Gill v. Whitford, the case now before the Supreme Court about whether Wisconsin’s state legislative districts were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, cannot alone bring democracy back to the USA, but it can certainly help.
Gerrymandering, the drawing of electoral districts for partisan advantage, has been around a long time (and has benefited both parties). The SCOTUS is looking at whether Wisconsin crossed a line in drawing their lines. Within this question is the fact that in 2012, Republicans received only 48.6% of the vote but took 60 of 99 seats in the State Assembly.
This same “seat bonus” can be seen at the national level. In 2016, Republicans received a plurality of votes cast for Congress nationwide, 49.9%, but they received a greater share, 55.2%, of the seats. Democrats, as a result, won a smaller share of seats than they did votes: 44.8 percent of seats as compared to 47.3 percent of the votes.
Our system of representative democracy in Washington is broken, and it is showing up on issues like gun control. E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann, in their new book One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported, said the United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy.
They note that our democracy is “undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy.” A key break they point out is with the Senate.
Even if a bipartisan group of Senators from the most populous states heeded the will of popular majorities to enact some elements of gun control (background checks or measures to prevent the mentally ill and those on no-fly lists from buying guns), they will lose if all 50 senators from the 25 smallest states voted for a bill and Vice President Pence cast his lot with them, senators representing just 16% of Americans could overrule those representing 84%.
“And this problem will only deepen. David Birdsell, a Baruch College political scientist, has calculated that by 2040, 70% of Americans will live in 15 states — and be represented by only 30 of the 100 senators,” Dionne noted.
The Senate, however, was never meant to be particularly representative. Fixing it structurally would likely require a Constitutional Convention. But we can still do something to address what Dionne called “the failure of our institutions to account for the movement to metropolitan areas is the culprit. In 1960, 63 percent of Americans lived in metros; by 2010, 84 percent did.”
As I mentioned in “No Taxation Without Representation,” we need to remove the cap on the number of representatives in Congress. Our 435 representatives is based on the population of the U.S. in 1911, and the cap was designed to support Prohibition and serve as a bulwark against all those immigrants from southern Europe.
Adding more members of Congress will make it harder for anyone to control – whether the Koch brothers, George Soros, or Vladimir Putin. It would also change the game of gerrymandering, making it harder to simply lump one party into the same district.
As we watch SCOTUS wrestle with this gerrymandering case, I can’t think of a better cocktail than the Ward Eight. According Gary Regan, in his book The Joy of Mixology, the cocktail was created at the Locke-Ober Café in Boston around 1898 to celebrate the victory of Martin Lomasney to the state legislature. Lomasney was known as the Czar of Ward Eight, who was well known for his methods of getting votes. This victory cocktail was created before the results were in.
The Ward Eight recipe taken from the Savoy Cocktail Book as I used it is:
1.5 oz rye (FEW rye with its Prohibition tie, also it’s really good, seemed appropriate)
.75 oz orange juice
.75 oz lemon juice
3 teaspoons grenadine
Shake over ice, strain into a cocktail glass