Robert Lee

Robert Lee

It seems to me the average American has some solid core beliefs.

One of those is fair play. That generally means there are rules to follow and there are those “in charge” to ensure the rules are fair and equally and fairly applied. In sports, we call them referees, umpires, line judge, etc.

In society, we know from watching “Law and Order” that “In the criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate yet equally important groups: the police who investigate crime and the district attorneys who prosecute the offenders.”

In politics, that core belief seems to have broken down and adds to what I referred to last week as our “broken politics.” I advocated for the expansion of the House in order to address some of the inequities, but that only goes so far. Why? Because the rules of drawing districts have gotten so perverse that fairness is out the window and the party in charge at the time of the district line drawing creates a “safe seat” for their party.The practice is called “gerrymandering” for a good reason. The very first politician to use this strategy was named Gerry, and the district he drew looked more like a salamander than lines to establish a division of population to be represented. The addition of computers and artificial intelligence has added a whole new component of the practice, so the political parties identify where their voters live and draw lines that divide their opponents’ strongholds, placing them in different districts in order to dilute their influence.

Safe seats are not fair play. It’s more like the University of Oklahoma playing Northeastern State University. The level playing field is tilted in the direction of one or the other. There are no innocent parties here – both Democrats and Republicans play this game. It leads to cynicism and complacency, and that depresses voter turnout.

Instead of competing based on ideas about policy and having a vigorous debate, we have a safe seat, which, in Oklahoma, has come to mean a Republican seat. In other states, that means a safe Democratic seat. Is that good? Is that what the founders had in mind when they created what they believed to be “the people’s voice”?

I don’t think so. And, like the size of the House, it doesn’t have to be this way. If there was the political will – and color me skeptical on that point – the rules could be changed to make things better. If you follow Major League baseball, you know that when things get out of whack and people lose interest — like not voting — something can be done. And they did it.

It is possible, but it takes people who want a vibrant and robust democracy to work together to achieve it. In baseball, the public demanded it by not showing up or leaving early due to too-long games. In politics, the people can demand it, too. Democrats and Republicans of good will who want a strong democracy and robust debate – ones who believe they can convince people based on the proposals and sense of the future, can work together to make a change.

But you and I may have to demand it, over and over. Young people can demand it. Old people can demand it, and we can make it happen.

It might take the form of legislators appointing a nonpartisan commission like has been done in some states, to draw the lines. Computers and AI can be used to ensure inclusion instead of exclusion. Smart people can find a solution. Let’s do that.

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.

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