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Making votes count

Responding to editorial on Electoral College, redistricting

The Recorder’s editorial “Wrong Kind of Fix” (Feb. 5) incorrectly suggests that the Republican Party proposed changing our Electoral College system.

It suggests that the Electoral College is currently a winner-takes-all proposition in each state. To the contrary, existing law allows each state to decide how to apportion their electors. Currently Maine and Nebraska apportion their electors based on the popular vote in each congressional district and give two electors to the winner of the popular vote statewide.

The editorial derides the suggestion that other states might want to adopt this method as “an attempt to manipulate the existing system to gain an unfair advantage.”

The opinion, however, fails to note that both major political parties allow states to use this method when apportioning delegates for the purpose of nominating candidates. The apportionment of votes by congressional district for nominating is widely accepted and is generally favored by progressive institutions suspect of powerful gubernatorial machines. But for the apportionment of delegates in nominating conventions, Hillary Clinton would most likely have been 2008 Democratic nominee rather than Barack Obama.

This method is also seen as a way to build more national attention to the presidential race. The New York Times ( analysis of the 2012 election found 81 congressional races in play in 30 different states. Looking only at the Times’ true toss-ups, it included 25 seats in 17 states.

By comparison, the Times only tracked nine states as swing states in the presidential race. Apportioning votes by congressional district would engage millions of citizens who feel that their voices lost because they live outside Ohio or Florida. More electors in play requires presidential candidates to campaign in more states with a diverse electorate.

Currently apportionment would create an advantage for Republicans who hold a majority of congressional seats. For the 40 years before 1994, however, Republicans never held the House, but elected Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan and Bush “41.” Republicans who supported apportionment because of current majorities would be seriously short-sighted as districts change with state legislative majorities. Gerrymandering is the real “ruthless behavior” of the entrenched political elite.

As the editorial noted, gerrymandering has a long legacy in Massachusetts, starting with Elbridge Gerry, the 1812 governor who first schemed to create salamanderesque districts to retain power. Today, Massachusetts continues that legacy with districts unfurling like spokes of a wheel out from Boston.

The most recent redistricting does have improvements, like creating a first minority majority. That district, however, still does not have as high a minority concentration as a true Boston-centered district. Our current districts are based on the desire to have as many congressmen as possible beholden to the parochial interests of Boston rather than less-urban regional interests.

And gerrymandering has also infected state legislative districts. Greenfield for example now is in a state representative district that runs all the way to Pittsfield.

States like California and Iowa have established independent and non-partisan redistricting commissions to address the issue. Given Massachusetts’ history and continuing legacy of gerrymandering, it is incumbent on us to take action.

Progressive groups like Common Cause have championed independent redistricting for decades in Massachusetts. A 2011 MassINC poll showed 62 percent of the public supports independent redistricting. With the next redistricting battle a decade in the future, the time is ripe for Massachusetts to finally take action.

The Recorder says “Redistricting is the most prevalent attempt to alter the course of elections and ensure one political party or the other remains the holder of a particular congressional seat.” They should ask our legislators to bring independent redistricting to Massachusetts, end our legacy of political shenanigans and set a progressive example for other states around the country regardless of the current political leanings.

Our state senator, Stanley Rosenberg, is in a particularly good position to bring about this change. Not only is Sen. Rosenberg both the new dean of the Senate and majority leader of the Senate, he has led the last two redistricting efforts in Massachusetts. Up until now, Sen. Rosenberg has been an opponent of independent redistricting. We know, however, as with casino gambling, he is open-minded and able to change a position when in the best interests of his constituents.

Much like Nixon opening China, Sen. Rosenberg now stands in a position to bring, at long last, an end to Massachusetts 200-year legacy of gerrymandering.

I hope The Recorder will join me in urging him to do so.

Isaac Mass is a Greenfield attorney. He was a presidential elector designate for John McCain in Massachusetts in 2008 and was appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick to the State Ballot Commission in 2012.

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