When you combine the gerrymandering described in this article with the fact that much lawmaking is done via unelected and politically unaccountable judges and federal agencies, its easy to see why a lot of people think their votes don't matter and simply throw in the towel and stay home on election day.
What do you all think?
House of Unrepresentatives
By DICK MORRIS
Something is afoot in the Lone Star state. In May, Texas Democrats fled the state to avoid giving Republicans the quorum they need to gerrymander district lines. Now their battling it out in a special session of the state legislature. But that drama is only the tip of a huge story that goes to the core of our democracy.
A series of bipartisan deals during the reapportionment of Congress following the 2000 census has effectively taken away our ability to elect or to change the House of Representatives. The effect has been to give congressmen of both parties lifetime tenure rivaled only by Supreme Court justices.
Every decade brings a partisan food fight in which the Democrats and Republicans grapple with one another for advantage as they draw new congressional district boundaries. The results usually doom dozens of incumbents to an early demise as they face voters who know them little and like them less. After the 1980 census, 43 incumbents bit the dust. After 1990, 39 lost their seats. But, as a result of the bipartisan deals, only 16 lost in the first election after the 2000 census.
It gets worse. Eight House incumbents lost to other incumbents and four others were defeated in their own party primaries. A grand total of four House members lost their seats to challengers from the other party in the 2002 elections. That's less than 1% of the House. While states are passing term limits, Congress is engineering lifetime tenure.
The gerrymandering of 2002 differs from that in any other year. Normally, the parties go for the jugular, seeking to destroy as many opposition incumbents as possible. This time, the party in power in each state negotiated Democratic voters into Democratic districts and Republicans into GOP areas so as to protect one another's incumbents.
Where Democrats ran the state government, as in California, they sought to protect their incumbents even at the expense of giving up their hopes for a House majority. With 53 congressional seats in the nation's largest state, only one incumbent -- Gary Condit -- had to look for new work after election day.
The Republican legislatures were usually more aggressive, seeking to win marginal seats to prolong their control of the House. But, in the process, they drew the lines of swing districts to keep core Democratic voters outside their boundaries, putting them, instead, into districts already represented by Democrats where they could do no further harm to GOP ambitions.
As a result of these shenanigans, only about 20 of the 435 seats in the Congress are actually in play in a typical election year. Ninety-five percent of the incumbents are safe and, therefore, 95% of the voters are effectively disenfranchised. Meanwhile, the institutional arrogance of these tenured politicians can grow unmolested by the vagaries of electoral fortune.
So, even as the U.S. becomes more evenly divided between the parties than ever before, a seat in the House of Representatives is as secure as any civil-service job. The only reason U.S. Senate seats stayed competitive is that the politicians cannot gerrymander state lines.
For all the attention showered on the influence of money in electoral campaigns, almost nobody has focused on the impact of gerrymandered district lines. Senate and governorship races are fought with bank accounts these days. But House races are fought with maps, computer simulations, and sharp red pencils.
As a result, party bosses can enforce a discipline over their congressional delegations that would have made Boss Tweed smile. Every congressman knows that his fate is tied to how the lines are drawn. Independent congressmen -- Connecticut's Jim Maloney, for example -- find themselves gerrymandered into hopeless races against incumbents of the other party. A member who toes the line and "always voted at his party's call and never thought of thinking for himself at all" (courtesy of Gilbert & Sullivan) gets rewarded with the modern equivalent of the old pocket boroughs of 19th-century Britain.
The solution? Tiny Iowa has passed a law establishing a nonpartisan reapportionment commission and explicitly prohibiting it from taking political factors like incumbency, party or voting habits into account. The result? Four of the 20 competitive seats in the House come from this state with but 1% of the U.S. population.
James Madison said the House should be the body most reflective of popular passions. He never met today's partisan mapmakers.
Mr. Morris, formerly an adviser to President Clinton, is the author of "Off With Their Heads: Traitors, Crooks and Obstructionists in American Politics, Media, and Business" (Regan, 2003).
Updated July 18, 2003