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Election 2010

Proposition 20 and 27: How Gerrymandering Robs California Voters Of Nearly All Real Choices For U.S. Congress In November

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Mon, Oct 25, 2010 at 2:50 PM

By Hillel Aron

click to enlarge If you're not pissed at the incumbent politician, you're rare as a Goth.
  • If you're not pissed at the incumbent politician, you're rare as a Goth.
A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll puts the approval rating of the California State Legislature at 10 percent.

Veteran politicos haven't seen the disgust toward Sacramento dip so low. Californians who aren't pissed off at professional politicians are now a niche market on par with goths and sword swallowers.

Given the disgust toward incumbents, you'd think most career pols would get wiped out on Nov. 2. You'd be wrong. The reason is gerrymandering. That's what has given us the state Legislature, and the California Congressional delegation. Here's how it works:

The editors at the Los Angeles Daily News write:

Most California legislators [have] "safe seats." When a legislator is termed out ... the seat is usually filled by a candidate from the same political party. This makes it especially difficult for newcomers, outsiders or third-party candidates to get a real shot.

Gerrymandering -- banned in all westernized democracies but the U.S. -- lets politicians draw up crazy-shaped voting districts stuffed with hand-picked voters who will re-elect the incumbent.

Each November, the fix is in. That's equally true for Congress.

A look at Nate Silver's interactive New York Times map at the cool FiveThirtyEight.com site shows that just 3 of California's 53 congressional races resemble a "race": the 47th, where incumbent Loretta Sanchez leads Van Tran; the 3rd, where incumbent Dan Lungren leads Ami Bera; and the toss-up, the 11th, where incumbent Jerry McNerny is neck-and-neck with David Harmer.

In vast California, one incumbent might lose.

Can California elections even be said to be elections at all?

With 2010 incumbents so safe -- during a year when voters are mad -- something's wrong.

While there are doubtless other causes (money, money, and money), surely gerrymandering -- the aggressive stacking of "voting districts" with either Republicans or Democrats who will repeatedly re-elect the same sitting politician, tops the list.

Proposition 20 takes away the ability of the California state legislature to draw crazy-shaped districts for their friends in Congress to run in. It hands the job to a citizen panel.

Proposition 27, written by career politicians, tries to stop Proposition 20.

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