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Redistricting, a Devil’s Dictionary
Posted on Nov 6, 2011
By Olga Pierce, Jeff Larson and Lois Beckett
Hijacking: If there’s an incumbent you don’t like, you can make their re-election difficult by putting them in a district with another incumbent to contend with. If you don’t like either incumbent in the newly drawn district, even better, because only one can be re-elected. If the two incumbents are from your rival party, you can force a costly primary battle, weakening your likely opponent before general election.
Cleveland, Toledo: Which brings us to the curious case of Reps. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich. Ideological kindred spirits, friends, and now incumbents in the same oddly-shaped district. A district the Republican state legislature appears to have designed by drawing a straight line connecting the two representatives’ homes, 110 miles apart, in Toledo and Cleveland. Republicans in Ohio’s state legislature have defended the new district maps, saying they don’t break any laws.
Kidnapping: Most politicians have geographic political bases; places they came up in politics where they have supporters, political allies, donors and name recognition. But what if their home address ends up in a different district than their base? That can make re-election tough, as North Carolina Congressman Brad Miller is about to find out. A new district boundary adopted by the state legislature there elegantly sweeps out to cut his home in Raleigh out of his old district. Republicans in the state have said that gaining congressional seats is a goal of their redistricting effort.
Gerrymandering: Taken together, all of these handy techniques are known by this most famous redistricting term. In 1812, a Massachusetts governor named Eldridge Gerry was blamed for a redistricting plan designed to weaken the influence of the opposition Federalist party. The map, drawn to favor the Democratic-Republicans, included a long, squiggly district wrapped around the other districts like a salamander. The district, immortalized by a famous political cartoon, was dubbed the “gerry-mander.” (This was not fair to Gerry, since he was was not actually responsible for the map.) Gerrymandering has become the term of choice for all misbehavior in redistricting, but particularly refers to districts drawn in bizarre, wandering shapes for the benefit of particular politicians. A special subset of this is the sweetheart gerrymander, where incumbents of different parties collude to draw districts that make sure everyone stays in office.
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