Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Gerrymandering: How Our Elections Are Really Rigged - Part One

The original gerrymander
Do any of you know what gerrymandering is? Put in its simplest form, it's a process by which our legislators pick the voters instead of the other way around. It takes place every ten years, after the census. Though it's almost unnoticed, it is probably the biggest danger to our representative democracy. It's a rigged system, designed to provide job security for legislators who toe the line while punishing any who dare rebel. The fox is in the henhouse, as politicians themselves decide on new districts. They can extend their stay as long as they want. It has resulted in a Pennsylvania State legislature that is completely unresponsive to voters. And it's getting worse.  

On Friday night, at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bethlehem, a large group of nearly 100 people attended a gerrymandering panel discussion that included Pa LWV Board member Carol Kuniholm, State Sen. Lisa Boscola (Dem.), State Rep. David Parker (Rep.) and Common CausePA's Barry Kauffman. Boscola and Parker have teamed up with bi-partisan legislation to fix a broken system, but they will be the first to tell you nothing is going to happen unless voters themselves get involved and start pressuring their own legislators. In addition, leaders like House Democrat Frank Dermody and Republican Speaker Mike Turzai, who have been unwilling to act, need to be targeted.

Today's focus is the problem of gerrymandering itself, as laid out by Kuniholm. Tomorrow, I'll get into the bi-partisan legislative fix proposed by Boscola and Parker. Thursday, I'll tell you what wizened reformer Barry Kauffman thinks about the problem. Friday, I'll finish with what our local legislators are doing, or more accurately, not doing.

Over 100 people crowded into a hot church basement
Every time there's a poll of Pennsylvania voters, the issue that bothers them the most is school district funding. Most people think the state should contribute more, and less money should be coming out of their pockets in the form of increased property taxes. They want a fairer way to fund schools, and one that keeps seniors on fixed incomes in their homes. And of course, there has been a rash of bills over the years to change the way schools are funded.  Lisa Boscola herself has for years been a champion of property tax reform. But it always fails. It will continue to fail, too. That's because legislators no longer serve you. 

Though gerrymandering has existed since the 1800's, there was a big change in the 2012 election cycle. "Something went crazy," says Kuniholm. 

First, a new mapping technology called Maptitude provides locations of candidates and incumbents, census information, economic information and precinct-by-precinct reports of election results in previous elections. It's just the thing to have to draw a district so that a preferred candidate wins.         

Second, technology and computing power has made for a vast increase in data mining capabilities over the past ten years that Kuniholm calls the "difference between a horse and buggy and a rocket ship."

The third big change is money. In the wake of Citizens United, hybrid Super PACs have provided a huge infusion of undisclosed outside money that is then used to win elections. It can't be traced. 

Both parties have these hybrid SuperPACs.


Pa. League of Women Voters Carol Kuniholm
For Republicans, it is RedMap2010, which dumped $30 million into state races to affect the redistricting, with the ultimate goal being control of the US Congress through reapportionment.  

Republicans admit this. They were able to buy Pennsylvania for just a little under $1 million in 2010, despite having fewer votes than Democrats. Here's what they themselves say:

"[T]he RSLC [Republican State leadership Committee] spent nearly $1 million in Pennsylvania House races in 2010 – an expenditure that helped provide the GOP with majorities in both chambers of the state legislature. Combined with former Republican Attorney General Tom Corbett’s victory in the gubernatorial race, Republicans took control of the state legislative and congressional redistricting process. The impact of this investment at the state level in 2010 is evident when examining the results of the 2012 election: Pennsylvanians reelected a Democratic U.S. Senator by nearly nine points and reelected President Obama by more than five points, but at the same time they added to the Republican ranks in the State House and returned a 13-5 Republican majority to the U.S. House." 

Things went so well that Republicans are raising $125 million for the 2020 redistricting, four times what they spent in 2010. 

By winning control of the state legislature, they were able to insure a nearly three to one advantage in Congress, despite having less numbers 

Advantage 2020

Before you get too upset at those evil Republicans, I have to tell you Democrats are now doing the same thing with a hybrid SuperPAC called Advantage 2020. They are focused on Pennsylvania, and have the 6th Pa. Congressional District featured on their homepage. This SuperPAC blasts the gerrymandering done by the GOP, but that's precisely what they want to do, too. 

Kuniholm failed to say how much money Democrats intend to raise, but it has to be substantial. 

The money spent by both parties has nothing to do with you. It is all about flipping districts to win control of the state legislature and, ultimately, Congress. He who controls the state legislature, controls redistricting. He who controls redistricting controls Congress. 

International groups on both sides contribute to these SuperPACS, so far all we know, China are Russia could be buying the Democrat or Republican Party

Focus is Winning and Control, Not Effective Governance 

This enhanced gerrymandering has resulted in a significant change in state government. The focus is winning and control instead of effective governance. Legislators who rebel and want to work for the common good end up being targeted or ignored.  

The political agenda is no longer what is right for the people, but is instead held hostage to outside moneyed influence. "That money that's pouring in is much more than what is being raised locally by the legislators," said Kuniholm. "There's a lot of research that shows that once that outside money comes into an election, the loyalty of those who are elected has shifted. They are no longer loyal to the constituents, who did not put them in office. They are loyal to the outside interests that put them in office."

At the same time, the extremes within the party of a safe district become the norm, leading to disaffection by everyone else. So nationally, 43% of Americans refuse to declare themselves with either party. In Pa, only 13% are independent, but that is only because primaries are closed.

"There's basically no effective choice," noted Kuniholm. To drive that point home, she said that 86% of our state incumbents had no primary challengers this year. For the general, 57% have no opposition.

"How do you vote them out if nobody's running against them?" she asked.

Coming Up: On Wednesday, I will bring you a bi-partisan legislative fix proposed by Senator Boscola and Representative Parker. On Thursday, I’ll tell you what Barry Kauffman thinks you can do. Friday, I'll report where LV legislators stand (or hide). 


Anonymous said...

The two best parties money can buy.

Anonymous said...

Steve Samuelson was way ahead of these two 15 years ago

Anonymous said...

Go for it GOP, we are literally fighting for our lives against the Marxist hordes, we need to do whatever is necessary for our survival. Don't ever expect any let up by the other side.

Anonymous said...

@07:24 Correct, we have the barbarians storming the gates, demanding their free stuff from the government. Control of the re-apportionment is one of the few weapons we have to stop them from storming the treasury.

Ron Beitler said...

Thanks for covering this Bernie.
The crucial 3 for reform.

1.) Term Limits and elimination of the state pension for elected officials.
It's a calling not a career. Those who get this are the ones we want serving. I'll add here also adjusting the length for state reps. 2 years is entirely too short. The day they win they begin campaigning for the next cycle. This all relates to the special interest gridlock that cripples PA.

2.) Campaign finance reform.
Including contribution caps. Money is not speech. PA IS one of the most corrupt states in the union in part because our campaign finance rules. I don't believe in public financing but we need capped limits.

3.) Slay the Gerrymanderer.
Both parties are guilty.

Others of importance
4.) Shrink Government. Reduce the size of the state house.
Our legislature is the 2nd largest in the country and one of the most expensive. No magic in the number 203; in fact the final number of the PA House is the result of a map drawing mistake made in 1968. The number that matters is 100,000. Over that amount of voters represented districts lose local flavor. Up to that amount there would be very little reduction in quality of constituent services. The ability to provide those services is what should determine district size. Anything above that number is purely waste.

5.) Resign to run.
For any elected official drawing a full time salary who in turn is expected to work full time hours. If you want to run for a different position then no campaigning on public dollars.

Agent 99 said...

The ends never justify the means,it only perpetuates the problem. I think that most people would prefer to vote for someone who stands for what is right, if I am wrong about this, then may God help America, because nothing else will.

Anonymous said...

Great points Ron and I'll add my thanks to Bernie for covering this. I wanted to go last Friday (having discovered the meeting on the side bar of LVR!) but unfortunately had other plans. I look forward to reading more about it tomorrow and throughout the week.

Redistricting and open primaries are the first critical steps needed for this country to get back on track. We need to start ignoring the vocal minorities at the far fringes of the political spectrum who have way too much control over both parties.

Scott of Nazareth

Anonymous said...

As soon as dems feel they are at a disadvantage, they start calling for fairness and compromise, as soon as they have the advantage, they stick up your you know what. No way, we need a brutal no holds barred political system and we need to vanquish the vandals. get them underwater and hold them there. It them or us.

Bernie O'Hare said...

I am amazed to see three anonymous comments that actually defend gerrymandering and the subversion of the "one man, one vote" principle.

Ron Beitler said...

Yup terrible. Gerrymandering by either party is a part of the system of subvert, command and control. Ridiculous anonymous comments from the shadows defending the practice. Despicable yes, but I'm actually glad they do it. Demonstrates that there are people who think this way. Shows just how big a problem it is. I believe you can and should win over votes by winning people over with ideas. Not rigging a system in our favor. Agent 99 100% right. Ends never justify means.

Dave said...

Bernie @ 9:05AM

For all the altruistic comments about eliminating gerrymandering from our political system, it's not something which is about to happen in yours, our children's, our grandchildren's or their great grandchildren's lifetimes.

It's not going to happen for the same reason it hasn't happened in years past. Political power is something both political parties covet, and are not going to give ot up. Having control of the redistricting process every decade is part of that. Just as the political leadership is not about to comitt political suicide by introducing term limits on themselves.

Pennsylvania is not like California, as our commonwealth constitution does not allow popular vote referendums to limit the power of the legislature or anything else. Up until Thornburgh, I believe, all governors had single-term limits but that was changed to allow two terms. However, if you actually believe that the Senators or Representatives in Harrisburg are going to find God and decide to eliminate their jobs by term limits, I've got a bridge to sell you.

Campaign finance reform? Sorry, I'm so cynical, but that won't happen until after term limits are passed. Mr Beitler had a lot of good points to make, but I seriously doubt any of them will happen.

The only thing that changes in Harrisburg is when the voters get pissed off enough and decide to get rid of their representative or senator, or if they decide to retire and there is an open seat. Remember, it's not your representative that's bad..... it's always someone else's that is corrupt.

Anonymous said...

They and their winner take all/zero sum philosophy are what's wrong with this country, there is no bend, no compromise or middle ground and God forbid their representative stray from their rigid orthodoxy or they shalt be primaried with a chosen one who will maintain principles over basic common sense.

Under their tin foil hats they truly believe their opinions are what's best for them and therefore the country.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Dave, Were you at the forum? I saw conservatives and liberals there. I saw people from both parties, tea party members and lefties. The sheer number tells me the chord has finally been stuck. It is possible to change the system, which is why i am writing a four-part series. I will get into that down the road, but as i hint in my post, the leaders attempting to preserve the status quo need to be targeted.

Dave said...

Anon @ 9:44am

American Nineteenth century politics was just as bad or worse actually as it is today, scandal was front page news, with accusations of illegitimate children, really bad corruption, and racial slurs being accepted as part of the process. I suppose it was after World War I, in the 20s, that a level of civil discourse came into the politiccal process that lasted up through the Reagan years, and probably Bush 41's term.

The era we're going though now comes directly from the 1992 election of Bill Clinton, and the rancor spewed out by Hillary Clinton with her "vast right-wing conspiracy" charges that she leveled on Bill's political opponents.. then there was the womanizing, the selling of the Lincon Bedroom, the Special Procesutor about Minica Lewinski and that started it, but it really got bad after the 2000 election when Gore got caught trying to steal Florida's electoral votes. Gore won the nationwide popular vote, but as we know when the elections went into the Judicial system, with both the Florida and U S Supreme Courts hearing cases and going back to the Court again and again for a third time.. well frankly, most Democrats questioned the legitimacy of George W (43)'s election. And it's just gotten worse over the past decade and a half to the point we're at today.

Will it change back to a more civil discourse as we had in the 60s and 70s and 80s? Eventually I suppose.. The political climate in the US is like a pendulum. it's very comfortable in the center. push it too far to one side or another, and the voters swing it back the other way.. Nixon begat Jimmy Carter.. then it swung the other way to Reagan, then it swung back with Bill Clinton.. then it swung even further with Obama... who gave us Trump, who wants to push it back the other way...

And the level of rancor increases as the pendulum swings...

What really works is when we have a division of power. When one side needs the other to accomplish things.. but then, a by-product of that is government that doesn't do very much.

Which frankly, is fine with me, as the government that governs the best is the one that governs the least.

Bernie O'Hare said...

How's that working out for you?

Like it or not, we need government.

Discourse in the 1800's was bad, but the gerrymandering was not really the problem it has now become, thanks to technology enhancements. It is destroying representative democracy.Once enough people are disenfranchised, you'll get your wish and we'll have no government as we will descend into anarchy unless some form of authoritarian rule replaces democracy.

Dave said...

For about 20 years, I supported a company in Washington called Election Data Services. We provided much of the data that went into their mining programs. I can give you dot maps, cloropleth maps, drill it down to the enumeration district telling you all about the voters and people in that district. I can give you the voting patterns for the past 60 years in these enumeration districts, which can be amalgamated into more broader regions such as cities, counties, states precincts, congressional districts, zip codes, I could give you a profile of the voter block by block. Where the candidate needs to be at on most issues, it's all databased and georeferenced.

I got out of that business after the 1996 election actually, and I worked for both sides. Democrat's money is just as good as the GOP's the data is the same, it's non-partisan. When I go back to my college occasionally and give seminars, the tools that the parties have now are a light year of what I used in 1996.

They're not going to give it up Bernie.. the apparatchiks of both parties are addicted to power. And they will pay to keep it..

Anonymous said...


Bernie O'Hare said...

Dave, Stay tuned.

sezary said...

Greatly appreciate the article and discussion on this issue. After meeting with my state legislators and a federal legislator as well, I have affirmed that no matter how nice, like minded, or "good", one may think they are, they are too ensconced in the "machine". They cannot see the forest thru the trees. This is why I agree that there needs to be term limits. I was speaking to Justin Simmons after a debate one evening, and in response to the term limit issue which he originally ran on, he said, "there's so much more to do...". I said, Justin, there will always be more to do. One can always rationalize a reason to stay. We the people must give them a reason to leave. It is the only way to get fresh, new, creative ideas heard and acted upon. There are currently two house bills and three senate bills languishing in committee regarding changes to the PA constitution dealing with redistricting.(as far as I can tell)

Anonymous said...

Boscola's district is like a figure 8 and spans Northampton, and parts of Lehigh amd Monroe Counties. I believe she recently attended the ground breaking for the Easton Police station. Could that be a signal of things to come? The question is, will she give up Lehigh or Monroe County?

Anonymous said...

Is this gerrymandering like pandering pontification profiteerZ¿¡
REpublican redd no party afilliation
nor joining or traveling with the carnival

Jamie Kelton said...

As long as boundaries are determined by "population" you're going to have these weird districts both for the PA House and Senate. Mr Fox above is correct as well. What other measure would you want them determined by ?

Anonymous said...

Ron I agree with everything you said except how to shrink state government. Your proposal would tilt things even more toward Philly, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Allentown, to the detriment of the rest of the state.

Just a few examples: the NIZ fiasco, God help the rest of the state if the cities are able to consolidate pension liabilities (Philly and Pittsburgh's combined deficit alone is about $9 billion), and the incontrovertible truth in politics that big cities are radical left liberal - I think this would extend to larger voting blocks as well.

I just can't support reducing the size of state government at this time, the smaller communities need a voice now more than ever.

On all of the other points, I'm with you 100%.

The Banker

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

So we will have an "independent" commission or maybe a federal agency to make things fair, just more room for corruption. This is not like Nixon, Carter, Reagan, this is about the fundamental transformation of the United states by any means possible, and you are here telling us it just isn't fair, forget fair, that all went away with, you can keep your doctor, you can keep your insurance co. Lies, lies lies, the actual outright bribery for votes to pass this mess, a supreme court that can find just about anything in the constitution and interpretations that will make your head spin. now you are telling us, we need to give up an advantage that maybe the republicans at the moment have, I bet we would not be hearing about this at all if the democrats were in power. As far as getting things done, what needs to be done, that we cannot get done now, if it was in the best interest of the whole country. But it is about the power to shove more down the throat and up the rear of the American public, not about liberty or freedom, usually for some financial interest of some crony. Every new law takes away either our money or our freedom, or most time both. Congress could stay home for a few years and we would do just fine. Further they don't enforce the law unless it suites them anyway. You bet I'm cynical, I no longer trust anything coming out of Washington or Harrisburg, without looking for the insider angle. Only a fool would not be cynical.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Ray, both parties are equally capable of the gerrymander. Don't delude yourself. But I must sai like how you reject a solution before it is even proposed. Very open minded of you.

Anonymous said...

@Jamie - clearly population is where you start, but other framework can be put in place to make the geography work utilizing county and township borders to keep regions relatively intact.

Scott of Nazareth

Anonymous said...

Thank God for Gerrymandering. Otherwise, Charlie Dent would have to go back to insurance sales. He's the most visible beneficiary of Gerrymandering in this horribly Gerrymandered state. In a district designed to deliver a true LV congressman, he'd be easily crushed.

Anonymous said...

The number of legislators can be reduced in both the House and Senate. The less number you have, the less the cost, although the amount of "staff" each Representative or Senator has would likely increase if you reduce the number of elected officials.

But if the method of redistricting doesn't change, all you get are bigger districts drawn in the same gerrymandered pattern as the smaller ones were.

Anonymous said...

As for fewer legislators, that will definitely limit the influence of the rural districts in favor of the big cities, Guess whose advantage that would be. We need reform of school funding, but usually they try to lower property taxes and add new taxes, so they will be able to raise all of them in the future. The taxpayers have not been fooled by those proposals. Repeal property taxes and spread the taxes out on everyone, why should property owners bear the cost of education. The teachers union wants to keep property taxes, so don't expect any reform there. Pension reform is the most needed reform, the unions have squashed that every time. We just need to wait till it all collapses, and it will, its not a question of if, but when. Do you really think that eliminating gerrymandering will solve these problems. No it will just give more political power to those who want to raise taxes and spend more money.

Bernie O'Hare said...

As the above two comments make clear, there is a definite downside to reducing the size of the legislature

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

Citizens United, political speech is what the 1st amendment is all about, are you willing to eliminate money from the teachers union, the government workers union, and all the other union money. I bet not. I contribute money to the NRA, and other groups to let my voice be heard, If congress did not have the power of life and death over every company in its hands, and every freedom, we would not need to lobby to be left alone. It seems to be really a little bit like an extortion business, give us money an we will listen to you and maybe let you exist. the answer is to limit their power and control of every detail of our lives.

Bernie O'Hare said...

4:54, if what u say is true, then the GOP, which controls both houses, must be closet Dems.

Ray Nemeth Sr said...

You bet they are, Property tax reform would have passed except for republican senators in southeastern pa. Its the same in the Federal government, you see the cowards, that is why the republicans ended up with trump and the dems almost with sanders, because no one wants to trust any of them any more. This will not go away after this election, no matter who wins.

Anonymous said...

Much of the gerrymandering has been to make sure minority voters have less and less say in their lives and politicians. One example of it is in Austin, Texas, a very open minded city in a very close minded state. The city was cut up into so many parts that depending on which street you live in you may have different representation. The GOP was not about to let this "hippie" enclave decide its own representation. Same in the South.

Also political discourse took a defintie3 downturn with the advent of Rush Limbaugh and his clones on AM hate radio

Anonymous said...

@7:28 It has also been done to "generate" minority districts. Especially in the south so the legislature of states are not all white to comply with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Dave said...

What has also been done, and I have not seen this in PA, are districts that exist in separate geographic areas, which are connected by one-foot wide areas of land that run along the sides of roads or streets. That way the various areas of the district are "connected" to each other, but no one actually lives in those one-foot wide connections between areas.

George Ruth said...

I'm not a big fan of gerrymandering. However, I also don't like the use of words like crooked and corrupt. It is what the Constitution calls for. And yes it is based on population. Each Congressmen represents about 500,000 constituents. Recently they took Easton away from Charlie Dent. Seemed silly to me to break up the Lehigh Valley, but the Easton area has become a virtual suburb of New York. So to add counties west of Lehigh County to the 15th District makes sense. And with PA's two big cities swarming with liberals it seemed fair to ensure the more conservative suburbs has representation. Virtually two counties (Philadelphia and Allegheny have half the representatives in Congress. Same for NY State. One city, because of the density of its liberal population, dominates the states delegation. Those of us in suburbs and exurbs should be careful about complaining about gerrymandering. Also, I don't recall the complaining from liberals when southern states in the '60s were gerrymandered to ensure all-black districts. I recall one district in North Carolina (I think) was made up of people who lived no more than one mile or so on either side of I-95....just to make sure it had an overwhelming black electorate.

Bernie O'Hare said...

George, Both parties are equally guilty when it comes to gerrymandering. The fact that the Democrats did it (and I agree they did) is no justification for allowing it to continue. Under that twisted logic, you should be able to murder someone because you can point to another who got away with it. Your point about Easton being a suburb for New Yorkers is also pretty much dead wrong. Forks, yes. Easton, no. Also, I can't help that there are more Democrats than Republicans. If you're suggesting their votes should not count as much, I don't think you get very far. Hence the gerrymander.

Anonymous said...

Big headline on Drudge right now


Trump is correct again. Can you say "R I G G E D" !!!!!

Ovem Lupo Commitere said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ovem Lupo Commitere said...

correcting typo:

Ruth 10:15:

Reality was Dent is safe, make him safer. Barletta was a newbie R, make his district more R and safe by getting rid of WB-S. Holden was a blue dog Dem, so maybe throwing WB-S to an already D district would help Barletta, yet keeping Holden's district a safe friendly D. To balance numbers, Easton and vicinity thrown into Holden's district. It backfired in that Holden lost to liberal Cartwright, but Barletta and Dent forever safe unless they get caught doing something naughty.

Anonymous said...

Ron Beitler sounds like a candidate running for office. I've heard he's challenging Mackenzie in the primary in 2018.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Actually, Ron sounds like a very thoughtful person with a great deal of personal integrity. Someone is always trying to bring him down. Now I understand. He is perceived as a threat.

Ron Beitler said...

Nope. You heard wrong. Too much work to do in Lower Mac. I don't leave jobs before they are finished. I'm seeing through a comprehensive update of our zoning code. Ryan Mackenzie also does a decent job. A good rep should get 8 years to accomplish what they want to get done. Likewise, if voters give me a second term in Lower Mac that will likely be it. 8 years. If I can't get the things done I think I need to in 8 years I've not been effective. And there are others who will carry on. After that I won't rule out running for something else. Def not 2018 though.

And also back to the subject - related to this convo about reforms - another argument for term limits... I believe it's really narcissistic to think that your the only person who could possible solve problems in a large township and certainly say a state rep district of 60,000 people. That's the excuse some people who stay in positions forever use. "There is still work to do" or some other cliche. As if out of an entire township, city or state district there isn't one other qualified and like minded person who can possibly continue your work. . . How egotistical. Longer you have positions you start to believe the things you tell yourself. Also lots of group-think and herd mentality in Harrisburg/DC.

As for reform items I advocate for.. these are things I believe in and have been talking/writing about for years. And probably in some cases not items that would endure me to party leaders/kingmakers. But I've never really cared much about those people . . Why running for any state position would be uphill road. Can't seem to keep my mouth shut about things I value/care about. :)