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Law and Politics

Gerrymandering

Use it or lose it?

gerrymandering democracy

WHAT IT IS

  • Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing electoral maps to establish an advantage for a particular party by manipulating the boundaries in their favor. [The Washington Post] 
  • An electoral map shows where registered voters, aligned to specific political parties, are located within the state or country. 
  • Former Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry established the practice in 1812 to directly benefit the Democratic-Republican Party. [Britannica

  • The boundaries of congressional districts are redrawn every 10 years. [MSNBC] This is called redistricting.
  • Redistricting is typically done after the census, as states will know how many Representatives are granted. [Brennan Center for Justice]
  • Each district elects one Representative in the House of Representatives. [U.S. House of Representatives]

  • The party in control within the state is the one that redraws the district lines. Each district must have the same total population. [Pew Research Center]

  • Sometimes, districts appear to be strange shapes. This could indicate gerrymandering.

WHY IT MATTERS

 

CIVICS: Gerrymandering aims to establish districts that elect a Representative from the political party in power. Gerrymandered districts can affect the outcomes of midterm and general elections. [Vox] Who is in power in Congress then affects the policy, lawmaking, and direction of the United States. 

  • An Associated Press analysis found that gerrymandering significantly benefited the Republican party during the 2016 presidential election, especially in battleground states of Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Virginia.

  • The Brennan Center for Justice published similar findings, and concluded the practice is a “threat to democracy.”

SOCIAL: Gerrymandering is a strategy used to benefit one political party in gaining more seats in the House of Representatives. Both political parties are guilty of gerrymandering.

LOSE IT!

Undemocratic

Politicians have a tendency to gerrymander districts in extreme ways that dramatically impact the outcome of elections. [The New York Times]

 

 

Demand

In the Nov. 2018 midterm elections, voters in several states supported changing statewide redistricting practices. Colorado, Michigan, and Utah were among them. [Penn Live]

 

 

Establish independence

In some states, voters supported the idea of using independent redistricting commissions. [The Detroit News]

 

 

Condense

Some believe that if larger districts are created, it might be a way to limit the impact of gerrymandering on the outcome of an election. [The New York Times]

USE IT!

Giving a voice

Drawing districts that “protect” minority voters could be a positive consequence of gerrymandering. [The Washington Post]

 

 

Diversity

Some believe that drawing districts across the state, and not simply in one section, allows the opportunity to elect a Representative of diverse opinions and beliefs.

 

Some believe that "simple-shaped" districts, or those drawn around a homogenous community, maintain a "status-quo". [Politico]

 

 

Not that pervasive

Gerrymandered districts created to favor one political party exist but are not as prevalent as some believe.  [Politico]

WHERE WE ARE NOW

  • 2020: The 2020 census will create a new basis for demographic statistics in the country, and will influence how Congressional lines are drawn next year.

  • Oct. 2019: Federal judges ruled that North Carolina Republicans unconstitutionally drew electoral maps and must redraw for the 2020 election. [Raleigh News & Observer]

  • June 2019: The Supreme Court ruled that federal courts cannot determine the partisan nature of maps. This ruling allows gerrymandering to continue. [PBS]

  • Jan. 2019: More than 60% of Missouri voters approved a constitutional amendment to stop gerrymandering. [NPR]

  • Nov. 2018: A court ruled that districts in three states were extremely gerrymandered with a desire to influence an election. Their legality is being questioned. [The Washington Post]

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

  • Gerrymandering is often blamed for the current polarization in the United States. Read more about why. 
  • Find your district representative here.
  • North Carolina left gerrymandered districts the same before the midterm election. Pennsylvania changed some of its districts. [The Washington Post]
  • How can we improve our electoral maps? Take a deep dive on one opinion here
  • Why are lawmakers in Missouri trying to stop the anti-gerrymandering law that their voters passed? Read more here.
  • After the Supreme Court ruling, how do you feel about gerrymandering? 

This article is aligned with Purple for Democracy, a movement to support democracy through non-partisan, non-political content. 

 

Learn more about the Purple movement here

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