The History of Gerrymandering

One of the greatest things about the United States is our ability to determine the rules by which we all live. This is done via the election process. Every other year, we are asked to make our voices heard on a number of issues. Some are local issues, some are State issues, and occasionally, we vote in federal elections. Exercising your right to vote is one of the greatest things you can do as a citizen. However, we don’t generally think about some of the finer points of exactly how the election process works. Our elected officials, on both sides of the aisle, take full advantage of our lack of knowledge on this very important topic…they can steal elections.

Every ten years, we are asked to participate in the census, which gathers all kinds of information on who is living in the country. Requested data includes where you live, your ethnicity, how many people live in your household, your citizenship status, etc. This data is much more than the supermarket questionnaire that it appears to be. It is a constitutional requirement that a census be taken every ten years, in order to determine the number of representatives that should be in the United States House of Representatives—think, Mike Coffman, Ken Buck, Jared Polis and Dianna DeGette.

In 1929, due to an issue in determining how many more representatives each state should receive, the total number of representatives was frozen at 435—based on the 1910 census—the same number we have today. If that is the case, why do we still do a census? What exactly are we trying to figure out by counting the number of people in the country? Even though the census no longer serves to increase the number of Representatives in the House, it does allow the State legislature to determine where Democrats and Republicans will be elected, and how often—to the complete exclusion of third party voters.

The state legislature, a miniature version of the federal congress, is required by law to ensure that we are divided equally by population for the next five election cycles. To do this, they divide the state into voting districts—also called delimitation—based on the number of representatives that the State has in the House of Representatives. In Colorado’s case, there are currently nine voting districts and each one needs to have roughly the same number of voters. Now, you may be saying to yourself, “All of this information is interesting (or not), but how does all of this translate into stealing elections, and what can be done about it?”

When the legislature is drawing voting districts, the party that is in power will try to place more of their voters in the districts, to limit the possibility that the opposite party will win. For example, they would make the very liberal Denver its own district. They would then lump half of Boulder in with conservative parts of Jefferson County to make a district, effectively eliminating the voice of half of Boulder. The score is now 1-1. They would lump the other half of Boulder in with areas in the mountains that also lean conservative, making the score 1-2 for Republicans. The opposite situation can occur, where you mix half of Denver with the Eastern half of the State—where there are fewer people, but who likely vote Republican—making that district blue. You then mix Boulder with another left leaning city, as well as a couple of small towns with conservative voters, making the score 2-1 for Democrats. This whole process is referred to as “gerrymandering” and both parties are guilty of it. Every ten years the voting districts are shifted to favor the party with the most control over the State legislature.

In a weak effort to address the issue of gerrymandering, in November we are going to be asked to vote on Referendum Y, which creates a commission of 12 people to draw the district lines. The commission will consist of four Democrats, four Republicans, and four independents. The Libertarian party of Colorado believes that you deserve a better understanding of this issue, and strongly encourages you to vote no on Referendum Y. There are many, many reasons to vote no on Referendum Y, not the least of which is its exclusion of third party representation. Increasing division between the major parties has led many to seek a third-party alternative in the last two years. The state legislature has decided to ignore this fact and is perpetuating the repression of those disenfranchised by the status quo. If we are going to address the issue of gerrymandering, it is imperative that the largest and only national alternative to the two major parties is recognized.

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