Democrats gerrymandering Montana
By Will Deschamps
This month marks the 200th anniversary of when Governor Gerry of Massachusetts signed a bill that redistricted the state to benefit his political party. One of the odd-looking districts in the Boston area was said to resemble a salamander, and so the first “gerrymander” (Gerry + salamander) was born.
This manipulative method of political gamesmanship continues to this day, including right here in Montana. As Montana undertakes the process of legislative redistricting, the Democratic Party has put out a proposed map that would even make Governor Gerry blush. With the use of sophisticated computer software and your political voting preferences, they have put out a map that will maximize their chances in legislative elections – whether majorities voted for them or not.
We obtained a small sample of the projections the Democrats have made about their own map. In the 19 districts where we saw the Democrats’ estimated numbers, there was a majority of Republicans voters. However, they carved bizarre lines which allowed Democrats to win up to 58% of the seats, with Republicans only winning as few as 42%. How are they able to do this?
According to their own figures, the Democrats generally under-populate districts that lean their way through the use of deviation. Republican leaning districts are generally over-populated. In addition, they put just enough Democrats in most of their districts to guarantee victory so they can spread their voters out over a larger area. Finally, they ignored county lines and city limits in areas like Butte, Anaconda and the city of Helena in order to draw bizarre legislative lines that overwhelmed rural and suburban areas with urban voters. That is why there are slightly more Republican voters in this 19 district snapshot, but the outcomes favor Democrats.
Folks, that is classic gerrymandering.
We believe the public is sick and tired of politics as usual. Montanans do not like the idea of government officials using election results and voting data to manipulate future election outcomes. There is a better way.
Montana’s current redistricting commission adopted criteria that are part of our state constitution, along with additional criteria that will be helpful in developing legislative boundaries that will reflect Montana values. Those criteria include population equality with maximum 3% deviation, compact and contiguous districts, protection of minority voting rights, respecting existing political subdivision lines, communities of interest and traditional neighborhoods.
Republicans on the commission have opted to use maps developed by non-partisan legislative staff as starting points for this final phase of redistricting. As they hear legitimate suggestions from the public, they will bring forward amendments to make those changes. That is how the process should work.
Note that there is no Republican party map. There is only a Democrat party map, and maps produced by non-partisan state employees. We do not want to rig the system to our own advantage. We seek only a neutral playing field in this. We oppose all districts drawn by partisan operatives, of whatever party.
If you oppose gerrymandering boundaries just for the sake of political gains, please send in your comments to the commission. We need real representation for Montanans, not political manipulation.
Will Deschamps is Chairman of the Montana Republican Party.