By Brian Lafferty
October 15, 2010 (San Diego)--I didn’t do great in my Introduction to Political Science class but there was one thing that stuck with me: gerrymandering. In the three and a half years since I’ve taken that class I’ve been surprised that the issue has never come up significantly. This documentary of the same name thoroughly and effectively explores this overlooked but very important subject. As Bill Mundell of Californians for Fair Redistricting put it, “Gerrymandering is America’s best kept secret.”
So what is gerrymandering? “When you carve the district to fit your politics,” opines one man when asked on the street. In more formal terms, it involves political parties redrawing district lines to gain an advantage. Don’t want a certain ethnicity in your district that you know won’t vote for you? Draw a line.
The documentary employs an episodic structure that details gerrymandering across various cities around the country. The Texas segment is the most basic, egregious, and borderline infuriating. Tom DeLay uses it to not only help him win a seat but to also transform Texas into the predominantly Republican state it is now. The Democrat voters and incumbents have difficulty containing their outrage. What is most upsetting is that it looks dirty but it is legal.
There is a flipside, however. According to the movie, Barack Obama benefitted greatly from gerrymandering. It is strongly suggested, convincingly, that if the lines weren’t drawn right he would not have won his Senate seat.
I cite these two specific cases for one important reason, one that the documentary sort of touches on but I wish it had done more: gerrymandering can have a huge impact on our nation’s history. Texas used to be a Democratic state but thanks to the Republicans and Tom DeLay, it is now and has been for the last seven years a Red state. If it weren’t for gerrymandering, Obama wouldn’t be our current President. Although the other arguments and segments are well-made and powerful, I wish this aspect was emphasized more because it is a really valid argument and one of the most compelling it could offer. Gerrymandering can influence history. For some people it would be for the better while for some people for the worst.
Despite the one-sided nature of the movie, the filmmakers keep their bias out of the facts. The facts are presented neutrally, mostly through animation, and then the opinions are delivered. As a result of this method, it is both informative while at the same time very persuasive about stopping this practice. It is compelling because it shows the negative effects it has on voters, who feel the racial, social, economic, and political brunt. One of the leading proponents of abolishing gerrymandering recalls how a campaigner said to her she doesn’t want another (expletive) Asian in her district.
Gerrymandering is a serious issue. This documentary should be seen by all registered voters. It is politically neutral; it is neither pro-Democrat nor is it pro-Republican. The only side it takes is anti-gerrymandering. It also could not be any timelier, especially in this current political climate. In a time of economic crisis, two wars, and other hot-button issues, when both parties are at each other’s throats and looking to gain an advantage any way they can, this is a very important documentary. Our politicians might be doing it behind our backs and that is scary.