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Let voters fix a gerrymander

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The Supreme Court grabbed a live wire last week when it agreed to hear a dispute over Texas congressional redistricting. The case positively crackles with drama and personality, but these distract from the real issue - truly competitive elections.

Since the nation's earliest years, politicians have tried to draw voting districts to favor their party, and leave the other party in the minority. But gerrymandering, as that process is known, has grown worse, aided by sophisticated computer programs. The result is largely noncompetitive districts - a boon for incumbents.

In 2004, only seven of 399 representatives up for reelection in the US House lost their seats. That's a 98 percent success rate for incumbents - but a flunking grade for a democracy built on a contest of ideas.

That year, the Republican majority in the House was cemented by a 2003 Texas redistricting. Engineered by then House majority leader Tom DeLay, the redistricting netted the GOP an extra six House seats (Mr. DeLay recently stepped down from the leadership as he fights indictments related to the plan). During the battle, Democratic legislators in Texas fled the state to try to block a vote on the plan - to no avail.

In a court suit, though, Democrats charge the plan was drawn solely "to maximize partisan advantage." This, they argue, would be unconstitutional because it denies Democratic voters a fair and equal chance to elect representatives of their choice. Districts are judged fair that reflect equality, contiguity, unity, and compactness.

But whose job is it to correct blatant political gerrymandering - if indeed that's what happened in Texas?

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