An elementary-school gym teacher once instructed me, “Don't do the crime if you can't do the time.” Accompanied by a time-out, I learned that responsibility for one's actions was not only a good ideal to strive for, but that naughty or derelict behavior usually came to light, anyhow. Yet, when the Miami Herald, among others, acquired copies of e-mails belonging to Pat Bainter of Data Targeting, he did little to stand by his deeds. He was a significantly contributing player to a court drama, played out in this case in The Sunshine State, centered around the judge-ordered redrawing of Florida's voting districts. Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel provides an excellent, if dated briefing to the situation which has led to Bainter's agony.

“Unsealing my personal documents further undermines the constitutional rights of any citizen” to take part in the democratic process, Bainter complained of the Florida Supreme Court ruling ordering them revealed to the public. I suppose that in his mind, he was merely a data technician innocently e-mailing with genteel patrons and not, say, figuring out ways to strengthen the positions of clients like, as the Herald alleged, Representative Dan Webster (R-Fla.). It's almost like Bainter was simply a bystander in this whole mess! Except, of course, for being actively engaged in a campaign to strengthen his clients' chances of re-election while seizing those much-praised “constitutional rights” of minorities.

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Don't just take my word for it! Take it directly from the very first e-mail revealed by the Miami Herald: “'One Man, One Vote' in its strictest sense applies only to the congressional districts as that is a Federal constitutional issue and given states rights” they did not necessarily have to adhere to such trifling details as their attorney's warnings about minority representation, said Bainter. By suggesting the “coupling” of minorities who, it might be prejudged, would vote along similar lines, and by “lightening” other districts, Bainter made his proposition to his colleagues quite clear.

The political tactic of grouping racial, ideological, or any other category of people together in order to weaken their odds at accurate representation is called gerrymandering. The commission of this crime is simple: Every ten years, the U.S. Constitution requires a census be taken of the entire country. Once counted, the government figures out which states have gained more people, and which have lost them. Given that the House of Representatives is determined by state population (thank you, Great Compromise!), it follows that every ten years some states will lose Federal representation, while others will gain it. The art of deciding which square footage – in too many cases, literally – is assigned to which district is called “Redistricting.”

The ethical problem isn't that a smaller population should have a smaller representation, it's how those exceedingly specific lines are drawn. A lay reader may imagine circles or blocks of acreage, ones that shrink or grow based on how many people live in a certain region. New York City should therefore have many tiny squares; a state with two representatives would be split down the middle! Alas, Bainter was so precise that he allegedly highlighted his clients' house on his maps. Sadly, he isn't the only offender. Take the Alabama Reapportionment Office's proposal for Alabama's Shelby County, provided by Kim Chandler of Al.com.  While sometimes geographic features such as gigantic lakes or river basins make for sensible district boundaries, the proposed 49th House District of Alabama is actually split into two separate areas!

Is it any surprise that Pat Bainter would be disappointed by his deeds coming to light? As the former chairman of groups such as the Committee for Responsible Representation, which according to Florida's Board of Elections floated over $750,000 in political contributions from 7/2009 to 9/2009 alone, wouldn't my former gym teacher's advice be self-evident?

It's not as if Florida has experienced any racial tensions in the recent years, tension that might be exacerbated by the GOP coordinating with individuals interested in “lightening” districts. It's not as if a media firestorm showcasing young, Black men being shot or choked to death – men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Eric Garner – has been juxtaposed with a political machine diluting their potential voting power. 

A few notes, then, to Mr. Bainter: You have a right to communicate with whoever you want, but not to conspire to illegally strip others of theirs. Whenever your e-mail contacts have to stress that they will leave a minimal e-mail trail, odds are you are doing something you already know you shouldn't be. When you get caught, expect that the evidence will be laid bare by the court system. Most of all, remember: If you don't want any of the fall-out, well, I can't claim you've committed a crime, but isn't it a catchy rhyme? 
 
Pohlman is a writer from Freeport, New York.  He can be reached via E-Mail, or at his website http://www.jessepohlman.com.