STARRED REVIEW
July 2022

One Person, One Vote

By Nick Seabrook
Review by
Nick Seabrook’s One Person, One Vote should be read by every citizen who wants to understand what goes on behind the scenes as political parties seek power.
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“The conception of political equality from the Declaration of Independence, to Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to the Fifteenth, Seventeenth, and Nineteenth Amendments can mean only one thing—one person, one vote,” wrote Supreme Court justice William O. Douglas in 1963. It seems simple enough. However, as we learn in fascinating and depressing detail from Nick Seabrook’s wide-ranging history, One Person, One Vote, when politicians intentionally draw boundaries for partisan advantage, politicians pick their voters rather than voters picking politicians.

The practice known today as gerrymandering began long before the term first appeared in 1812, when Governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced with a hard G) of Massachusetts signed a bill that seriously distorted voting districts for political purposes. He was not directly involved in preparing the legislation and found it distasteful, but his name nonetheless became attached to it. Gerry later served as vice president under James Madison. Earlier in Madison’s career, Patrick Henry had used the tactic in an unsuccessful attempt to keep Madison from being elected to the House of Representatives. If Madison had lost the election, we might not have his Bill of Rights.

Prior to the 1970s, when the constitutional mandate to redistrict every 10 years went into effect, gerrymandering was the exception rather than the norm. Politicians only used this tactic when it was necessary or expedient, which was rare—especially since the detailed election data and computer technology that has become so crucial to modern election strategy was not yet available.

Those who benefit from gerrymandering are determined not to lose their advantage. Even the Supreme Court has failed to address the harms of the practice. On three separate occasions, challenges to the most pervasive partisan gerrymanders of the 21st century have come before the Supreme Court, but reformers came away disappointed. Instead, change has almost always come from concerned citizens who convinced elected officials to take on the issue.

Seabrook’s important book should be of interest to every citizen who wants to better understand what goes on behind the scenes as political parties seek power.

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One Person, One Vote

One Person, One Vote

By Nick Seabrook
Pantheon
ISBN 9780593315866

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