a mathematician.
There also are four federal reform measures, including the Citizen Legislature Anti-Corruption Reform Act, introduced by Bucks County Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who advocates computer-generated districts with oversight from an independent citizens review board.
Says Fitzpatrick of the current system: "Partisan gerrymandering has exacerbated electoral complacency that causes lawmakers to focus on accumulating power rather than serving constituents."
In other words, it's destroying our democracy. Saving it will require change. Whether lawmakers make change could hinge on citizens' demand for change. So it's up to us to speak out.
Meanwhile, it's encouraging that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided to take up the issue. If the politicians fail to act, we can only hope the court steps in to save our democracy.