The institution of democracy is one that allows its people the freedom to choose their leaders without fear of repercussion or the leaders’ ability to reject election results. Although these standards are true of democracy, there are ways it is disintegrated by democratic people. I attended the Citizen Power: How you can influence GA legislation meeting hosted by the ACLU, which exposed the effects of gerrymandering and how citizens can get involved in putting an end to it.
Once Georgia Senator Sally Harrel of district 40 took to the podium, she addressed the process in which gerrymandering is used to manipulate elections. Part of what was discussed was the need for change in ways district lines are redrawn, and how citizens can approach their legislatures on lobbying day at the State Capitol.
During this meeting, the senator addressed how the use of gerrymandering forces political leaders on the people. In a true democracy, elections must be free and fair, which means allowing members of a community the freedom to cast their vote for any candidate of their choice. When gerrymandering is used to draw district lines, it allows legislatures to win elections they may not have won had district lines not been redrawn to favor them.
One of the attendants mentioned that her district has been redrawn multiple times for past couple of years. The only way this would have been possible is through the practice of gerrymandering. It was revealed that legislators collect voting data such as party affiliation in various districts and then use that information to redraw new district lines to favor themselves or parties during future elections. This process helps them stay in office or their political parties to be favored and remain in power. Many would be autocrats who undermine democracy have this tendency as well. They or their political party manipulate every system so they can remain in power.
The change as mentioned earlier, would be the democracy act, which is the proposed solution to gerrymandering, that is being supported by the ACLU. During the meeting, the senator elaborated on three things this act would do: create transparency, include an independent citizens’ commission, and non-partisan overseeing and new standard ways of drawing district lines. This act is still a bill and has not been passed as law yet. The fear is: will Georgia state legislatures pass the bill considering it goes against them and favors the people?
It was discussed that the transparency part of the Democracy act would eliminate the secrecy of drawings of district lines and make it more accessible to the public. Although this plan may not be effective given that many people don’t participate in political events, I believe it is the right step towards eliminating gerrymandering.
The second solution given was to allow an independent commission of citizens to redraw district lines with regards to the Georgia’s racial, ethic, geographical and gender diversity. This remedy was said to allow citizens to be more involved and take this process out of politicians’ hands. Many politicians are not well informed of everyday life as the average citizen knows it. Skewing the drawing of district lines out of their hands not only benefits the citizens, but it also allows them the opportunity to serve their communities and be well informed about the issues they face.
The last remedy given included in the democracy act is non-partisanship. While this process seems complicated, it was created to ensure that no political party will have the ability to control the drawing process. One may think of this as the “checks and balances” of the drawing process. This process is meant to remove interest groups and include people who are not affiliated with any political parties to be part of the overseeing board of drawing district lines. This process may also not be effective. The reason being, people who aren’t affiliated with political parties are not interested in political affairs.
The last agenda for that day was practicing how to approach your legislature to support the bill. This exercise taught us to specifically ask our legislatures to support the democracy act bill. By appearing at the Capitol and allowing legislatures to hear our voices and concerns, we can further influence them to support the democracy act. This method may not work considering it goes against what legislature
The use of gerrymandering to favor political parties goes against democratic principles. Overall, the democracy act can be used as the first step in ensuring that we uphold democracy and reinstate it back to its true form. Yes, it does have a few methods that may be hard to execute, but I believe it’s given us a blue print on how the people should lure democracy back into their court. After all, it is the people who makes democracy, not the leaders. This meeting helps expose the loopholes used by political leaders to undermine democracy. It equipped us with the tools we need to fight and uphold democracy
Image by Matt Chase. https://www.atlantamagazine.com/news-culture-articles/redrawing-districts-kept-georgia-incumbents-power/