With the midterm elections a year away, battles over redistricting are happening all over the United States, including in Texas. There, Republicans have forged their political agendas through restricting minority votes and upholding white supremacy. In battleground states across the country, gerrymandering is undermining democracy. Gerrymandering is known as the practice of redrawing boundaries of electoral districts in order to give a political party an unfair advantage over its competitors. As such, it poses one of the greatest threats to US democracy. Not only does it affect political parties, it also disproportionately harms citizens from ethnic and linguistic minority groups (Duignan 2021). Since 2010, gerrymandering has only worsened within the US; since district lines are only redrawn every ten years after the census, the results are long-lasting and can bring serious consequences. Furthermore, the practice of gerrymandering has heavily favored the Republican Party, although any party may benefit from this practice. Crucially, gerrymandering is common in battleground states as those states play a huge role in national elections (Li, Michael, and Annie Lo 2021).
As leading democratic indicators such as Freedom House and V-Dem have shown, democratic institutions have been on a downward trend across the world in the past 15 years (Repucci, Sarah, and Amy Slipowitz 2021; “Global Standards, Local Knowledge” 2021). While majorities of citizens continue to be satisfied with their democracies in countries like Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, and the UK, the opposite is true in the United States (Brechenmacher 2018). In particular, extreme polarization in the US has heightened the impact of gerrymandering, since politicians within state legislatures have an influence on redistricting. Historically, other nations have had issues with this, including Canada, but independent nonpartisan commissions have helped combat this problem. Evidently, it is imperative for those involved in restricting to have no conflicting interests (Prokop 2014). In How Democracies Die, political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt note the negative implications that come with the “rejection of democratic rules of the game.” With that in mind, gerrymandering is a blatant objection to the democratic process of elections, which is why it is crucial to solve this issue.
Canada offers a potential model: there, redistricting is left to their national parliament, while the US has left this practice up to the states. In sustaining our democracy, free and fair elections are crucial, which is why independent commission reforms would have to be finely tailored in order to limit partisanship. Thus, at the state level, we may want to replicate the Canadian solution of solely allowing nonpartisan members to serve on a commission board. Though some states like California have embraced commissions, these are often flawed because they reserve spaces for members of specific political parties along with a few designated nonpartisan members (“How Canada Ended Gerrymandering” 2014). However, we are seeing an increasing number of redistricting commissions that can be attributed to the efforts of a nationwide campaign against gerrymandering, which has included prominent Democrats, such as former Attorney General Eric Holder (Mutnick 2021).
Gerrymandering is a threat to democracy and a form of voter suppression. Free and fair elections are a crucial component of democracy, but gerrymandering may prevent us from seeing fair results. For instance, after the 2018 elections, we saw examples, like in North Carolina, where parties won the majority of seats even though they had not received the majority of votes. Moreover, gerrymandering has allowed for voting restrictions, which have disproportionately affected marginalized communities (Root, Danielle and Tausanovitch, Alex 2020). The stakes are high this 2022 election as Democrats try to retain control of the House and gain control of the Senate. In order to secure nonpartisan election commissions, Democrats have considered a legislative approach with the creation of H.R. 1: For the People Act of 2021. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this bill will pass the Senate, especially with the lingering filibuster (Mutnick 2021). As we see a rise in nonpartisan commissions, it is essential for lawmakers to encourage public trust in our electoral processes to prevent further democratic erosion.
Brechenmacher, Saskia. “Comparing Democratic Distress in the United States and Europe.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 21 June 2018, https://carnegieendowment.org/2018/06/21/comparing-democratic-distress-in-united-states-and-europe-pub-76646.
Duignan, Brian. “Gerrymandering.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2021, https://www.britannica.com/topic/gerrymandering.
“Global Standards, Local Knowledge.” V-Dem, Varieties of Democracy, 2021, https://www.v-dem.net/en/.
Li, Michael, and Lo, Annie. “What Is Extreme Gerrymandering?” Brennan Center for Justice, 12 Aug. 2021, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/what-extreme-
Miller, Justin. “Republicans’ Gerrymandered Maps Turn Back Time in Texas.” The Texas Observer, 25 Oct. 2021, https://www.texasobserver.org/republicans-gerrymandered-maps-turn-back-time-in-texas/.
Mutnick, Ally. “How Democrats Are ‘Unilaterally Disarming’ in the Redistricting Wars.” POLITICO, POLITICO, 21 June 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/06/21/democrats-redistricting-wars-495303.
Prokop, Andrew. “Are There Reforms That Can Prevent Gerrymandering?” Vox, Vox, 5 Aug. 2014, https://www.vox.com/2014/8/5/17992020/gerrymandering-reforms.
Prokop, Andrew. “How Canada Ended Gerrymandering.” Vox, Vox, 15 Apr. 2014, https://www.vox.com/2014/4/15/5604284/us-elections-are-rigged-but-canada-knows-how-to-fix-them.
Repucci, Sarah, and Amy Slipowitz. “Democracy under Siege.” Freedom House, 2021, https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-world/2021/democracy-under-siege.
Root, Danielle and Tausanovitch, Alex. “How Partisan Gerrymandering Limits Voting Rights.” Center for American Progress, 2020, https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/democracy/reports/2020/07/08/487426/partisan-gerrymandering-limits-voting-rights/.