A ten-parter by David Brin
(http://www.davidbrin.com/politics.html October 2005)
IX. Citizens Revolt:
....Answer Gerrymandering by moving your vote where it will count.
Reprise: Thwarted at having anything meaningful to do with their votes, might people find a way to evade this trick of the political pros? The precedent is clear. We have only to follow the wisdom of our ancestors. If we have the guts to rebel against ‘party identity’ and instead maximize our personal access to political power.
Last time we concluded, after a long and complex path, that there will be no immediate solution to the Gerrymandering Plot from the ones who engineered it. The Professional Political Caste.
Elsewhere, I have examined how this might be seen as just a small part of a major phenomenon, perhaps the biggest -- and most under-reported -- conflict in America and the West today. A conflict that runs completely orthogonally to the standard, hoary left-right-political axis. One that seems to arise as an immune response by nearly all professional castes, against what I have called a rising "Age of Amateurs." I won’t go into detail about that here, except to say that this conflict should be unnecessary. The Age of Amateurs is coming, empowered by rising education and technology, no matter what anybody tries to do about it. This should also result in a shining new age of empowered citizenship. And if the professional castes decide to help fostering the trend, instead of resisting, they will be honored, as never before.
But let us focus once again upon a particular battle in that war. How can citizens fight back against a tactic that has eviscerated our sovereign franchise, turning the right to vote into little more than a mockery?
Last time, logic and history seemed to lead to one possibility. Just one slender chance.
If districts have been scornfully reworked in order to make the November general elections worthless, then everyone in a district should join the party of that district. Make the primary election the locus of real argument, real campaigning over issues, real voter participation. Real politics.
Clearly, this is the minority's best tactic, when gerrymandered "solid" districts and national division have rendered competitive politics a thing of the past.
All right, it’s a bold plan. Disturbing, too. So let’s ponder some implications, in detail. How would this work?
Take a hypothetical gerrymandered congressional district in which only a quarter or so of the voters are Democrats, while more than half are Republicans (and the rest independents, many of them conservative-leaning). Under such extreme conditions, it sure doesn’t sound like there is very much that a liberal can do. Surely the representative from such a district will be -- and ought to be -- some kind of conservative.
Still, should those Democrats be just written off, forever? They amount to more than a hundred thousand citizens. Voters who hold a useless franchise, because they won't ever make a difference in choosing their legislative representatives, either next November or the next... or any other for the foreseeable future.
Only now suppose the hundred thousand Democrats switch to become registered Republicans. They have that right! And, suddenly, that number becomes significant, easily as large as any particular faction within the district’s Republican party. Large and potentially influential. Perhaps even enough to help an insurgent moderate -- someone who is conservative in the old-fashioned and decent sense of the word -- to depose one of the recent wave of outrageous neoconservative crazies.
At minimum, it could tighten quite a number of primary races. Force a few incumbents to spend more time and money visiting the home district. Perhaps even win some moderating concessions.
Now add in this factor. At least another quarter of the electorate may call themselves "independent." This trend, toward abandoning all party affiliation, had its roots in good old, irascible American contrariness. But it has turned out to be one of the most foolish and counterproductive in generations. Might it now give way to a much more savvy rebellion? One with vastly greater potency? All those "independents" have to do is follow the power... and grab some when it matters.
And yes, it goes both ways. There are also millions of Republicans who live in gerrymandered Democratic districts, where their vote doesn't seem to matter, either. Might they try the same tactic, in reverse?
Is that a problem?
Either way, the trend toward ever-narrowing electorates, ordained outcomes and increasing power for fringe fanatics may turn around. Whether those fanatics happen to be romantics of the loony left or the klepto-apocalyptic right, they have already done more than enough damage and had far too much power to disrupt the true American tradition of negotiation and pragmatic problem-solving. It’s time to say to all of them, enough.
==Continue to Part 10z or return to Part 1 of this series