Of the Congress, by the Congress, for the Congress.
So, once and for all, was the election rigged? Yes. Indisputably. Not in the presidential race, despite the president-elect’s specious assertions (although, with respect for the Founding Fathers, I’m done with the outmoded, distorted Electoral College). But it was “rigged” by partyprotected voting maps in contests for Congress. Which matters, big-time. A president’s success is significantly shaped by his congressional support.
Look at Colorado. In the presidential vote, we went for Hillary Clinton by 5 percentage points over Donald Trump (48.2 percent to 43.2 percent). We were distinctly blue. Yet we re-elected four Republicans to the House of Representatives and only three Democrats. Which colors us red.
Or think about this: Going into the election, the national approval rate for Congress was in the single digits; yet more than 90 percent of members who ran for re-election won. The ratio has been above 80 percent for 50 years.
The problem? Congressional districts are designed to insulate the incumbent. Colorado’s boundaries are more equitably drawn than most. We have a few where Republicans, Democrats and independents are fairly evenly apportioned. But still, most districts in Colorado and across the nation are packed to protect one party or the other.
Look at our 1st Congressional District, which is mainly Denver. Democrat Diana DeGette has won this seat in 11 elections now. A Republican in her liberal domain doesn’t have a prayer. On the other hand, in Scott Tipton’s 3rd District (which occupies darned near the western half of the state) and Ken Buck’s 4th (which takes up the eastern third), Democrats are the ones without a prayer. They could hardly even fill a church.
Every 10 years there is a constitutionally required census, which gives both parties a chance to redraw district lines. Under the Voting Rights Act, they cannot disenfranchise citizens because of their race. They have to conserve what are called “communities of interest,” and the cherished credo of “one person, one vote.” Boundaries shouldn’t concentrate all like-minded voters in a single district because they’d lose their voice everywhere else, nor should they divvy them up into so many districts that their voice is diluted. In short, it’s complicated.
But it’s also political. Lines are drawn by state legislatures, or if there’s a deadlock, by judges (which happened the last two times here in Colorado), or by appointed commissions (members here are appointed by legislative leaders, the state’s chief justice, and the governor). The process is neither non-partisan nor bipartisan. It is all-partisan. And often depends on who’s in charge.
Case in point: For a whole decade in California after redistricting, only one congressional seat out of 53 changed hands.
Another case: I reported on redistricting in the 4th District of Illinois, which is a heavily Hispanic Chicago neighborhood. Actually, two neighborhoods. They were congressionally connected only by an elevated interstate highway. Everything west of the interstate was Illinois’ 6th District. Everything east was the 7th. But the interstate itself was part of the 4th. Why? To link the neighborhoods and preserve the Hispanic majority.
I also reported on Arizona’s 2nd District, which made Chicago look normal. As the Colorado River cascaded through the Grand Canyon, 46 miles of it were set in the 2nd District, even though the dry land on both sides was in the 1st. That’s how the small Native American Hopi tribe, surrounded and outnumbered by Navajos in the 1st District, was linked to the 2nd.
Politics is the driving force. We can’t eliminate it. But in Colorado and nationwide when they redraw the maps again at the end of this decade, if each party has an equal voice, we can mitigate the rigging. Because there’s something wrong with the picture when we think we’re choosing our representatives but, in actual fact, they are choosing us.