5 Ways U.S. Democracy Is More Rigged Than You Think

None of you are naive or think government works exactly the way you learned it in elementary school. We all know there are backroom deals and bribes and blackmail and probably, like, orgies and shit behind the scenes.

But what many people don't realize is that the most unfair and outright broken parts of the system we have in the USA aren't a result of people breaking the law. No, the craziest, most overtly bullshit practices are perfectly legal. That's why ...

#5. Your Congressional Representative Has Already Been Chosen for You

Weerayut Kongsombut/Photos.com, kunertus/Photos.com

Here's how neatly the House of Representatives works on paper: For every certain number of U.S. citizens, there is a congressional district. The people in each congressional district elect a representative. If you didn't know any better, you might think that these districts were arranged in a simple grid or something -- small squares in areas with dense populations, large ones for sparsely populated rural areas. But instead, it looks like this:

General Services Administration
District borders are even more ridiculous than state borders.

Yes, these districts are an insane tangle of convoluted shapes that resembles the last game of Tetris you see right before your Game Boy's circuit board dies. So is this all just really sloppy mapmaking? Was the district map drawn by a man with a Sharpie clenched between his butt cheeks?

Nope. Some of you who know this politics stuff recognize this as gerrymandering -- the trick by which parties game the system to keep their people in power. What you may not realize is how profoundly this utterly thwarts everything the system is supposed to be.

The Insanity:

As a result of this border fuckery, U.S. congressional elections are among the most uncompetitive in the world. In 2000, a whopping 98 percent of congressional seats were held by incumbents. That makes congressional races roughly as competitive (and fair) as rigged dictatorial elections.

That's because these tangled districts are all about making sure it is nearly impossible for most congressional seats to change parties. See, nowhere in the rulebook does it say exactly how the districts must be drawn, as long as they're connected. So, the party in power simply finds all of the most loyal voters on the map and draws the district around them. That's how we wind up with the complete madness that is Illinois District 4:

National Atlas
Yes, all of the green is one single district.

That Rorschach Test of a district was formed by grabbing a group of housing units in the north, snaking its way through some abandoned freight yards and along the highway, and finally snagging another populated area in the south. The result of this gerrymandering is that the district is one of the most reliably Democratic in the nation.

In Texas, Republicans have rigged the district system to their favor so efficiently that the state government openly and freely brags about the fact that Democrats are screwed if they ever want to get elected there. The same goes for Florida, where the party vote is virtually split down the middle, yet Republicans hold the vast majority of congressional seats. Here, just gaze into the mouth of madness that now passes for the U.S. congressional district map:

NY Times
Count how many districts aren't deep red or deep blue. We'll wait; it won't take long.

Now let's take it a step further: If you're a congressman and you and your colleagues are supporting a piece of legislation that is deeply unpopular even in your home state, well, who gives a shit? You don't have to watch the polls, because you know you're going to get re-elected anyway -- you're from a district that has been drawn to only include people who always vote for your party, no matter what. So why worry about what the rest of the population thinks? And more importantly, why ever compromise or cooperate in order to actually get things passed?

#4. The Two Controlling Parties Actively Sabotage Their Competition

David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty, stevanovicigor/Photos.com

In Italy, there are 13 different parties in the parliament. In France, 14. And in the country that frequently toots its horn as the land of freedom and democracy, there are ... the Democrats and the Republicans. Everyone else is on the fringe and can barely win a race for small town mayor.

Digital Vision.Photodisc/Getty Images
Another year, another loss for Candidate Smith and the Viable Solutions Party.

What's up with that shit? Wouldn't a 10-plus party system give a much more diverse set of choices to represent what the people want, as opposed to forcing everyone into a binary system where being against abortion means you have to vote for a party that is also against labor unions (or vice versa)? Well, see, here's the problem ...

The Insanity:

Guess who gets to decide if you can have a third party. That would be the existing two parties, who, as you can imagine, really don't want the competition.

That's because, along with everything else, the current two parties in the USA are also in charge of setting the rules for ballot access for third parties. As such, these rules are roughly as fair as a cage match between a toddler with particularly large ears and a hungry Mike Tyson. Take Carl Romanelli of Pennsylvania. He wanted to run for a congressional seat as a member of the Green Party. Under the rules enforced by the major parties, Republicans and Democrats needed 2,000 signatures to attain ballot access and be allowed into the election. Romanelli, on the other hand, was cheerfully informed he would need slightly more. How slightly? Try 67,000. Shockingly, he didn't make it.

Green Party
He submitted 100,000 signatures. Democrats successfully challenged 42 percent of them.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, a third-party candidate must attain 5 percent of all registered voters' signatures just to be allowed to run. Although that might not sound like a lot, if a third party wants to run for, say, governor, that's approximately 250,000 signatures. As a result, a grand total of zero third-party candidates have managed to make it on the ballot for the House of Representatives since the law was changed to its current form in 1943.

However, the taker of the "Fuck you, third parties" cake is without a doubt Oklahoma, a state that doesn't even bother listing third-party presidential candidates. Why would they? They've already got all the candidates they need, sonny boy.

#3. The Government Can Kill Any Court Case by Claiming It's a State Secret

Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images

As is the case with any superpower, the U.S. has secrets that are ridiculously sensitive: What do they really do at Area 51? Can the presidential limo survive a blast from a rocket launcher? What's the nation's zombie contingency plan? Keeping secrets is a necessity, and it always will be as long as there are bad guys in the world.

We may never truly defeat all the alien terrorist zombies.

But here's the big question: If the people aren't allowed to see the secrets, who decides what is and is not considered a secret? In other words, who's to say that the government won't do something embarrassing or illegal and then avoid scrutiny by saying, "Sorry, that's a state secret!" You know, like if someone were to sue the government, could they just declare all of the evidence a state secret and walk away?


The Insanity:

Meet the state secrets privilege, the government's official "get out of jail" card. It can be pulled out any time the president damn well likes in order to protect the things his administration deems secret. When the privilege is called, the case is immediately dropped ... no questions asked. Now, again, we can totally understand the use of a policy like this: For instance, terrorists don't need to be told that the government knows where they're hiding. Sadly, you don't get this kind of power without abusing it.

Omar Khadr
Power corrupts; absolute power [redacted].

The privilege's high profile recognition hails from a McCarthy-era lawsuit in 1953, when a B-29 crashed and killed the crew on board. Three widows tried to sue the government over their deaths, but the case was thrown out when the government stated that revealing some of the evidence would be damaging to national security and invoked the privilege. Fifty years later, researchers uncovered said "dangerous" evidence and found out that the only thing it would have damaged was the government's own ass. They were just covering up for their own negligence that ultimately caused the crash.

The post-9/11 world has seen the privilege on the table more than ever, and the reasons are often just as sketchy. The George W. Bush administration used it many times to insta-kill civil cases that challenged the more pungent aspects of the war on terror. If you were a victim of Bush's secret eavesdropping program, too bad -- your only legal right is to watch the telecom companies you sued for ruining your life waltzing away scot-free, thanks to the state secrets privilege. The Obama administration seems to be a big fan of the tactic as well.

Win McNamee/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Stop hounding him! Copyright law is totally a matter of national security.

The state secrets privilege has recently been under pretty heavy fire from the courts and Congress alike. Still, it's hard to see it revoked any time in the near future. After all, how can you prove that a rule has been used incorrectly when your opponent can just say, "No, it hasn't" -- and then end the discussion by applying said rule?

And while we're talking about the courts ...

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