Today is election day—an off-year election in which we will vote for local offices--school board members, the mayor, members of the borough council—and for a few regional and statewide positions, from district attorney to state supreme court judge. These are elections that help define our sense of community. Because we are still relatively new to our neighborhood, I took a closer look than usual at the voter’s guide and got a lesson in politics and community.
Pennsylvania is one of several states that are known for the impact of Republican gerrymandering—restructuring voting districts to create safe districts where chances that Republicans will be elected and re-elected. I live in State College, PA. It is a university town and, I know from the experience of living here for most of the past four decades, more liberal as a community than the farming communities that surround it. One assumes it would be a relatively safe Democratic district. So, I was not surprised but still dismayed to see that State College and its suburbs have been redistricted to be in two separate congressional districts. State College Borough is one corner of a district that largely covers farming areas and small villages ending in Philipsburg—about 24 miles west of State College. However, the townships that surround State College—where most of the university employees live—are part of another district that extends to the east and that also include small and rural communities dominated by Republicans. The result is that all State College area residents are in safe Republican districts. The State College area community has been divided so that we cannot vote as a community. We have been artificially segregated so that we have no effective vote on statewide and national offices that are defined by districts.
I am a Democrat and a progressive Democrat at that, although I did once vote for a Republican for President (he lost). I care about keeping—and ensuring the purity of—our ability as individuals to be effective members of a community and to use government as a tool for helping others in our community live the best life that we can all make for ourselves and our fellow citizens. The purpose of government in a democracy is to give citizens the means as individuals to ensure that all people have equitable access to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Gerrymandering denies individuals the right to be heard in elections. In this light, gerrymandering should be seen as a fundamentally unpatriotic act.
Gerrymandering, along with closing the government over ideology and threatening to force governmental default, constitutes something that is very dangerous to our democracy. We tend to be very forgiving in this country. In this instance, however, we need to work self-consciously and persistently to reclaim true Constitutional government.