There are times when it is difficult to arrive at a definitive conclusion. Established facts may lead to a reasonable assumption, but there is still room for error. In those cases, a practical answer is often couched in terms that fit the idiom, “If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… it probably is a duck.”
These days, the saying is appropriate for a variety of subjects but especially in the political arena. Redistricting is upon us and the results of the 2020 Census have now been finalized. These “facts” will be used to not only determine national and regional representation, but for district boundaries of many cities as well.
In an ideal world, democratic representation fairly and evenly apportions the voting public so a majority can determine the direction and tenor of their elected representatives. However, even a superficial examination of politics reveals an undercurrent of systematic corruption of the process. Called “gerrymandering”, districts or political divisions are often determined by a set of procedures and manipulations that can skew voting strength and representation.
There is nothing new about manipulation of voters; it has reportedly existed in the United States since its founding. However, the name “Gerrymander” was popularized when a cartoon, in the March 26, 1812 edition of the Boston Gazette, satirized the political redistricting contortions designed to retain control of a Massachusetts state senate seat. Governor Elbridge Gerry signed the bill that allowed an odd-shaped district resembling a grotesque salamander… therefore the label, “Gerry-mander”.
As a deliberate and obvious tactic used by political parties to gain control, even local politicians have resorted to gerrymandering although a bit more difficult to accomplish with a small voter base. An example of this was evident in the first attempt at creating district boundaries for Fremont when it moved from at-large representation to districts in 2018. A contentious discussion revolved around residences of existing councilmembers and how that would affect future elections. Since two existing councilmembers lived in close proximity, an obvious conclusion, if both resided in the same district, would be a guaranteed election loss for one of them. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this factor was instrumental in creating district lines (looks like, walks like, quacks like…).
Fremont, among other districted cities as well as counties and states, is again confronted by the challenge of redistricting. In the September 21st Fremont City Council meeting, an outline of the redistricting process was revealed including legal requirements and other goals, statistics and timeline for adoption of new district boundaries. The next two months have been reserved for public input of boundary maps to be considered. The next public hearing – the second of four – is scheduled for December 7, 2021. Coincident with the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor heralding entry of the United States into World War II, this may also be the opening salvo of an interesting struggle for political control in Fremont. With a growing population, shifting demographics, it will be an interesting challenge to balance competing narratives to define “communities of interest.”
The redistricting process is an important political tool for all residents since it defines representation in the business of government. At its core, is the ability for each individual to take part in a process that has far-reaching consequences when critical decisions for the many reside in the votes of the few.
This particular opportunity takes place only once every 10 years. Let’s make the most of it. When considering proposals, remember that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck… it may be a duck, but it can also be an ugly gerrymander peeking out from under a rock.
[For more information about Fremont’s redistricting plans, visit: www.redistrictfremont.org]