By Carl Carnevale, veteran, law student at the University of Akron, and redistricting reformer
230 years ago yesterday, a smattering of lawyers, businessmen, politicians, and a good doctor officially ratified the founding of our nation. It wasn’t easy; the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was wrought with tension and was nearly scuttled that summer.
But the founding fathers forged ahead, understanding that they needed to fortify certain fundamentals of the new representative government to ensure that it would be respectful of the peoples’ rights to life, liberty, and property.
One of the chief principles addressed during the convention was the manner of conducting elections. The U.S. Constitution gave states the right to conduct their elections. This served two functions – first, it provided a vital pillar of sovereignty for the states; second, flexibility was a good way to ensure that each state could hold elections honestly and efficiently without fear of federal meddling.
The founders foresaw the eventual rise of political parties in U.S. politics. James Madison’s Federalist No. 10 deals directly with designing the government to ensure that political factions do not overrun the government and destroy peoples’ rights. Madison considered the inevitable ills of factions to be the penultimate danger of a sound republic.
How fitting that as soon as the nation was formed, the Gerrymander came for him
In the very first elections for U.S. Congress, the anti-federalists who controlled the Virginia legislature re-drew their 5th congressional district in an attempt to keep Madison out of Congress! Thankfully, the anti-federalist partisans were unsuccessful that time – Madison won.
But 230 years later, I wonder how many Madisons, Jeffersons, Franklins, and other talented and patriotic public servants have been denied the right to serve by the evil of gerrymandering. The loss is not only theirs, but ours.
Today, the nation’s population is over 320 million. And, right or wrongly (another issue for another time), we still have only two parties to represent this massive bloc of people across an vast spectrum of industrial, economic and cultural interests. For these reasons, the need for fair, honest, and competitive elections is more apparent than perhaps any other point in our nation’s history.
In a time when people feel that the political system is unresponsive to them, gerrymandering does far more damage beyond favoring one party over another – it erodes faith in the republic. To me, this erosion is the most dangerous enemy we face as a society, more dangerous than any terrorist or rival nation.
We cannot allow the notion that our politics is an exercise in special interest corruption or factional dominance to become widespread. Our elections must be meaningful and fair. We can vigilantly defend against gerrymandering by being the change we want and need to see. Great Ohioans from all over have taken this to heart and are working together to end this destructive practice.
The sheer breadth of the effort so far cannot be denied. The majority of people badly want an end to gerrymandered districts, and they are determined to see it through despite the efforts of many in the Ohio Legislature who would rather keep their cushy status quo.
Thanks to wonderful redistricting reformers all over the state, it’s only a matter of time before the petition signatures reach their required marks in every county. I relish the opportunity to see the people of Ohio slay the Gerrymander in the next general election; it is an opportunity well worth fighting for.
The founders designed our election system brilliantly; for all of our contentions, it still stands today as a gleaming symbol of freedom that has become the envy of the world. But the people must feel that the game is fair if they are to keep the faith in this model of government. The Gerrymander is the biggest threat to that good faith.
Thankfully, We the People of Ohio are ready to slay the dragon and give the rest of the country the blueprint to fighting for fair and competitive elections that include all of the people – just as the Constitution intended.
Happy Constitution Day, my friends. Fight on.