It seems so much a part of Northern Ireland’s recent past that it’s hard to remember that the term Gerrymander originates on the other side of the great sheugh. It was the subject of an excellent piece of radio journalism (sound file) from the BBC last night.
The situation appears chronic in the US. In part it’s because all states are under a legal obligation re-draw boundaries every ten years, and that the officials charged with the drawing of the boundaries are under the direct control of whoever previous set of elections.
In states like Texas and Maryland, where one party holds all the major state offices this gives a single party the opportunity to effectively grow its state-wide representation regardless of the choices voters may make in the ballot box by stretching bounadaries (in some cases for 100s of miles) to gather groups of Democrat or Republican voters together in one constituency.
Tensions are growing around the issue with pressure on the House ethics committee to investigate the role of the majority leader, Tom de Lay for his role in Texas, though it’s hard to see it making any difference where the US Supreme Court felt unable to act.
But in a game which both parties play as and when the opportunity arises the real problem appears to be the long apathy amongst voters, and the concomitant loss of competition amongst the political classes which naturally arises from the ‘political fixing of boundaries’.
In 2002, 81 of a total of 435 Congressmen ran unopposed.