Gerrymandering in the U.S.

Gerrymandering in the US

Patricia Gagnon, December 2016

Gerrymandering can be defined as the manipulation of district in order to increase favor for a specific party. This term was created back in 1812 by a Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, who signed a bill to allow for districts for voting to be redrawn. The catch to this was for the new lines to favor his party the Democratic-Republican Party at that time. The goal of redistricting is to gain as many seat as possible in the senate in order to pass laws ease. The redistricting that was done in Massachusetts in 1812 looked like a salamander, which is where the creation of the word “Gerrymandering” came from, a combination of his name and salamander.[1] Gerrymandering affects the voting process as well as the power of each individual vote.

There are two methods that could be implemented when it comes to Gerrymandering, the decision to use which method is based on what political party holds the most seats, these methods are packing and cracking. The method of packing is where dominating political party redraws the lines to place the opponent’s party into as few districts as possible giving them as few votes as possible.[2] The other method is cracking where the non-dominant parties’ votes are distributed into districts that are likely to elect the dominant party. By dispersing the votes it diminishes the effects of each vote to seem as if they do not matter. This is because no matter how they vote in that district there vote will not really alter the destined results due to gerrymandering by the government.[3] As stated in the blog, Fair Vote, “those drawing districts can pack, stack and crack the population in order to make some votes count to their full potential and waste other votes.”[4] The lines can be redrawn to fairly give votes to where they are due but this is not going to be down due to the division of the bipartisan parties which is increasing rapidly.

One cause of the major division between the parties is due to gerrymandering. According to Sheila Kennedy, a professor of law and political policy at Indiana University and Purdue University, “gerrymandering exacerbates political polarization and gridlock. It is threatening to make actual governing impossible.”[5] Kennedy continues to write about how in a competitive districts result in politicians who run along the middle in many of their opinions to try and get the majority of the votes. Then in areas where there really is no political competition, the politicians become much “more rigidly ideological” meaning they are more extreme with their views to draw the attraction of their particular party. [6] The lack of competitiveness is common throughout the United States which continues to perpetuate the strong and ever growing division between the two political parties.

Gerrymandering basically creates a sure win for whatever political party is in control of the redrawing of districts that particular year, which is required to be done every ten years with the census. Although some states decide to complete this process more often than ten years, which is not required. The fact that these elections become a sure win no matter how a person votes can deter a person from wanting to go out and vote. A voter looks at the situation and realizes that if they are part of the minority party then the chance of their vote to do anything is miniscule. The lack of power behind the vote could deter someone from making the effort to go out and voice their opinion. [7] People are generally only motivated to go vote when they believe that their vote will actually count for something. Many voters do not see the point in donating to a political party that is not going to win, they see how the system is rigged and want generally no part in it. [8]

The impact of gerrymander not only affects the voters, it can greatly have an impact on the politicians and their motivation to get out there and run. As stated above, the results of the district lines has made many of the political races one sided. Everything generally depends on which political party is drawing these lines which they would do in their own favor. This actually means that there is no way that the other party could win. Resulting in it being harder to find politicians that want to run under the minority party’s name. By running under the minority party it results most often in losing the race no matter what and no one wants to try to run if they know they are going to lose.[9] The lack of competition perpetuates the division between the parties even further because the dominant party will move closer to their extreme views.

There are many ideas that could be used to break the cycle of the government controlling the elections by divided district to maintain a certain political control. Currently, in many states across the country, state legislators are involved or even in control in drawing the maps for the districts. There was a case back in 2011 in the state of Virginia where a judge ruled that “the redistricting process by the legislature is ‘not a license for the State to do whatever it deems necessary to ensure continued electoral success.’”[10] Gerrymandering creates an imbalance so that each vote does not have equal power. One way of doing this is by getting the government out of the decision room when it comes to deciding the new district lines. This can be done by selecting a group of citizens who are non-partisan instead of allowing a “divided legislature” to decide. Fair and equal voting practices are a major part of being a citizen of a democracy. [11]

Many states are starting to make an effort to move away from the state’s involvement in the decision on district lines. One method that is used is called a “Criteria Driven Independent Commission Approach”, which is a commission that is formed in a way that maximizes citizen participation that is also free from any legislative influence. A different method that still allows state legislation to decide the maps but they would have to be approved by the state Supreme Court. A third approach being used by certain states involves a Bipartisan Commission, where both parties are present and must agree on a map that must also be approved by the Bipartisan Policy Center. Another alternate method that is used is called “Legislative Redistricting with Public Input and Transparency”, this is where state legislatures choose a map and come up with two changes that would have to be submitted to the public. Meetings would be held to hear the public’s concerns and feeling about these new changes.[12] By implanting one the these plans it can help bring balance back to the election system. Creating a balance would help to bring the power back to the citizens who go out and vote to try to make a difference in the country. It has been noticed that where there are more competitive races there is a correlation with higher voting participation as well as citizen satisfaction.[13] There can be many ways to go about developing a new district map that avoid biasing decisions, these are just a few of the ones currently being implemented in different states around the country.

“Gerrymandering is the by-product of a failed democracy. Every voter should be guaranteed a voice that matters and is heard. Citizens need to strip partisan state legislatures of their control over redistricting before the legislature strips the citizens of their power to vote,” a quote made by a white house spokesman, Robert Weiner.[14] This helps to enforces the control of the over involvement of government and shows how minuscule or even pointless they make our voices. It is important that each citizen be given the right to be heard and to have their opinion matter. A major right of being a citizen in a democracy includes having the right to vote and having that vote matter to help change the country for the better.

It is important to understand how the government takes into consideration your opinion as well as find ways to make it seem as though one person is making an impression. The occurrence of gerrymandering affects the value of each individual vote and could be considered infringement on that right as a citizen. Gerrymandering plays a role in controlling which political party will remain in power no matter the vote due to its impact on the value of each individual vote. Its sway could be a partial cause as to why fewer people vote, this is due to the fact that it seems as though their votes will have little effect no matter what. This is a method that needs to be diminished in order to revive the right of a United States citizen to be able to vote and have their voices actually heard by the government.

Notes

[1] Gerrymandering “A plague on both our parties” asserts former White House spokesman Robert Weiner & elections analyst Tom Sherman; Virginian-Pilot. 2014. Politics & Government Business: 29.
[2] Friedman, John N., and Richard T. Holden. “Optimal Gerrymandering: Sometimes Pack, but Never Crack.” The American Economic Review 98, no. 1 (2008): 113-44. http://www.jstor.org/stable/29729966
[3] Ibid.
[4] “Redistricting.” Fair Vote for a More Perfect Union (blog). Accessed October 20, 2016. http://www.fairvote.org/redistricting#research_redistrictingoverview .
[5] Kennedy, Sheila S. “Gerrymandering Cuts Us out of the Process.” Indianapolis Business Journal 36, no. 34 (October 19, 2015): 13. Accessed October 20, 2016. doi:10.1177/2053168014528683.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] “Governing From the Minority: How State Laws Influence National Elections.” Interview. WNYC (audio blog), September 22, 2016. Accessed October 15, 2016. http://www.wnyc.org/story/governing-minority-how-state-laws-influence-national-elections/ .
[9] Kennedy, Sheila S. “Gerrymandering Cuts Us out of the Process.” Indianapolis Business Journal 36, no. 34 (October 19, 2015): 13. Accessed October 20, 2016. doi:10.1177/2053168014528683.
[10] Gerrymandering “A plague on both our parties” asserts former White House spokesman Robert Weiner & elections analyst Tom Sherman; Virginian-Pilot. 2014. Politics & Government Business: 29.
[11] Ibid.
[12] “Redistricting.” Fair Vote for a More Perfect Union (blog). Accessed October 20, 2016. http://www.fairvote.org/redistricting#research_redistrictingoverview .
[13] Kennedy, Sheila S. “Gerrymandering Cuts Us out of the Process.” Indianapolis Business Journal 36, no. 34 (October 19, 2015): 13. Accessed October 20, 2016. doi:10.1177/2053168014528683.
[14] Gerrymandering “A plague on both our parties” asserts former White House spokesman Robert Weiner & elections analyst Tom Sherman; Virginian-Pilot. 2014. Politics & Government Business: 29.

Further Reading

Jowei Chen and David Cottrell, “Evaluating Partisan Gains from Congressional Gerrymandering: Using Computer Simulations to Estimate the Effect of Gerrymandering in the U.S. House,” Electoral Studies 44 (August 2016): doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2016.06.014.

Butera, Joshua. 2015. Partisan gerrymandering and the qualifications clause. Boston University Law Review 95 (1): 303.

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