Virginia’s Gerrymandering Violates the Golden Rule in Politics

Virginia’s Gerrymandering Violates the Golden Rule in Politics February 4, 2013

One of the chief benefits of a written Constitution meant to last for centuries is that it forces drafters to think beyond their own narrow self-interest. It is analogous to agreeing on the rules to a game before you start; only, when you die, your children have to play by the same rules, and their children after them. While you may know something about your own skills and resources, you cannot know for sure whether your grandchildren will have the same characteristics. Most decent people will seek rules that provide general security, fair treatment, and broad opportunity.

That’s why it’s completely asinine for Virginia Republicans to try to change the way the state’s Electoral College votes (EVs) are allocated.

Gerrymandering is the process by which electoral districts are drawn to favor the party doing the drawing. Gerrymandering was named after Elbridge Gerry, one of James Madison’s vice presidents (which should tell you how long the practice has been with us). Today’s Virginia Republicans are frustrated that one party takes all of its EVs when millions of its citizens vote for the other candidate. They are trying to allocate EVs according to the vote in each Congressional district (or another equally gerrymandered map).

There’s nothing inherently wicked about such a scheme. The problem is in changing the rule to suit your own immediate advantage. In Virginia’s case, this is especially risky. The federal capital is growing at monstrous rates, drawing leftists and other government enthusiasts in droves to Northern Virginia. It’s entirely possible that Virginia will be solid blue in the next decade. If and when Democrats draw new maps after the 2020 census, will Republicans still be glad for their clever little innovation?

The opposite solution is just as bad. Indignant after Bush won the Electoral College but lost the popular vote (spare me the election-stealing pouting), many states have pinky-sworn to give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. Getting rid of the Electoral College could result in more extremist candidates; after all, the Republican could simply harvest millions of votes from Texas and Alabama without a care for the comparatively puny population of Connecticut.

The thing is, the Constitution carries the rules. We all started playing the game with the Electoral College system in place. It isn’t right for some players to get together now and try to play by different rules. This intuition is why the Articles of Confederation required unanimous approval for any changes, and that, in turn, is one reason why the Constitutional Convention ignored them. If it’s time to reconsider the rules of the game, then all of the players at least get a say in how it’s going to work.

We begin to see the application of the golden rule in politics. “Do unto others” includes imposing rules on others that you would have them impose on you. And before you finish that thought, it doesn’t matter if the other side is willing to change the rules mid-street. Jesus didn’t offer a “only when it’s convenient” clause. (For what it’s worth, Democrats pulled a similar stunt in Massachusetts. When a Democrat was governor, they gave the governor the power to appoint replacements to the Senate. When a certain Republican was governor, they changed the process to a special election. Some even tried to change it back when Ted Kennedy died and Deval Patrick was governor, but even deep blue Massachusetts saw that as foul play.)

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