Gerrymandering. The act of drawing and redrawing the districts to benefit your party the most. It’s nothing new, of course, and it’s as common as ever, but in this day and age, especially with technology that can learn about your interests because of the videos or blog posts that you click on, isn’t it time for a better solution to redistricting? It’s a conflict of interest to let politicians draw it, and you can never be sure whether an independent official is really independent. However, technology can also be used to gerrymander on a different level.
“In the age of computers, you can gerrymander with scientific precision, you can run in and out of alleys and up and down streets to carefully include and exclude whichever voters you want in one district and not in another so it’s become a very precise science.”Dick Howard, Professor at the University of Virginia in the documentary GerryRIGGED
So what are our other options?
Randomizing hasn’t worked too well in the past, since not everyone has the same interests.
So why is it such an issue?
Gerrymandering has allowed Republicans and Democrats alike to win everything at state and federal levels. Every ten years, the census helps dictate what districts have gone over or under the amount of population required to become a district. These districts then get redrawn according to state law, which can range from whichever party is in the majority drawing them or an independent official drawing them or even as pure randomization.
For example, according to PBS, 44% of Pennsylvanians voted for Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in the 2014 mid-term elections. However, due to GOP gerrymandering, only 5 of the 18 district seats (less than 30%) went for Democrats. Since Republicans had been in the majority when the 2010 census came around, they were able draw the districts to be in their favor.
PBS also reported that 40% of Ohioans voted blue when it came to House candidates, but only 25% of Ohio’s House seats went for Democrats.
How old is gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering, the term, comes from the name Elbridge Gerry, who was the Governor of Massachusetts from 1810-1812. He manipulated district lines so bad that one district was said to look like a salamander, which some nicknamed the gerry-mander. The Boston Gazette called it “The Gerrymander; a new type of monster”.
A professor who explained getting elected to the House of Representatives to British members of Parliament recalled that one of the MPs said that ”it’s not the voters choosing their representatives but rather the representatives choosing their voters”.
Gerrymandering is a foreign concept (in all interpretations of the phrase) to people outside the US. Although in 13 states (including California) gerrymandering is prohibited and prevented efficiently, in 37 states, gerrymandering is rampant (even in primaries), like when a Brooklyn Democrat was prevented from running against the incumbent (also a Democrat).
There are three ways to gerrymander: excess vote (also known as packing ), wasted vote (also known as cracking ), and stacked vote.
Packing consists of cramming as many opposition voters into one district as possible. This provides the gerrymanderer’s political party with the majority and gives a couple of seats to the opposition.
Cracking consists of spreading out opposition voters over several districts. This works especially well if the gerrymanderer’s political party got most of the votes in the election and they just want to increase their majority.
Meanwhile, stacked vote can be a combination of both, usually identified when districts have oddly shaped boundaries.
So is gerrymandering illegal?
Only in certain cases like those of gerrymandering based on race is it illegal. In cases of partisan gerrymandering, courts have allowed that to happen most of the time and the law seems to be unclear.
What do we do now?
In California, former Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger implemented a policy of having independent commissions draw district lines, which helped bring fairness to California’s electoral process. During his time, Republicans dominated California politics, but when the policy was finally implemented, Democrats won almost every state position. Since then, California’s congressional delegation has also been full of Democrats.
But on a federal level (at least for now), nothing. There is no knight in shining armor or even a sword like Excalibur to pull out of a rock. The only thing we can hope for is either a Supreme Court ruling (which is highly improbable) or a grandfather clause in Congress to effectively prevent gerrymandering.