Map manipulation: Gerrymandering had the last word in election

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Drunks have their bottles. Politicians have their redistricting committees. And the result? A thumping headache for the voters, a sour taste in the mouth for believers in democracy.

The problem is as bad in Pennsylvania as anywhere in the country -- and the proof was in the results of last month's congressional election. As the Post-Gazette's Timothy McNulty reported Monday, Republicans took 13 of 18 congressional seats in the state despite trailing by 75,000 total votes.

To put it another way, President Barack Obama won 53 percent of the votes in Pennsylvania but Democrats could win only 28 percent of the congressional seats. In varying degrees, that unbalanced result was seen across the country. The Democrats won the popular vote by 500,000 but only 201 of the 435 U.S. House seats.

So much for one man, one vote. The old trick of drawing a politically influenced map that isolates the other party in its own strongholds while giving the mapmaker's party a decent shot in a broad area worked once again. Gerrymandering is what it is called. Disgraceful is what it is.

This political handiwork sometimes borders on the ridiculous. What common thread exists between Johnstown and Sewickley? Nothing, but welcome to the 12th District, where two incumbent Democrats, Mark Critz and Jason Altmire, found themselves running against each other in the primary. Mr. Critz ended up losing in the general election to Republican Keith Rothfus, just as his party had hoped and planned.

But because Republicans have provided the most recent example of political chicanery doesn't mean that Republicans, by virtue of their control of the state Legislature and the governor's office, are solely to blame. These tricks are as old as the republic. Make no mistake: When Democrats are in charge, similar absurdities occur at the expense of the voters.

That is a sorry state of affairs but it offers some hope: Because political power ebbs and flows, and today's ascendant party will eventually find itself down, both sides have a stake in a long-term solution. Gerrymandering doesn't have to be the way things are done. In countries such as Britain, the task is left to non-partisan committees.

That should also be the American way. Maps shouldn't be about making winners or losers. When fairness is not honored, the voters are the losers.

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