Redistricting determines the extent of a party’s hold on a state’s political power for an entire decade. Sometimes, the politicians that are responsible for updating the district maps every decade draw unfair maps that dilute the voice of specific groups of people in order to amplify the political power of others. Redistricting is a blatant attack on the integrity of U.S. democracy, founded on the free and fair vote and equal representation, both of which fall at the hands of the redistricting process.
Every 10 years, congressional district maps are redrawn based on new census data, this very process is taking place as we speak. But, in many states, politicians use gerrymandering tactics to draw district maps in their party’s political favor. (Altman 2015) This includes the packing of districts, meaning concentrating certain voter groups into as few districts as possible, thereby reducing the competition in the surrounding districts.
Gerrymandering can be seen by examining the 2018 Ohio elections (Tam Cho 2019). In this election cycle, republicans won three times the amount of House seat democrats won – 12 republicans to 4 democrats – despite an incredibly close popular vote – 53% to 47% (Princeton). First, we must look at the districts that were gerrymandered in Ohio to realize this impact. Ohio’s District 11 was one of utmost importance to the gerrymandering process. This district packed two separate cities’ Black populations into one single district. By doing this, Black political voices and power were fervently diminished and undermined. Ohio’s District 9 combined what were formerly two separate democratic districts into one because of one single, small stretch of road that geographically liked them (Tam Cho 2019). Then there are Ohio’s Districts 1 and 2, by which cracking is evident. Cracking is the process of splitting certain voter groups across multiple districts, thereby diluting the impact of their vote, and ensuring the voters will be outnumbered by more favorable votes. These two districts cracked the Democratic city of Cincinnati into two, which diluted the impact of their votes by then joining them with majority Republican areas. This partisan gerrymandering in Ohio blatantly goes against a core principle of democracy, that voters should choose their elected officials, not officials choosing their constituents.
Next, I turn to my home state of Texas, known notoriously for its skills of gerrymandering (Sánchez 2018). In the current proposal for the new district map, the redrawing of districts would largely protect the majority Republican incumbents and reduce the number of districts in which Black and Hispanic residents make up the majority of eligible voters, trending Democratic. Though Texas has gained two congressional seats and contrary to the fact that the Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations have far outpaced the White population (U.S. Census), the new maps reduce the number of districts even remotely dominated by people of color. The map also increases the stronghold of Republican positioning that, if they were drawn as such in the 2020 election, there would have been 3 more districts that would have voted for Donald Trump (Princeton). The reason for the redrawing of lines every decade is the intention to reflect population growth in the most recent census numbers. However, this is not the intention of Texas. In the latest U.S. census, over the past decade, people of color accounted for 95% of Texas’s population growth (U.S. Census). However, in the proposed map, there is one less Hispanic majority district and zero districts with a Black majority. Keeping this in mind, the census also shows that the number of Hispanic Texans nearly matches the number of White Texans (U.S. Census). Yet district lines fail to accurately represent those numbers. With twenty-two majority-white districts and only eight Hispanic-majority districts, gerrymandering is front and center. The newly proposed districts split the majority-Democratic city of Austin, making one of the most historically Democratic districts likely a safe Republican territory.
Moreover, still on the topic of Texas, in 2016, it was proposed that district populations should be counted based on registered voters even though nearly half of Hispanic and Latinx populations in Texas were not even eligible to vote and many more were not registered (Evenwel v. Abbott). Looking at populations based only on registered voters disenfranchise groups that are the most likely to be unregistered: people of color, people in poverty, and young people. This round of redistricting will be the first since the Supreme Court struck down provisions to protect voters of color from discrimination. These provisions held states like Texas federally accountable by requiring the approval of the federal government before making adjustments to electoral maps and district drawing. Since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Texas has not made it through a single decade without a federal court reprimanding it for violating federal protections for voters of color. The blatant disregard for democratic principles within Texas alone shows a faltering democracy (Sanchez 2018).
Democracy is elected officials who are elected by, represent, and are accountable to the people. However, American democracy is under attack from historic and current practices of restricting and gerrymandering across American states. With this being a year of district redrawing, we see increasing numbers of proposed maps that are effectively suppressing millions of American voters and the voices of these voters. This foxhole in American democracy should be considered by the entirety of the American democratic system a critical situation in dire need of an urgent solution. The primary goals of gerrymandering are to maximize the effect of supporters’ votes and to minimize the effect of opponents’ votes. A partisan gerrymander’s main purpose is to influence not only the districting statute but the entire plethora of legislative decisions enacted in its path. Gerrymandering is an attack on democracy and democratic principles, and it is a time-honored tradition in the United States. By this observation, I beg the question, is America truly a strong democracy?
|Altman, M., & McDonald, M. (2015). Redistricting and polarization. American Gridlock, 45-67. Bureau, U. S. C. (2021, August 25). TEXAS: 2020 Census. Census.gov. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://www.census.gov/library/stories/state-by-state/texas-population-change-between-census-decade.html. Evenwel v. Abbott (ACLU April 4, 2016). Sánchez, F. (2018). Racial gerrymandering and geographic information systems: Subverting the 2011 Texas district map with election technologies. Technical Communication, 65(4), 354-370. Tam Cho, W. K. (2019). Technology-enabled coin flips for judging partisan gerrymandering. S. Cal. L. Rev. Postscript, 93, 11. The Trustees of Princeton University. (2021). Ohio, Texas | Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Princeton University. Retrieved October 26, 2021, from https://gerrymander.princeton.edu/reforms/OH.