Representing California in Congress from 1964 until his death in 1983, Phil Burton cut a wide swath through the recent history of California politics. He was famously liberal and compassionate, often taking up the causes of the downtrodden. His best-known biography was titled A Rage for Justice. From a working-class Irish background in San Francisco, Burton held tenaciously to the basic concept of fairness.
But there was an exception to that fair-mindedness, and that came when he cut unfair swaths at the time of redistricting. He would blatantly gerrymander congressional districts to benefit his Democratic Party. One journalist called him “a genius at gerrymandering.” His contorted and oddly shaped districts put Republicans out of power, and he famously claimed his snake-like designs were his contribution to modern art.
How could the otherwise-fair Burton resort to something akin to voter fraud by disenfranchising so many citizens by taking away the power of their vote? Probably because it was a recognized practice across the United States, and if his party didn’t do it while in power, the other would when the tables were turned. (See Texas last year.)
And therein lies the key. Never let someone with immense power and a blatant conflict of interest make such important decisions. Why would you let someone like a politician, with everything to gain, hold such sway over whether everyone’s vote counted?
There are numerous proposals to reform the redistricting process that could make it to the voters in the coming years (see “Gerrymander jigsaw”). Staff writer Jeffrey M. Barker even takes a stab at redoing a gerrymandered district using the computer program that could be used to redraw California districts.
There also could be a special election held on ballot measures that promise reform, and a host of other things. Columnist Jill Stewart (see “Sleepers”) predicts two lesser-known measures have a chance to really bring out the vote.
Let’s hope all the votes count—or, at the very least, that they all get counted.