Every ten years, the United States is required by the Constitution to take a count of all of the people that are living within its borders. This is known as the census and has happened every decade for over 200 years and has gotten more accurate over time so now we have much more accurate counts of the number of people living here. While counting the people may seem trivial at first as well as a massive waste of money, costing an estimated $14.2 billion, it does serve a major purpose: Congressional redistricting.
Due to states’ populations changing over time, some states lose people and some gain people, and because of this, states also gain and lose seats in the House. This leads to them having to change where the districts within their state are drawn and this is where the problem is as many politicians take part in something called gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is the process where politicians unfairly draw House districts to bolster or disenfranchise people. Because the districts need to be redrawn after each census, both parties will try to decrease the number of seats that the other party holds. In some cases, they will eliminate a district if their state has lost a seat, or grab parts of other districts to make a newly created one the party of their choice if a seat is added. Because of the 2020 census, many states in the country are currently in the process of redistricting to the results of the census, with big states like California losing a seat and Texas gaining two, the most in the country.
Now in an ideal world, these districts would be added and removed to create fair districts where one party is not dominating or so that a population is not split among several districts to reduce their voting size per district. However, this is rarely, if ever, the case as both parties will try to make the map benefit them in some way. To do this, in many states, a redistricting board is created, some it is non-partisan and some it is partisan where they will propose a new map to their respective state legislatures for approval. If approved, then it becomes the new map, if not approved or ruled to be unconstitutional, as many are being ruled today, for example in Ohio where it has been rejected twice now, are sent back to be redrawn.
In theory, this process makes it so that whoever draws the districts at least tries to make them somewhat fair and not be overtly partisan, but unfortunately that is not the case. In some states like Maryland and Illinois, districts look like abstract pieces of art, as shown in Illinois’s 4th District or Maryland’s 3rd in this posts cover image, and cut across many towns and counties clearly showing that it was gerrymandered.
The problem here is that gerrymandering is technically a legal thing to do up to a point. The only real way to strike these down is to take it before a court and show that it is extremely gerrymandered, as simple gerrymandering is routinely considered to be legal. Over time, gerrymandering has gotten worse and worse to the point now that some communities are completely disenfranchised as they are split between multiple districts making their voting power nearly useless.
Because of this, the people’s voice is not truly heard in Congress because a person representing a district may be cutting into a community that does not have the same values as they do and would never have elected them. But because the district they live in was gerrymandered and a community was split up, they were out voted by another population. Representation in Congress is thus not as accurate as it should be and the people’s wants are not being met because some representatives just do not care about parts of their districts.
This has become a major issue recently with all of the new redistricting plans as both parties are trying to gerrymander to gain as many seats as they can. Ohio has seen its plan rejected as Republicans completely gerrymandered in their plans and Democrats in New York are planning on gerrymandering to add some more seats for their party. All of this has gone through completely legal avenues and only a judge or voters can say yes or no to a plan. Because gerrymandering in any form is not completely illegal, people continue to do it to add power to their own party which leads to less democracy overall since the people are not being accurately represented.
Another problem that gerrymandering can create is having a minority population rule over the majority if done correctly. By breaking up large populations into smaller ones or grouping these populations into a single district, a minority party is able to have a majority of the seats in the legislature. This is mainly done by breaking up a large population that tend to vote with a single party, usually major metropolises that vote with one party, and adding sections of this large population to a mainly rural district that tend to vote for the opposing.
This way, the various new districts will break up the city’s stronghold into many smaller rural districts because the city voters are spread out over several districts, diluting or even erasing their power. In doing this, the rural party may be a minority across the state in terms of voters, but by breaking up the city districts or centralizing all of them into one or two districts, they would be able to take a majority of the seats available, thus giving minority rule.
The worst part about gerrymandering is that it is a slow process that can take years to see the consequences. In some cases the effects can be seen early when districts have weird shapes and cut into populations, but other times it is a slow burn that slowly shows its effects.
Unfortunately, the only way to combat this is through the courts or if a state has the voter approve the new districts, both of which do not always guarantee that a fair map is approved. Gerrymandering is an issue that needs to be addressed in this country on a wider scale if we want any hope of a future where everyone’s vote is equal as they should be.