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Preparing The Battlefield

There's an old saying, attributed to Josef Stalin: "It's not the people who vote that count. It's the people who count the votes."

It's an important lesson when dealing with politics. When honesty is no longer taken for granted, then those who control the system truly make the decisions.

But there's another meta level even beyond that one that comes into play when it comes to manipulating elections: who decides who gets to vote?

In any system, whoever sets the rules has a tremendous power to rig the system in their favor. And we're coming up on another opportunity to redefine those fundamental rules.

It's 2010. That means we had our decennial census, and the results of that will have a tremendous effect on our political system.

The Constitution dictates that membership in the House of Representatives shall be based upon the population of the several states. That means that every ten years, the distribution of the seats in the House has to be re-jiggered. The Census hasn't released any numbers as yet, but the predictions are significant: Texas is expected to pick up four House seats;
Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington, one each; Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania will lose one; and Ohio will lose two.

That's a major shift -- eleven seats will move.

But those numbers aren't graven in stone. The Census could surprise us, and those predictions could be off.

It was never said explicitly, but I believe that was a factor in the early days of the Obama administration. Initially, they reached out to Senator Judd Gregg (D-NH R-NH, my homey) and asked him to serve as Secretary of Commerce. Gregg initially accepted the nomination, but angrily (well, as angrily as he gets -- he's a former tax lawyer, and rather bloodless by nature) withdrew after the Obama administration announced that it was taking the oversight of the census away from the Secretary of Commerce and instead directly running it from the White House.

Why would the Obama administration first agree to have such a staunch Republican like Gregg in such a key position, then change their minds? I suspect that they initially didn't realize the Census fell under his purview. Then, when it all fell together, they pushed and pushed him until he withdrew.

But all that is just context for the thesis here. This isn't about whta has happened so far, but what is coming next.

Redistricting has two phases. What I've described above is the machinations that cover the first one. The effects won't be felt until the 2012 election cycle. And what will happen between the Census final numbers are released and that election cycle is what is the focus here.

After every census, in every state, even if the total number of Representatives doesn't change, the Congressional district lines are redrawn. The borders shift, and sitting representatives can sometimes find themselves facing each other as two (or sometimes even more) living within the same district.

Drawing those lines is a very important process. And it's not the Census that draws those lines. Nor is it the House, or any part of the federal government. Nope, it's the state legislatures that set the districts.

Which is why NPR ran such a sob piece on Sunday, talking about how awful it might be if the Republicans get to set those boundaries. The tone is clear: if the Republicans get control of state legislatures, it could corrupt the process terribly. The presumption, of course, is that if the Democrats control it, it'll be much fairer and more respectable.

And, I suspect, it might be why Steven L. Taylor of Outside The Beltway also brought up redistricting as well.

There are no real rules for redistricting; the courts have ruled that the districts have to be roughly equal in population and make some sort of contiguous sense (demographically or geographically), but other than that, "gerrymandering" is pretty much the rule rather than the exception.

My favorite example was the plan Massachusetts Republicans put forth back in 1990. They had to deal with going from 11 to 10 seats, and the plan the Republicans put forth not only had each district within five people of each other, but made sure that each sitting Democrat representative would have to compete with a a fellow incumbent -- not one was left alone in their district. It was a work of art, and would have caused the Democrats no end of trouble. So, naturally, it went nowhere.

It's an odd thing, that so much power at the federal level will be decided this fall in literally thousands of individual races all around the country. This November, when we go to the polls to elect our state representatives, we will -- in a way -- be deciding the shape of the future on a national level.

Odd, as in I don't think it has a parallel anywhere in the world.

But certainly not odd, as in disturbing. That's what NPR and others are trying to sell -- that the thought that if one party prevails here, it will be a terrible catastrophe and the corruption of a hitherto-pristine process. That letting the matter be resolved in what is possibly the most small-d democratic fashion possible is incredibly dangerous.

I personally find it quite comforting to know that I, as an individual, a nobody in the middle of nowhere, can help shape the next ten years of our government.

Only in America, my friends. Only in America.


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Comments (30)

Gregg's a Republican, Jay.<... (Below threshold)
James H:

Gregg's a Republican, Jay.

There are no real ... (Below threshold)
James H:
There are no real rules for redistricting; the courts have ruled that the districts have to be roughly equal in population and make some sort of contiguous sense (demographically or geographically), but other than that, "gerrymandering" is pretty much the rule rather than the exception.

Inaccurate. There are also laws on the books regarding racial representation within districts.

As somebody who lives in a gerrymandered district, I have no respect for the redistricting process at all. My congressman is a Democrat, and it's bene the same Democrat for nearly two decades now. The district has been drawn for him to always win, and he ... well, always wins.

He's an OK congressman, I suppose, but I'm essentially disenfranchised in midterms because my vote literally counts for nothing. And the GOP in this district typically runs a strawman candidate who has no chance of winning.

Dammit, I KNOW Gregg's a Re... (Below threshold)

Dammit, I KNOW Gregg's a Republican -- I even said so. Lemme go fix that...

And by "rules," James, I mean an actual written manual or formula that spells out exactly how it must be done. What we have is a rule governing population equality, and a whole bunch of court cases governing geographic, ethnic, cultural, and racial balancing. So there's no one rulebook that one can follow and be sure not to get sued over the results.

And considering how there are no two states alike, let alone subsets, I don't think there can be.

J.

During the 2000 Census, Ken... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

During the 2000 Census, Kenneth Prewitt, the Census director from 1998 to 2001 also reported to the White House Administration. Why is it only wrong when the Obama administration does it?

Tina, a more important ques... (Below threshold)

Tina, a more important question would be "why can't Democratic administrations obey the law and leave the Census under the Commerce Department, instead of getting directly involved?"

J.

Tina, there is a world of d... (Below threshold)
MunDane68:

Tina, there is a world of difference between 'reporting to' and 'being run by'. See the difference between Vietnam with LBJ and Nixon and Iraq War 1 with GHWB re: the military

Obama administration ann... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Obama administration announced that it was taking the oversight of the census away from the Secretary of Commerce and instead directly running it from the White House.

The Obama administration never announced they were directly running the census.

Tina, there is a world o... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Tina, there is a world of difference between 'reporting to' and 'being run by'. See the difference between Vietnam with LBJ and Nixon and Iraq War 1 with GHWB re: the military

I agree there is a world of difference between 'reporting to' and 'being run by'. The problem is that many conservatives have been misrepresenting the Obama administration as running the census. That is simply not that case.

Tina, a more important q... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Tina, a more important question would be "why can't Democratic administrations obey the law and leave the Census under the Commerce Department, instead of getting directly involved?"

What law is being broken?

What law is being broken... (Below threshold)
jim m:

What law is being broken?

TinaS - None, but that isn't the point.

obama was the most partisan and ideological member of the Illinois Senate. obama was the most partisan and ideological member of the US Senate. While the media declared this to be a 'post-partisan' presidency that was never more than hype and no one who bothered to pay attention to Barry's voting record ever believed it.

While the Census belongs under the Commerce Dept because that's just where it has been structured there is no reason it couldn't be put under the state dept, or interior , or education or anywhere else.

The point is that with the most partisan president in memory taking control of the White House there is reason to believe that the taking control of the census directly by the White House there is reason to be concerned that it would be run on a strictly partisan basis. Dems have long desired to employ statistical means of calculating the census which are suspect and would favor their party.

The only reason for the most partisan president in memory to move the census under his direct control was for partisan purposes. He never gave any good reason for doing so.

Of course with the biased, corrupt and partisan way the DOJ has been run it may not have made much of a difference where the census was run out of.

Tina S: "The Obama admin... (Below threshold)
Justrand:

Tina S: "The Obama administration never announced they were directly running the census"

Yes, they did.

Rahm Emmanuel took direct control. The Commerce Department has Congressional oversight of its activities. Having the Executive branch DIRECTLY control the results of the Census flies in the face of the intent of the Founders.

Had a REPUBLICAN done this the media and Democrats would have gone ballistic. And the media firestorm would have forced a reversal. Since it was Obama they ho-hummed and walked away.

p.s. Emmanuel spent BILLIONS more on this census than the one conducted just 10 years ago. Why is that? hmmmm?

A better question, Tina, is... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

A better question, Tina, is why Obama feels the need FOR THE FIRST TIME IN US HISTORY for the census to be run FROM THE WHITE HOUSE.

And now your moment of GOP ... (Below threshold)
the Dane of your existence:

And now your moment of GOP ZEN.

Jay Tea: "Tina, a more important question would be "why can't Democratic administrations obey the law and leave the Census under the Commerce Department, instead of getting directly involved?"

Tina: "What law is being broken?"

Jim m: "TinaS - None, but that isn't the point."

lol.

Ok, is a law being broken or not, because someone is wrong here, and knowing what law is being broken is relevant to - uhm, knowing if in fact their breaking the law as has been claimed by Jay Tea - or not, right?

Can anyone find where a law is being broken? Or is this just another example of right wingers being wrong again???

Because if no laws are bein... (Below threshold)
the Dane of your existence:

Because if no laws are being broken it's all just politics - and pretending the GOP doesn't play politics with regards to gerrymandering is bullshit.

As always, the conservative... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

As always, the conservatives take the high road and the libeals take the technicality road. Republicans resign in disgrace when they do wrong, the liberals have a party and demand they be left alone. Morality and reprobates. ww

Just more of Barry's interl... (Below threshold)
914:

Just more of Barry's interloping to stay in power..


Hey! He's looking more like Hugo everyday.

So Wild Willie and 914 don'... (Below threshold)
the Dane of your existence:

So Wild Willie and 914 don't know of any laws being broken.

Anyone?

Another issue is who gets t... (Below threshold)
Wayne:

Another issue is who gets to decide who we get to vote for. Most of the time it has been the establishments that recruits, back especially financially and put forth candidates. Yes anyone who qualify can run but without the establishment behind them they get little notice and is considered "fringe" and unelectable. This is the first election where there have been many cracks in this system.

Yeah, the laws of common de... (Below threshold)
914:

Yeah, the laws of common decency. Its being trampled on everyday by this administration.

A better question, Tina,... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

A better question, Tina, is why Obama feels the need FOR THE FIRST TIME IN US HISTORY for the census to be run FROM THE WHITE HOUSE.

That is a totally false statement. The census director is only reporting to the white house administration. This was also done during the Bush administration.

I thought Obama was post pa... (Below threshold)
John:

I thought Obama was post partisan, I thought Obama was going to bring a new attitude to Washington, I thought Obama was post racial, I thought Obama was above all this petty political BS, I thought he was new a CHANGE. How come everytime this guy pulls some political BS all we hear is but GWB did the same thing, or republicans do the same thing. Doesn't that sound a little like he might just be another crooked piece of crap politician? Should the folks that voted for CHANGE be very upset that he keeps doing the same stuff that GWB did? Shouldn't his SUPPORTERS be demanding better from the most ethical, post partisan, post racial, most special president in history? Why is the same old crap ok? He's just like all the rest, nothing special in fact probably worse than most.

TITLE 13--CENSUS <... (Below threshold)
JPO:

TITLE 13--CENSUS

CHAPTER 1--ADMINISTRATION

SUBCHAPTER I--GENERAL PROVISIONS


Sec. 2. Bureau of the Census

"The Bureau is continued as an agency within, and under the jurisdiction of, the Department of Commerce."

It took me about 30 seconds to find it on a google search.

Still nobody with any "laws... (Below threshold)
the Dane of your Existence:

Still nobody with any "laws that were broken"?

Nobody has found one - Jay - I guess its up to you to back up your claim that the Obama administration "broke the law." You're not getting any help from the wingnuts.

Tina, a more important q... (Below threshold)
Tina S:

Tina, a more important question would be "why can't Democratic administrations obey the law and leave the Census under the Commerce Department, instead of getting directly involved?"

Jay, during the 2000 Census, less than 2 weeks prior to a decision being made by a panel of experts at the Census Bureau over whether adjustments should be made to the census count, the Bush administration took away their power to do so. This was done by a rule change made by Donald L. Evans. Mr. Evans was President Bush's campaign chairman prior to being appointed secretary of commerce.

This goes further than then the Obama administration. The Obama administration has zero involvement in the analysis and adjustments to the census. The only involvement the Obama administration has concerning the census focuses around budgeting and outreach.

So is Jay Tea going to admi... (Below threshold)
the Dane of your Existence:

So is Jay Tea going to admit that Obama didn't "break the law" or not?

Tina, one question: if we'r... (Below threshold)

Tina, one question: if we're talking about the 2000 Census, why are you bringing up the Bush administration? Bill Clinton was president right through January 20, 2001.

J.

Clearly Jay was wrong when ... (Below threshold)
the Dane of your existence:

Clearly Jay was wrong when he claimed laws were being broken. He's just not adult enough to admit it.

Tina S: "during the 2000... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Tina S: "during the 2000 Census, less than 2 weeks prior to a decision being made by a panel of experts at the Census Bureau over whether adjustments should be made to the census count, the Bush administration took away their power to do so"

Tina, the 2000 Census was performed in 2000 (duh) under the Clinton Administration. I expect you are talking about clerical actions taken in 2002, which are an entirely different category of action from the direct collection and aggregation of data.

Or are you claiming that W somehow got a time machine and went back in time to more than half a year before he took office? And even if he did, hwo would he have controlled all those Clinton-hired Census officials?

Come on now, that's a Dane-ish mistake, you're smarter than that!

Just noticed Jay's observat... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Just noticed Jay's observation. Still, worth repeating since Tina has not answered that little nugget.

Just noticed Jay's observat... (Below threshold)
DJ Drummond:

Just noticed Jay's observation. Still, worth repeating since Tina has not answered that little nugget.

Actually, I noticed right after my comment posted, but the computer makes you wait before you can post again.




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