Are you, or have you ever been, the parent of a teenager?
If yes, let’s give you a moment to let those stressful memories ebb away.
Now, if your family is like so many others in America , one common cause of contention with your adolescent offspring is (or was) the car: Who gets it, when, for what, and who will keep it clean, gassed up and undented?
Fool them once
Now let’s imagine this scenario:
Your teenager wants or needs to go somewhere an hour from home. You could drive the child there, around, and then drive back. But that’s awfully inconvenient. So you decide to let said teenager use the family car for this jaunt on the highway.
The evening of that day, you get The Call. There’s been an accident. Your heart leaps upward until it bumps into your Adam’s apple. But, wait, there is good news: Your child is unhurt.
The car, not so much. The front end is crumpled.
You never do get a totally clear picture of what happened. Your child’s testimony is strategically vague, but the police don’t issue a ticket and the insurance company comes through with enough money for the repairs.
Fool them twice
So, OK. After some time and some stern lectures, you let your kid take the car out on the highway again.
And the same darn thing happens again. Only this time the car is totaled. And the police issue a citation for reckless driving. To your wayward child.
So, now, what do you do?
If you’re a sane, red-blooded American parent, this is what you do:
You. Take. Away. The. Keys.
Until further notice, pending a suitable period of reflection, penitence and retraining. Or perhaps until the mercury in Hades hits 32 degrees Fahrenheit. One of the above.
And you make it clear to your child: “This is why you can’t have nice things.”
Joyriding in the Republic's car
What does this have to do with gerrymandering?
Well, since the dawn of the Republic, out of practical convenience, we’ve allowed politicians and incumbents to drive the election mapping process – whether it was done by buggy, iron horse, Model T or SUV.
But once computers and Big Data came along (Tesla!), something changed. The engines that drive partisan mapping got more powerful and precise; the risk of a major crash that would dent, or even total, our electoral democracy skyrocketed.
In 2001, the Republican leaders of Harrisburg showed they could not handle the risk. They ran the car into a ditch, producing a congressional gerrymander so obvious that it was challenged all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a famous ruling called Vieth v. Jubelirer, the high court … punted. It let the map stand, saying that while it was theoretically possible for a gerrymander to be so blatantly partisan it violated the U.S. Constitution, the court couldn’t figure out how to judge when that had happened.
Surely they stopped?
Learning nothing from this close call, the GOP leadership in 2011 wheeled eagerly into the fast lane. They used software and data to gerrymander with even more reckless daring. And, in the ensuing crash, fair, democratic elections got totaled.
This time, the state Supreme Court was the cop arriving at the scene. The court issued a stern sanction, tossing out the congressional map and instituting one of its own devising. In response, the General Assembly’s leaders stomped their feet and whined “No fair!!” in precisely the tones favored by your average adolescent.
So, to recap: 2001 – ran into the ditch. 2011 – totaled the car.
What should the voters of Pennsylvania do about 2021, when the state’s congressional and statehouse maps will have to be redrawn again?
Isn’t it clear?
Take. Away. The. Keys.
Grab the wheel yourself
Take the lead authority for drawing the maps away from the self-interested politicians who’ve demonstrated twice that they can’t be trusted to get the car safely home.
It’s time for the voters to get a chance to drive, to Draw a map.