Gerrymandering: What is this all about?

Posted: Friday, February 04, 2011

A working definition of [ger-ry-man-der]: to divide an area into election districts in order to concentrate the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible and to give special advantage to one group in an election process.

What does this have to do with participatory democracy? What are the implications for Alaska following the 2010 census and the potential redistricting that will take place?

Simply put, gerrymandering is the re-drawing of election districts. While there are passionate views on both sides of the debate, gerrymandering is often considered to be implicated with election fraud. Such drawing of the election district lines has been said to insult the democratic values of fair and equal representation for all citizens.

Who draws these lines? Usually legislators do. Is this a good idea? Some think so and others are adamant that legislative drawing of the election district lines makes for a very poor democratic process in society. The political party in control often carries the power in drawing these lines. This provides immense advantages to incumbents and decreases incentives for meaningful public discourse and campaigning about issues of concern to citizens.

Alaska is unique along with Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming in that we have only one Congressional District. We do, however, have many election and school districts within the state that are impacted by census changes. Such may be the case following the 2010 census.

In redistricting there are such conundrums as “packing votes”, cracking votes” and “wasted votes”. What does this mean for our “one person – one vote” ideal?

To assist citizens with understanding this history and the complexities of gerrymandering, a documentary, Gerrymandering, was developed. To whet your intellectual and political appetite, the sub-title states, “Nothing will produce bad history more directly nor brutally than drawing a line”. This film explains a lot about what we need to know about our election process.

Gerrymandering will be shown at the Nickelodeon from Friday, Jan. 27 through Sunday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. A special screening of the film will take place on Saturday, Feb. 5, at 4 p.m. At this screening there will be a facilitated discussion with Dr. Gordon Harrison. Dr. Harrison is an expert on this issue and served as the executive director of the Alaska Redistricting Board following the 2000 census. He is the author of Alaska’s Constitution: A Citizen’s Guideline.

Gerrymandering is an important issue that can impact the way you and I vote and whether that vote makes any difference in the scheme of things.

I encourage you to see the film and to become engaged in this aspect of Participatory Democracy.

Carolyn V. Brown


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