How Comcast and HP are corrupting elections in America
Hey kids, want to learn how to rig an election?
You could try to bribe ballot counters or conjure some intricate voter ID scam. But why bother when there's a perfectly legal way to ensure the outcome of countless Congressional races across America: Redistricting.
For decades, Republicans and Democrats have gone to staggeringly creative lengths to redraw Congressional lines in ways that pack like-minded voters into the same district, while separating citizens who are likely to vote for the rival party across multiple districts to dilute their voting power. Politically-motivated redistricting, or "Gerrymandering" has completely corrupted the notion of "one man, one vote," on which this whole democratic experiment is built. And according to a report at Mother Jones, Comcast and Hewlett-Packard are among the top donors to one of the most powerful groups devoted to redrawing Congressional lines to favor Republicans.
Over the past four years, Comcast, a company whose hateability is beginning to verge on performance art, has given over half a million dollars to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC). In advance of this year's midterm elections, Hewlett-Packard donated $180,905, placing it in the Committee's top twenty highest donors in that cycle.
So what does the RSLC do that's so bad?
It specializes in paying off state officials charged with redrawing Congressional redistricts. And since 2010, the Committee has spent nearly $100 million to fund these totally corrupt yet entirely legal schemes.
Not convinced that a bunch of lines on a map can impact the results of an election? Consider the 2012 Congressional race in Ohio's 9th district. State officials working for Republican governor John Kasich redrew this district so it absorbed part of Cuyahoga County, where House representative Dennis Kucinich resided. While a controversial voice in Congress, Kucinich had been wildly popular among his constituents, winning three straight terms by significant margins. But by drawing Kucinich and another popular Democratic incumbent Marcy Kaptur into the same district, it pitted the two against each other, ensuring that the House would be down at least one Democrat. In the end, Kucinich was the one who lost his seat.
Politically-motivated redistricting efforts can also damage a legislator's ability to properly represent her constituents. One tactic, referred to by the offensive yet not inaccurate term "bleaching," involves redrawing districts to include as many white people as possible. (To understand the ramifications of this gambit, consider that nine out of ten people who voted for Mitt Romney were white). These whitewashed districts often stretch across multiple county lines, which is problematic for representative democracy. The needs of a white urban voter and the needs of a white rural voter are often very different. How can a Congressperson, whose constituents don't even live in the same county, properly represent these various communities?
Defenders of these shady redistricting schemes will shout, "But Democrats do it too!" And they're right -- corrupting the sanctity of elections, whether through redistricting or by eliminating restrictions on campaign contributions, is one of the only things both parties can agree on. But it's not Comcast's and HP's political alignment I take issue with -- if the two companies had donated to redistricting efforts that favor Democrats I would be equally appalled.
That said, there's no question of which party has benefited most from redistricting in recent years. Over the past three elections, Republicans have gained ground not only in Congress but in state legislatures as well, which are often charged with redrawing these lines. In the last midterm election earlier this month, Republicans took control of legislative bodies in eleven states, despite the fact that most of those states voted for President Obama in at least one of his elections.
As technology firms continue to aggregate more money and power than ever before, their ties to political groups will strengthen as well. And inevitably, there will be companies that support divisive causes or politicians, threatening to alienate some segment of their consumer base. But shady redistricting is not an "issue" like immigration or universal healthcare. It's political corruption of the highest order, sanctioned by a flawed electoral system and an apathetic public.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]