It’s not a sight that we see often, but the Conservative Icon and the Liberal favorite fall on the same side of one issue: Gerrymandering. An issue I’ll come to in due course, but it all started with me stumbling upon this wonderful interview of Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States in 1991. This interview is quite remarkable, and covers a variety of different issues, and you’d do well to watch them:
What was so interesting me is Reagan’s comments on Gerrymandering, a uniquely American phenomenon.
But what is gerrymandering? Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district boundaries for political advantage. In the United States this ‘technique’ has been utilized by both political parties to advance their cause. The problem has arisen in the United State because State Legislatures are the ones that draw the Congressional Electoral constituencies, and in many cases, their own constituencies.
Gerrymandering produces subverted electoral results, and can be considered as a form of electoral malpractice meant to undermine the desire of the electorate.
For example, see this:
As you can see, gerrymandering can sabotage electoral results & skewed victories. This is how one party or another completely dominated the US House of representatives. Only a few elections ever term is competitive, as indicated by electoral indicators like Cook Partsian Voters Index (PVI).
This means that one party can have long periods of power in the House of Representatives in the US. The Democrats for example, controlled the house for 40 straight years from 1954 to 1994.
It was only in the middle of Bill Clinton’s first term that a Republican House came to be, and that did not happen because of a wondrous miracle, but because of sustained efforts by the Republicans starting from way back in 1988 to capture state legislatures, and the so called ‘Contract with America‘.
This momentous event has been described as the ‘Republican Revolution’, and its success changed the course of American Political history, and possibly world history itself.
But back to the video in question. [From 10 minute marks onward]
Reagan bashes the practice of gerrymandering, calling it a ‘conflict of interest’ and noting that 98% of races resulted in the incumbent being recollected, and suggesting that the districts be laid out on the basis of a bipartisan commission report. This was of course said during the time of a Democrat nominated house. Since 1994, the Republicans have been able to maintain a majority in the house save four years (2006-2010), and the Democrats have therefore been pushing against anti-gerrymandering activities.
Obama for example, came out against gerrymandering arguing that Democrats received more votes but less seats:
This is the similar argument that Reagan uses in the earlier video (!!!).
Obama’s video is to support a campaign by Democrats to make the system ‘fairer and more equitable’. Of course, this is because the Republicans control the House and not the Democrats.*
As you can see, two Presidents, split by every other issue imaginable, who represent two vastly different ideologies and thinking, agree, more or less, on this. It goes on to show how fickle politics is. Everyone is out to grab absolute power for themselves, one way or another. (*cue Libertarian Party aficionados*)
Recently, some states have adopted non-partisan and bipartisan commissions, but the majority of state legislatures still decide their own maps.
In India, the electoral maps are drawn by the Delimitation Commission of India, a body specially set up by an act of Parliament. The most recent Delimitation Commission was the one instituted in 2002, and they have remained mostly uncontroversial for most parts. The main debating point that they had to deal with was ensuring equity between those states that had a successful family planning programme (Kerala, TN etc.) with those who did not (UP, Bihar, etc.).
It is quite fascinating to me that the United States Political System, considered ‘ideal’ by many constitutionalists and academics, has this unreal flaw. A point that should be highlighted more and more often.
Note: There is an interesting comment that Reagan makes about the invasion of Greneda, and about the Iran-Contra affair and the question of war making powers. Maybe I’ll deal with that in the future.
*:Don’t think that it is a partisan effort, well take a look at the NDRC website: