The Morgan County Democratic Party crammed into Chophouse last Thursday evening to hear John Barrow, a former U.S Representative for Georgia’s 12th District and current candidate for Secretary of State, speak about the controversial practice of gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is the drawing of voting districts in such a way to unfairly favor the political party in power.
According to Barrow, who served as a congressman from 2005 to 2015, gerrymandering is one of the most pressing political problems of our era.
“It’s the most pernicious political problem in America that we can actually can do something about,” said Barrow, who compared gerrymandering to the political version of the nuclear arms race. “It’s piling up weapons of mas partisanship and no one can stop…we call get mutually assured destruction.”
Barrow is running a platform of redistricting reform in Georgia. According to Barrow, gerrymandering results in hyper-partisan politicians, disempowered voters, and the erosion of a fair and representative democracy. The final result is the extreme wings of both parties are overrepresented and the middle is underrepresented.”
Barrow believes that gerrymandering doesn’t only tip the scales in favor of the ruling political party, but creates a political climate in which candidates on both sides must appeal to the most extreme wing of their respective parties in order to win primaries and general elections, ignoring independent and moderate voters.
“Gerrymandering empowers hyper-partisans, deterring moderate candidates from being able to compete and for moderate voters to influence election outcomes,” explained Barrow. “Both sides have done it and it harms both sides.
Barrow first became acquainted with the issue of gerrymandering during his tenor as a Georgia congressman.
“I was the most gerrymandered candidate in the history of Congress,” said Barrow. According to the Economist, Barrow’s District (Georgia’s 12th District) “by Republicans to make it whiter, more rural and more conservative.”
According to Barrow, across the county, both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of gerrymandering districts to their favor, but in Georgia, it’s the Republican Party drawing districts to thwart Democratic candidates’ chances.
Barrow wants to reform voting districts to “create a system where people’s vote count the most instead of what we have, a system where most people’s vote doesn’t count at all.”
In an op-ed article Barrow penned for the Washington Post, Barrow outlines his solution for fixing gerrymandering.
“We should draw representative districts so that moderate voters have as much say as partisan voters. That means doing away with as many reliably partisan districts as possible. This approach would solve two problems at once: It would prevent any partisan majority in control of the redistricting process from abusing that power to enhance their power, and it would also be a relatively easy standard for the courts to administer. Consider what would happen if the courts were to adopt the following rule: Any map that maximizes partisan competitiveness in as many districts as possible — and maximizes partisan competitiveness as much as possible in all the remaining districts — would be presumed to be constitutional. Any map falling short of that standard would be presumed unconstitutional. Such a map would produce the largest number of districts where there is no partisan advantage whatsoever. In such districts, the nominee of either party would have to compete for and win the support of independent voters. The partisan tilt of the overall population would be reflected in the remainder of districts where the partisan advantage of the dominant party simply cannot be neutralized.”
During Barrow’s appearance at the Chophouse last Thursday, he also identified a second political plague scourging the democratic process: “dark money.”
“Getting rid of gerrymandering is not a cure-all, not as long as there is big money, dark money, in politics. “But It would be a whole lot less of a problem to our system as a whole.”
Barrow is hopeful that two Supreme Court cases currently being heard will finally tackle gerrymandering nationwide. According to Barrow’s campaign manager, the cases, involving Wisconsin (R) and Maryland (D), both involve the party in control of the legislature creating “weaponized” and “highly partisan maps” which have resulted in a significant gap between votes and actual representatives.
If Barrow is elected as Georgia’s next Secretary of State, (an office secretary tasked with overseeing elections and business licensing in Georgia) in the November 2018 midterm elections, he plans to make districting reform one of his primary goals.
Several other candidates are currently in the race for Secretary of State—State Sen. Josh McKoon of Columbus; state Reps. Buzz Brockway of Lawrenceville, Brad Raffensperger of Johns Creek; and Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle—all Republicans. Democrat R.J. Hadley, a former Rockdale County tax commissioner, is also running.