How to Stop Gerrymandering and Protect Voters’ Rights
In 1812, constitutional framer and Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry spearheaded a redrawing of the senate district above Boston. The new district purposely sliced up Essex county, a Federalist stronghold, guaranteeing multiple victories for Gerry’s Democratic-Republican party in the year’s elections. The act was very unpopular, and the new shape of the district was anthropomorphized by political cartoonists as a foul, bird-like creature. At a Federalist party, attendees likened the new district to a salamander. Poet Richard Alsop, who was attending the event, suggested a portmanteau to better describe the district’s new shape: a “Gerry-mander.”
The definition of gerrymandering is a fun piece of history, but the procedure remains almost entirely the same since Elbridge Gerry first cut up Essex county. Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing state election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage, and is quite alive in 2021. American redistricting occurs after every census, meaning many states will be adjusting their districts this year. Now is the perfect time to stand up to gerrymandering and demand fairer redistricting.
Gerrymandering and the Political Power of Black Americans
Since the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the practice of “drawing electoral districts that dilute the votes of protected minorities” has been deemed unconstitutional, meaning states cannot redraw their districts in a way which suppresses the votes of minority groups, especially Black Americans. However, redrawing districts on political lines is far more contentious.
In state and federal courtrooms, district maps can be thrown out for being gerrymandered, but this is often at the discretion of the judges and their own political leanings. Bipartisanship redistricting is rare, with both sides using the process as a means to gain political advantages for their own party. Unfortunately, this war of redistricting is often fought over Black communities.
Because most states’ legislatures draw their own districts, political influence is inseparable from the process. Statistically, a lion’s share of Black Americans vote Democrat, making Black communities prime targets for gerrymandering.
“Republicans often benefit from packing [Black] voters into districts, making other districts safer for Republican candidates. Conversely, a state’s Democratic Party can benefit if it divides communities of color among many districts, giving each a reliable majority of voters who will support the party’s candidates.” No matter who is in power, politicians use Black communities to virtually guarantee elections go in their party’s favor. While districts may also be drawn on lines of income and education, the truth is that most citizens – no matter where they live – have very little impact on how their votes are counted, but we have the power to fix gerrymandering!
How to Fix Gerrymandering
Gerrymandering is a partisan act practiced by both sides, leveraging communities for political gain. No matter what side you are on, the current system of redistricting ought to be amended to better represent the wishes and geographical diversity of our states. Very few states have independent redistricting commissions, and even fewer are led by citizens. Because political gerrymandering is often racial gerrymandering, every state must adopt a citizen-led, independent redistricting model.
It must be noted that independent redistricting councils, while a tremendous step forward, are not infallible either. Much like politicians, people can be strongly influenced by their political biases – especially nowadays. However, independent redistricting models act as an essential first step in moving redistricting away from being a political action, and toward it honestly reflecting states’ populations.
As redistricting occurs in accordance with the 2020 census, citizens must make it clear that 2021 will mark a new future for how state voting districts are created. Citizens must contact their representatives and educate themselves on redistricting, fighting for an America where the people draw the lines of their own communities.
Gerrymandering has become a tool of party politics, enforcing the divide between left and right which is ever-present in American society. We must depolarize our partisan divides, and work together to reform the overarching errors in our government and how it counts votes. One of the most immediate ways of doing so is to take the party politics out of redistricting, bringing an end to gerrymandering and bringing us back to bipartisanship.
To find more ways you can help reform our government, check out Impactree’s Good Governance Action Hub.