Gerrymandering comes with a hefty price tag

Today’s high-tech redistricting maps, designed with sophisticated computers and comprehensive voter databases, can provide safe districts for a decade, depriving voters of meaningful elections and fair representation. in Congress and in the state legislatures.

Then, these elected officials, well installed behind rigged lines, answer only to the small primary electorate which in fact chooses the winners in most constituencies. Completely indifferent to an uncompetitive general election, elected officials push politics to extremes to meet the needs of the types of voters who dominate in the decisive primary. These legislators are blocking action on a wide range of issues where there is broad consensus on the best way forward.

This toxic dynamic not only causes millions of voters to lose influence at the ballot box, but also ends up costing taxpayers dearly. Voters literally pay millions when their representatives defend their indefensible puzzle cards in court.

State to state, the figures for legal and consultant fees are staggering. The accounts below are incomplete, they will only grow. Even so, the true magnitude is often obscured by lawmakers.

Ohio: A Republican-linked law firm infamous for defending racial gerrymanders, billed to the State $589,512.62 for advice and legal advice – and only until the beginning of April 2022.

According to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, lawyers have already accumulated some $962,000 in legal fees paid by taxpayers. The fight could last for years.

Florida: Lawmakers have earmarked $1 million for additional legal challenges, rightly anticipating that Governor Ron DeSantis’ partisan and racially savage gerrymander would land in court. This battle has also probably just begun. The cost to taxpayers over the past decade for the maps that were ultimately thrown out as unconstitutional: Over $8 million.

Louisiana: Experts have estimated that taxpayers will pay for hundreds of thousands in court costs. A law firm with close ties to the GOP, BakerHostetler, earns at least $10,000 a month, a figure that rises to $60,000 when court dates are required.

Wisconsin: Lawmakers in this state gerrymandered — knowing more litigation was coming this cycle — signed contracts for over a million dollars in legal fees even before a case is officially filed. Last round, Republicans’ struggle to defend perhaps the nation’s most severely gerrymandered cards cost taxpayers some $3.5 million in legal fees.

Pennsylvania: Disputes over election-related issues here have costs taxpayers some $4 million, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. While it’s unclear how much of that is redistricting, most of the $1 million spent by Senate Republicans went to a Virginia firm where Jason Torchinsky — one of the most successful lawyers view on redistricting the GOP – is associated.

Kansas: In April, taxpayers had to pay $250,000 in legal feesand that’s before the case goes to the state Supreme Court in May.

We don’t yet know how much litigation will cost taxpayers in Maryland, New York, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and North Carolina, among other states. However, we know that the latest bill in North Carolina alone topped $10 million in the past decade. And that opponents of the map gerrymandered by New York Democrats was looking to raise between $1.5 and $3 million for the challenge.

Scroll to continue

Most of that money is funneled from politicians to powerful law firms closely tied to those politicians — like in Keystone State with a company founded by a former aide to a Democratic Pennsylvania governor and another that employs the chairman of the state’s Republican Party. .

In many ways, these are incestuous relationships. But to add insult to injury is that taxpayers end up paying to defend the cards that limit their choices and degrade democracy. It’s the ultimate lose-lose, an all-expenses-paid trip to a masochist convention. Lose your voice, then pay the legal fees of the politicians who took it away from you.

It’s an outrage, and just one more reason why judges who suggest voters can control gerrymandering by kicking out politicians who basically do it don’t understand how completely closed the circle has become: there’s a lot money to be made by selling fair elections. Politicians entrench themselves, then enrich their cronies. “We the people” pay for it and suffer the harm.

This is further proof that our redistricting process is broken and eroding democracy itself. This is one more reason why reform is so crucial. And that’s one more reason why good reform is important.

After all, voters in Ohio, New York and Florida all thought they were fixing their processes with various forms of independent commissions and state constitutional amendments. A well-structured commission helps; California, for example, has had no litigation this cycle.

But the fundamental problem remains single-member constituencies. As long as the country remains so evenly divided, as long as district lines determine winners and losers, as long as sophisticated mapping software and big voter data can dye districts red or blue for a decade, supporters will fight to control and manipulate these lines.

And as long as the federal courts continue to bless this debasement of democracy and Congress creates no standards to contain it, there’s no reason redistricting shouldn’t be a race to the bottom, led by the worst. actors.

Multi-member districts and a more proportional House are the way to change these incentives. The Fair Representation Act, introduced in Congress by Representative Don Beyer of Virginia, would create larger districts represented by three, four or five members and elected with a preferential vote. Each constituency would become a rotating constituency likely to elect Democrats and Republicans, or even independents.

With multiple seats elected per district, the lines themselves, drawn by a commission, would hardly matter. We would stop the bitter and internecine disputes over them. Endless litigation would be put to an end. We would save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. We would strengthen elections and make every voice count again.

The game is rigged against voters by politicians, for the benefit of themselves and their well-connected friends. We won’t get a different result until we rework the rules.

Maria Merkle provided research assistance for this piece

Transferred from DemocracySOS

Richard L. Militello