Here is how the Cambridge English Dictionary defines perversion: changing something so that it is not what it was or should be.
Here is an example of perversion in everyday life: elections in a democracy are meant to express the will of the people, and yet, in America today, in state after state, more voters choose candidates from one party but wind up being represented by politicians from another.
As in the 2018 election in the state of Wisconsin where statewide, Democratic candidates for the state legislature outpolled Republicans by more than 200,000 votes and wound up winning in just 36 of 99 districts.
The same game was played out on a national level in 2020 with less dramatic, but equally distorting results. Voters gave a clear majority to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden 81,269,000 to Donald Trump’s 74,216,000.
The national preference for Democrats was also apparent in races for the House of Representatives. Democrats got 77,530,000 votes nationwide to 72,760,000 votes for Republicans. Nevertheless, the Democrats wound up losing a net of 12 seats in the House, cutting their majority in an assembly of 435 seats to a mere five.
What drove this presto-chango of public will? In a word, “redistricting,” defined quite succinctly, and smugly by Thomas Hofeller the chief of redistricting for the Republican National Committee. “Usually the voters get to pick the politicians,” Hofeller said. But, “In redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters.”
In theory and practice the essence of another dictionary definition of perversion: “a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.”
Old-fashioned redistricting, and Hofeller and his fellow GOPerverts were very good at it, works from the outside in, re-shaping the contours of a voting district to pre-determine its electoral outcome. It’s called gerrymandering. A problem with it is, it is too obvious. Districts shaped like salamanders or pretzels call attention to their intended reversal of public will.
More subtle, or at least, more susceptible to rationalization, is the distortion of democratic principles called voter suppression. It’s like a rat in the walls of your house, working from the inside out, not reshaping voting districts but eliminating voters and their votes from them, by making the act of voting, the keystone of political democracy, harder to do.
David Daley is the author of the national best-seller “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and one of the nation’s leading experts on partisan gerrymandering. He is a senior fellow at FairVote, a nonpartisan champion of election reforms. His journalism on redistricting and gerrymandering has appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, New York magazine and many other leading publications. He is the former editor in chief of Salon.com.