I want to talk about principles and values that make our democracy such an effective system of governing.
Our Democracy is built, in part, on the principles of,
It is the principle of fairness I want to discuss today.
Over the 230+ years since our Constitution was signed, we have redefined fairness many times.
· When we thought it was not fair to exclude women from our representative government, we gave them the vote.
· When we found that people of color were not getting a fair shot at being represented, we passed voting rights laws.
· When we felt it was not fair to force 18 year old citizens to fight in Vietnam, yet not be represented, we gave them the vote.
Right now, we face a crisis in our democracy. That crisis is the disillusionment, the apathy, the lack of participation in our democratic process.
In 2020 we reveled at the high turnout we witnessed in the election. Yet 80 million Americans eligible to vote did not—80 million.
Those people who do not vote, usually more than half of registered voters, cite many reasons for their decision to not participate. At the core of their reasons are the perception that the system is not fair. When we hear in the news about making a district safe, it does nothing to dissuade the feeling that their vote simply does not matter.
Fairness means every voter has a sense their vote matters. In so called “safe districts,” their vote often does not matter, there is no democracy. It leads to candidates avoiding debates, avoiding issues. It creates a situation where the primary election determines who will represent the district.
The criteria you are charged to consider in your decision are primarily, Compactness, Contiguity Preservation of political subdivisions and others. These would appear to lead toward fairness.
One consideration that is frequently mentioned is competitiveness. The problem with the use of competitiveness is that it requires that you consider the voting history, the registration data, and other partisan factors. Realistically, who can predict what represents competitiveness when over half of registered voters don’t even participate. When those factors are applied to creating district-maps is when we move into the area of gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the enemy of fairness and equal opportunity.
In NJ there have been districts that were created using criteria that took partisan politics into consideration. In some of those districts, for example the one I live in, the 7th, hard-working dedicated people have overcome the partisan boundaries and selected the candidates of their choice. Those hard-working citizens created districts that are fair.
I ask that you not consider partisan political priorities in any of your district boundary decisions. Every voter needs to go to the polls believing that their vote is meaningful and the person they are selecting to be their representative has a fair shot at winning.