When partisan state lawmakers redraw the congressional maps every 10 years, the bias can be so extreme as to “effectively nullify democracy.” For example, an independent study found that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected in 2016 based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country. This is not just a Republican issue. Legal challenges before the Supreme Court include cases of extreme Democratic gerrymandering (such as Maryland).
What is Gerrymandering?
In U.S. politics, gerrymandering is the drawing of the boundaries of electoral districts to give one party an unfair advantage. What kind of unfair advantage? Gerrymandering could spread out opposition voters to help one party win elections. How do parties in power get away with redrawing the boundaries of their districts? Boundaries for state and federal districts are redrawn every 10 years following the federal census to ensure each district contains roughly the same number of people. Still confused? Don’t worry, it’s confusing to most people. Check out this visual guide of gerrymandering by the Washington Post.
Bonus Fact: The term is derived from the name of Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose administration enacted a law in 1812 defining new state senatorial districts. The law consolidated the Federalist Party vote in a few districts and thus gave disproportionate representation to Democratic-Republicans. Source: Encyclopedia Britannica
Who is Fighting Gerrymandering in the U.S.?
Arguing before the court, one Campaign Legal Center (CLC) attorney argued that the modern gerrymander is not “your father’s gerrymanderer. It is instead gerrymandering on steroids, fueled by computers, new kinds of voter data and a polarized electorate. If you let this go without judicial oversight for the outliers, in 2020 you’re going to have a festival of copycat gerrymandering the likes of which this country has never seen.
Ironically, if the Democrats take the house in 2018, they would be the party to benefit from these excesses. It serves to underscore that these structural issues are a feature of the system, not simply the practices of one party. Beyond the legal challenges, there are active citizen-lead initiatives in seven states (Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania) to create non-partisan methods of creating assembly districts. California instituted these changes, along with Open Primaries, with excellent results.
How Can I Help Fight Gerrymandering in the U.S.?
Non-partisan organizations are succeeding in creating a new set of rules. With a single donation, you can support a set of eight organizations that are making the biggest difference, including the Campaign Legal Center (supporting legal challenges to Gerrymandering) and RepresentUS, supporting citizen-lead initiatives.