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Gerrymandering: A stain on American democracy

Roar Comment Editor Samuel Pennifold on the impact of Gerrymandering on American democracy as the decennial redistricting process looms

Congressional reapportionment occurs in the United States every ten years after the results of the census have been fully collected and examined by the United States Census Bureau. The main purpose is to redistribute the number of congresspeople in each state – states that see population growth are given more congresspeople while states with declining populations have fewer. Though it also provides an opportunity for political parties in the US to redraw the map of congressional voting districts. In theory, reapportionment offers a fair and logical opportunity to update congressional districts to reflect population shifts the processes is used as a political weapon by politicians.

The hijacking of the reapportionment process for partisan gain is known as gerrymandering, this is when voting districts are redrawn with a partisan agenda. The name comes from former US Vice President and Massachusetts’s Governor Elbridge Gerry who in 1812 altered the voting districts in the state of Massachusetts to favour his Republican party.

Today with the benefits of technology and polling data gerrymandering is an exact science where districts can be tailor-made to the needs of the ruling party down to the street level. The way gerrymandering works is in essence by either “packing” voters together so they can have a majority in a district, or by “cracking” voting groups across multiple districts to turn a majority into many small minorities. 

It is important though to bear in mind that there are a few very legitimate reasons to group voters together in what might seem to be unusual. Such as Illion’s 4th congressional district in Chicago, which is dubbed the earmuff district for its two larger groups connected by literally a single road that passes under a highway without a single building – let alone a congressional voter. This is because the road connects two large Latino communities that sandwich a majority black community, the voting districts separate these communities in the hope the congresspeople from them best reflect the needs of these two district communities. This though is only the positive face of a two sides issue.

In the US, gerrymandering for partisan means over fair representation is a prominent issue that has serious impacts on the workings of government. After their successes in the 2010 Midterm Elections, the Republican party poured a huge amount of investment into Statehouse races nationwide that they still hold today. This gave the GOP a stranglehold over the Democrats at the grassroots political level and handed them control of the last bout of reapportionment in key battleground states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan. Since then the Democrats have been facing an uphill battle to take and hold onto congressional seats in these states.

This time around some political pundits are suggesting the Republicans could retake the House in the 2022 Midterm Elections effectively before a vote has even been cast if they are to hijack the reapportionment process in some key states such as Florida, North Carolina and Texas. These three states are fully Republican-controlled and are likely to gain congressional seats due to population increases after the results of the census have been tabulated. Pundits are predicting that with the slim majority the Democrats hold in the House of Representatives, the 2022 Elections for Congress could come down to just six seats which the Republicans could be drawing themselves.

However, gerrymandering is practiced on both sides of the political spectrum and it’s likely that Democrats will look to carve up some pockets of red in states they control, such as New York, Illinois and Maryland to further their congressional advantage. In recent years, some states, such as Michigan and Arizona, have begun to use independent panels to make this process as fair as possible but the majority do not as it is down to the state to decide how they carry out the reapportionment process.

Here then the American devolved system of government is failing the people. Gerrymandering and the hijacked reapportionment process is a subversion of American democracy with all sides coming away with blood on their hands but congressional seats in their pockets. Ultimately gerrymandering takes away the right of the people to choose their representatives, and it is given to the representatives themselves.



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