Wayne Dawkins, a journalist for the British newspaper Guardian, recently visited the United States, and was shocked when he found out about gerrymandering. In America, he says, “voters don’t pick their elected officials; politicians pick their voters.”1 And he’s right. Redistricting is performed every ten years, after the census, in order to ensure that each district still has proportional representation. However, some of these districts have become the most partisan in our history, due to the increased use of algorithms to “pack” and “crack” voters.
On October 3rd, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, challenging Wisconsin’s alleged partisan gerrymandering. Essentially, the Supreme Court will soon be making a decision that will either protect extreme gerrymandering for years or will rule it unconstitutional. The plaintiffs are requesting, at the very least, that the Supreme Court create an “efficiency standard” or “efficiency gap” to limit how gerrymandered a district can be.
First, however, let me explain why gerrymandering is so bad, and give some prevalent examples of its use for partisan or racial purposes. There are two main types of gerrymandering used in the United States: packing and cracking. Packing is putting as many like-minded voters into one district to ensure that they lose voting power in the other districts. Cracking is spreading like-minded voters into different districts so they have fewer majorities. A prominent example of gerrymandering is Wisconsin’s state legislature seats. In 2012, the Democratic state legislature candidates won over 50% of the votes, but less than 40% of the seats. They won nearly 200,000 more votes statewide, but were left with a strong Republican majority.2 How is this fair? Did the voters receive the representation that they requested at the ballot boxes? These districts were drawn and approved by Republicans in order to prevent Democrats from reaching a majority, regardless of what the voters wanted. Another prominent example of gerrymandering was in North Carolina. North Carolina’s leaders drew up a map, in 2011, that was so gerrymandered that Republican Congressional candidates won 49% of the statewide vote, but won nine out of the thirteen seats in the 2012 elections. However, this system was different from Wisconsin’s: it was intentionally drawn to pack African-American voters. The 1st and 12th districts were ruled by the Supreme Court as illegally packed.
Wisconsin and North Carolina are two prominent examples, because of their inclusion in Supreme Court cases, but many states would fall under the 7% efficiency standard that’s being recommended by the prosecution. According to the New York Times, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin would all be over the 7% gap in favor of Republicans. However, Republicans aren’t the only ones at fault of gerrymandering districts. Democrats in Maryland, for example, would also be over the 7% gap. Maryland’s 3rd district is often called the “Pinwheel of Death,” because of its odd shape. Democrats won 64% of the vote, but 87.5% of the seats. Republicans had a net of 279,000 wasted votes in total.3
Obviously gerrymandering isn’t right. Voters’ choices aren’t truly being listened to. Gill v. Whitford isn’t about that, however; it’s about constitutionality. Two amendments are possibly violated: the 1st and 14th amendments. The 1st amendment gives citizens the right to freedom of speech. However, gerrymandering directly affects a voter’s voice within society. The 14th amendment says that “[n]o State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…” One privilege that all citizens should receive is having an equal voice in their government.
This is not a partisan issue. Republican and Democratic voters are both disadvantaged, at times, with gerrymandering. If we truly want our country’s system of government to be a democracy, we must end the corruptly partisan practice of gerrymandering.
- Dawkins, Wayne. “In America, Voters Don’t Pick Their Politicians. Politicians Pick Their Voters | Wayne Dawkins.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 9 Oct. 2014, www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/09/virginia-gerrymandering-voting-rights-act-black-voters. ↩
- Nichols, John. “The Most Serious Challenge to Gerrymandering in Modern Times Reaches the Supreme Court.” The Nation, The Nation Company, 2 Oct. 2017, www.thenation.com/article/the-most-serious-challenge-to-gerrymandering-in-modern-times-reaches-the-supreme-court/. ↩
- Cooper, Michael. “Gerrymandering Case Echoes in Inkblot-Like Districts Across the U.S.”The New York Times, The New York Times, 19 June 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/us/gerrymandering-wisconsin-pennsylvania-maryland-supremecourt.html?_r=0. ↩