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.|
I like how you chose to talk about the impact of redistricting on democracies. Gerrymandering in the United States poses a threat to democracy, and it is important that the subject is discussed as a potential facilitator of democratic erosion. As you mention, gerrymandering reduces competition in districts because it has the goal of maximizing the supporters’ votes. As a result, the opponents’ votes as well as members of the party that is not in power do not have fair representation. Democracy is built on the people having fair representation, and politicians should not have the power to take away that representation by any means, especially through gerrymandering.
The examples of gerrymandering that you include are important to further understanding how gerrymandering happens in the United States. I found the examples from Ohio districts to be interesting and educational. In the Ohio example, politicians put two cities’ black populations into one district in an attempt to undermine black voices. This is not only extremely undemocratic because it weakens free and fair elections, but it is also racial discrimination. I like how you use the example of how Ohio officials used the tactic of cracking to split a Democratic city and join them into two majority Republican areas. This use of redistricting is a form of partisan gerrymandering, which gives a party an unfair advantage in an election. This reminds me of how we learned in class that democratic elections should be uncertain. Partisan gerrymandering takes away from the democratic principle of uncertain elections because it basically ensures that a certain party will win over another.
This is such a great topic you chose to talk about because this is something prevalent that we are seeing happen right before our eyes, we see it unfolding before us day after day. Gerrymandering has been a thorn in the flesh of our democracy for centuries, and with the new round of redistricting, it’s becoming a bigger threat. Rather than us the voters choosing who we want as a representative, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters. This is what happens when we leave line-drawing to legislatures, which allows one political party to control the process, as it has become increasingly common. When this happens, partisan concerns almost invariably take precedence over all else. The maps produce electoral results which are virtually guaranteed even in the next ten years if the party drawing maps has a bad year. There’s an article that I happened to come across and it’s called “Column: Thanks to gerrymandering, Republicans can continue to behave abominably and win the midterms.”
The title alone says it all and quite frankly, it’s true, because the way I see this is that the Republicans can continue to behave unfair and not have any sense of moral standards, and they will still win the midterm elections. In the article, it mentions that the Republican Party needs a net gain of only five House seats to take control. On paper they’ve already won them, thanks not to voters but to Republican state legislators redrawing maps to gerrymander congressional districts after the 2020 census. The republicans continue to benefit from it all, because all of the nation’s population growth since 2010 is due to an increased number of people of color, who tend to support the Democrats. Every ten years, states redraw their legislative and congressional district lines following the census. Because communities change, redistricting is critical to our democracy. Maps must be redrawn to ensure that districts are equally populated, comply with laws such as the Voting Rights Act, and are otherwise representative of a state’s population. With redistricting now beginning in many states, congress needs to pass reform legislation. Unless this happens, we risk another decade of racially and politically discriminatory line-drawing. Time is of the essence; Congress needs to act quickly. Fair representation depends on it.
Hi, Lindsey! This is an impressive analysis on recent gerrymandering in the United States. Texas’s 2016 efforts to redistrict based only on the number of registered voters is particularly egregious. Typically, gerrymandering can be divided into three types: racial, partisan, and incumbency. In your piece, you mention that people of color, people in poverty, and young people are most likely to be unregistered in Texas. Given this information, this “registered voter” gerrymandering can arguably fall under any of the three traditional types of gerrymandering.
By limiting the voices of people of color that are unregistered, this attempted form of redistricting is obviously a form of racial gerrymandering. However, I would argue that this instance can also be considered partisan gerrymandering. People of color, people in poverty, and young people can be broadly characterized as democratic voters on the whole. When Texas attempted to redistrict according to the number of registered voters, they were arguably acting in favor of the Republican party. Because Democratic politicians would obviously not be redistricting to favor their opposer, this redistricting attempt can also be considered incumbency gerrymandering.
Regardless of how this 2016 redistricting attempt is characterized, gerrymandering in Texas is an obvious concern for the strength of our democracy. With 38 electoral votes under the Electoral College, the way districts are drawn in Texas directly affects federal elections as well as state elections. Without further Supreme Court intervention or reform at the legislative level, gerrymandering in Texas will likely be a problem for years to come.