technology makes redistricting more controversial than ever
By Rob Richie and Steven Hill
April 6, 2001
Like the starting gun
at the Oklahoma Land Rush, the Census pistol has sounded, and
legislative redistricting is now seriously underway. Politicians and
their proxies are busily redrawing the fundamental terrain of our
line-drawers will be guided by no criteria other than two rather
ambitious and self-serving goals: firstly, to guarantee their own
re-election and that of friends and colleagues; and secondly, to
garner a majority of legislative seats for their political party or
a moment of candor, the primary architect of Texas' last
redistricting plan admitted that the process "is not one of
kindness, it is not one of sharing. It is a power grab." A North
Carolina state senator was even more blunt: "We are in the business
of rigging elections."
have never been models of fairness or exclamations of high
democratic values, but this time several new factors have raised the
stakes beyond anything previously experienced.
will come as no surprise that, just like computers have impacted so
many other areas of modern life, new computer technologies have
dramatically altered the political game.
Politicians and their
consultants now have at their disposal extremely sophisticated
computer technology, combined with the latest Census, demographic
and polling data, to precisely gerrymander their districts. The days
of plastic Mylar maps, Elmer's glue, magic markers, trial and error
jigsaws and cut and paste blueprints are over. The software is more
accurate than ever before, and the politicians have greatly enhanced
capacity to handpick their voters.
professor Pamela Karlan says, "The technology is so good, you can
draw districts with absolutely equal numbers of people in them, and
yet create virtually any kind of political breakdown between the
districts that you want." Adds Jeffrey Wice, an attorney for Impact
2000, the Democratic Party's redistricting program, "The ante has
been upped immeasurably by changes in technology and the law. An
excess of technology leads to a manic temptation where people try to
connect the dots anyway they can."
One can credibly
argue that most of us no longer choose our representatives--instead,
the politicians choose us. Every decade when the district lines are
re-drawn, winners and losers will be decided for most legislative
districts. The choice of voters for the remainder of the decade will
be simply to ratify the selections made for them by the
redistricting politicians. For all the talk of a stolen election in
2000, we are about to see the robbery of millions of Americans'
chances to elect a Member of Congress or state legislator they like
-- and yet hardly anyone but the political insiders is paying
One virtue to the new
redisctricting technologies is that they are now relatively
inexpensive. That means that virtually any special interest or lobby
with an interest in how districts are drawn can create their own set
of maps and push for the gerrymander that suits them.
Unquestionably, there will be many cooks in the kitchen during this
round of redistricting. Unfortunately, few will speak for the
general public interest in creating plans that represent all of
The game will be
played much differently in 2001-2 than ever before, and these new
redistricting technologies are crucial to the new paradigm. Success
breeds success, and the practices perfected by redistricting
practitioners have become the steroids of politics--once one side is
using them and gains a competitive edge, you don't dare not use
them. The new techniques and technologies are too powerful to
ignore, and irresistible to those salivating to win.
the nation so evenly divided between the two major parties, the
current round of redistricting is bound to be one of the messiest