An age-old practice, gerrymandering is the manipulation of political elections through redrawing the boundaries of a district to favor one political party over another. This way, a district includes either more or fewer people who traditionally vote a certain way (see the video at the end of this article for more explanation). Both Republicans and Democrats have used gerrymandering to their advantage in the past and present, and the issue has recently made its way into the Supreme Court. The question stands: Is gerrymandering a threat to America’s democracy?
Below are three reasons it’s okay to continue the practice of gerrymandering, and three reasons it should be eliminated from the political system.
Redistricting often misrepresents the political leanings of the people living in the districts being reorganized. Take swing-state North Carolina, which narrowly leaned in favor of Donald Trump as president while electing a Democratic governor in 2016. North Carolina is a “purple” state (i.e., a state with a nearly equal amount of Republican and Democrat voters), yet its congressional delegation allots ten House seats to Republicans and only three to Democrats. For the first time in history, a federal court wet its feet in the gerrymandering issue and ruled the state’s redistricting plan unconstitutional, in that it unduly favored one party over another. As long as redistricting continues to disproportionately favor one party, a large percentage of voters won’t have their political interests appropriately represented.
A strong democracy should not allow for partisan abuses of election rules, yet gerrymandering does just that. A recent study suggests that the practice has increasingly affected election cycle’s results, culminating in 16-17 seats in the current Congress that are thanks to gerrymandering alone. Gerrymandered districts allow for elected officials to choose their constituents, rather than giving voters the basic right to appoint their own representatives. If America is to call itself a true democracy, then the vote needs to be brought back to the citizens. Gerrymandering warrants the same kind of checks and balances that have been established to keep America’s government from veering from democracy in the first place.
Redistricting should be neutral
A 2014 poll gauging the American attitude toward redrawing Congressional districts found 86% of responders in favor of using a non-partisan commission to do so. As they stand now, many states’ elections are biased in favor of the dominant political parties, thanks to said parties’ ability to waste the votes of the opposing party. California, the current gold standard of redistricting, gave the job to its non-partisan citizens rather than the state Legislature in 2008; this generated many more competitive districts in the area and incorporated public feedback into every aspect of the district maps. More states should follow in California’s lead – as the experts say: The more independent the body, the better the result.
The Big Sort
Opponents of gerrymandering often cite the practice as the reason there is a lack of competition in the political system. Yet, there is another factor that plays a much bigger role: Us. Bill Bishop recognized the phenomena of Americans self-segregating into politically like-minded communities, coining the term “The Big Sort.” This describes how Democrats tend to move into cities, while Republicans gravitate more towards rural communities, making it more difficult to draw competitive districts. Whether or not this is a favorable practice, studies show that voters are actually physically sorting themselves; in other words, we are doing the partisan gerrymandering on our own, before political parties even have to.
Neither side suffers
There is a reason that the Supreme Court avoids tackling cases of partisan gerrymandering; it aids both Republicans and Democrats, and preserves order in our government. Both parties have access to technology that allows them to reorganize districts in a way which gives themselves a competitive advantage, leading neither party towards political setback. Additionally, fewer competitive races is beneficial for everyone, as it means less need for staff and fundraising. A number of analyses show that anyone can take more seats in the House when they gerrymander; the point of democracy is that people elect other people to represent and promote their causes in any legitimate way possible. Gerrymandering is legitimate, and if everyone can use it equally – so, why not?
Gerrymandering not the cause of extremism
Gerrymandering gets a bad rap due to the increasing amount of extremist members in Congress. This is because people automatically think that the shifting or redrawing of Congressional boundaries create a homogeneous district that will lead to blowouts for one party or the other. However, gerrymandering is not the culprit: geographical self-sorting is. A study examining America’s partisan divide found growing evidence of polarity among citizens across counties, states and regions. For example, there was an 8% increase in polarization between 2008 and 2012, irrespective of redistricting changes. In other words, Americans themselves are becoming more extreme in their political views, and are, therefore, voting in more extreme candidates. Diversity within each party is sharply narrowing; the Pew Research Center identified a widening gap between Democrats and Republicans on a number of values, up by 21% from 1994. Gerrymandering may highlight America’s growing polarization and thus, its lack of an ideological middle, but it is certainly not the cause.
Bottom line: Gerrymandering is far less of a threat to our political system than it’s made out to be, yet it still contributes to election bias and inaccurate voter representation. Do you think it is unfair to gerrymander, or are there other political issues America should focus on?