Deconstructing Gerrymandering in Today’s Politics
One of the common term thrown around in our political sphere is “Gerrymandering”. Many are aware of its presence, but either don’t know what it means or don’t care. However, it has recently gained traction in the media and with the public due to its upcoming Supreme Court hearing. Some say this is a long overdue look at an unconstitutional practice, others say it’s just “politics”.
For the many who don’t exactly know what gerrymandering entails, here is a brief overview1. When a political party comes to power in all branches of government (executive/legislative/judicial) they control the redrawing of the lines of voting districts every 10 years in accordance with the U.S. Census. This can allow them to gain the upper hand in subsequent elections. For example, in current news the Republican Party has come under fire for abusing power this way in states like Wisconsin and North Carolina, although Democrats have done it in the past as well. This unconstitutional use of power can be done by splitting a heavily partisan area so that it is distributed among many districts of the other party, this practice is known as “cracking”. Another practice, “packing” helps the party in power to redraw districts so that the opposing party’s voters are all quarantined in one district, thus only giving them one representative. This allows the party in power to have more representation, despite having fewer voters. When it comes time to vote the weaker party is under represented, systematically eliminating their vote and their voice in government. That is the case in Ashville, North Carolina.
Regularly-scheduled redistricting began in the 1960’s when the Supreme Court ruled that each state should re-allocate the number of representatives to the population to allow for fair voting rights to all. However, it now has a bad reputation.
The term itself (and the negative connotations associated with gerrymandering) come from the new electorate district map of South Essex, Massachusetts in 1812. Then-Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry redrew the district lines in favor of the Democratic-Republican Party, against the Federalist Party. Many newspapers found the shape and boundaries of the new district bizarre. Federalist papers of the time likened the shape of the district to that of a salamander. This, along with the governor’s last name, Gerry, created the term. In that instant partisan gerrymandering was identified.
Ever since its inception it has been silencing citizens’ voices. Political parties use it to their advantage to collect the population into different groups to do the exact opposite of the fair vote that was first intended in the 1964 Supreme Court ruling on redistricting.
There are other possible alternatives to gerrymandering and redistricting which still allow for a fair vote2. One of them being the Fair Representation Act proposed by Don Beyer, a U.S. Representative for the 8th District of Virginia. His plan is to increase district size or get rid of them altogether in states which have fewer than five congressional districts to begin with, without changing the number or representatives from that state. In this scenario a state that has four districts would collectively pick those four representatives, diminishing the chance for diluting and concentrating certain political demographics of the state. Beyer says this overhaul in the way we nominate our congressional leaders would also increase the diversity in the Senate and House of Representatives. He claims it would broaden opportunities for women and people of color, rather than the stereotypical middle-aged white man that we think of when we think of Congress. However Representative Beyer knows his drive for fair representation isn’t shared across the board, and knows his plan is optimistic in various aspects, admitting it “won’t be an easy sell and may not pass for decades”. Instead he hopes that it will start a conversation in congress and start the process of removing gerrymandering from our political spheres.