Tom Evslin: With gerrymandering, the primary, in effect, becomes the election

This commentary is by Tom Evslin of Stowe, an entrepreneur, author and former Douglas administration official. It is republished from the Fractals of Change blog.

Gerrymanders breed extreme partisans. If a district is “safe” for either the Ds or the Rs, then whoever wins the primary in the district wins the general election. The primary, in effect, becomes the election. The voters in primaries, only a small fraction of those who vote in general elections, tend to be extreme. Therefor candidates move to the extreme left or right to win the primary and get onto office.

Tom Evslin

If a district is competitive, the need to appeal to the broad electorate in the upcoming general election (usually) keeps candidates reasonably near the center. Primary voters then must think about electability as well as their hyper-partisan wishes.

Every ten years districts must be redrawn to reflect the most recent census. Each party does its best to win advantage from this process and accuses the other party of abuse of process. Since redistricting is done under state law at the state level, a party which controls the governorship and both houses of the state legislature usually has an advantage. Incumbents of either party also like getting re-elected so they have a stake in gerrymandering which is only selfish, not partisan.

The good news is that state courts this year have reversed some egregious gerrymanders on the basis of state laws or the state constitution. The most prominent reversal so far is in New York where the highest state court mandated a less-partisan revision of the electoral map drawn by a Democratic governor with super-majorities in both houses of the legislature. It speaks well of the justice system that all the justices who voted for the 4-3 decision were appointed by Democratic governors.

In North Carolina a Republican drawn map was rejected as unconstitutionally partisan. The court produced its own map, and that map survived an appeal to the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court also let stand a court-drawn map in Pennsylvania which replaced one drawn by Republicans. In other states, allegedly partisan maps have not been overturned.

At the beginning of the 2022 election cycle, “experts” said that redistricting would advantage Republicans. Then, after the NY legislature circumvented the state constitution in its enormous attempted gerrymander, it looked like the advantage had shifted to the Democrats nationally. Now it looks like the puts and takes of redistricting will be about a draw as far as partisan advantage. What’s a loss for partisans is a gain for the rest of us. But only a small gain so far.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons/aronkubo

2 thoughts on “Tom Evslin: With gerrymandering, the primary, in effect, becomes the election

  1. Actually they do one better. The Party for a chance to make life better, want nothing to do with Black or staunch Republican candidates. I was given 3 days to get the tally to be able to be nominated….. 3 days out of better than 30. Guess I know what that means… Oh, and no replies from the Addison County GOP Rep about his lack of proper preparation for potential candidates. Guess he does not like my criticism of his actions (past post,s here was my comment ) or that of the VTGOP. Like including the info for the signatures and so on. Day after people go to dumps. Great time to get signatures… NOT…. Geez I wonder.

  2. Democrats use voting machines, mail in ballots and lug in boxes of ballots that appear magically in the middle of the night.
    Republicans like to redraw maps and demand voter ID so we know who you are before you vote- which Democrats don’t care at all about.

    It seems like the problems of today are about an equal division of cheating tactics.

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