Gerrymandering is like the boogeyman. This is a term trotted out and displayed by both Republican and Democratic politicians when their party loses hold of district seats. Gerrymandering is commonly used to describe the process of redrawing congressional districts.
When Americans lament about the inherent unfairness in our political system (I’m looking at you, Bernie bros), it eventually gets addressed. Gerrymandering is necessary, and if it were improved and adjusted using common sense, it could be an effective tool for accurate political representation.
In America, every state elects members to the House of Representatives. The number of representatives allotted to each state is based on the state’s census count. The number of representatives matches the number of districts in which the state is divided. In most states, this map drawing or redistricting process is controlled by the majority party.
If this seems like it’s a bad idea on the surface, it’s because it really is. Naturally, one would think the ruling party would use this tool to cement their control of the house. This often happens. On Aug. 5, 2016, Democrats and a public advocacy group filed a lawsuit against North Carolina Republicans for redistricting the state in a blatantly biased manner. In 2012 a majority of North Carolina’s electorate voted Democrat, yet their house ended up 9–4 Republican.
Partisan Gerrymandering—redistricting to favor a party—is not solely a Republican political tool. Maryland is perhaps the most gerrymandered state in the union, with districts drawn in confusing splashes to solidify the state’s 7–1 Democrat lead. A map of Maryland’s districts looks like a Jackson Pollock painting that was tossed away for being too abstract.
The process of screwing over your political opponents through redistricting is almost as old as American politics itself. In 1810 Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry’s party redrew the state’s senate districts to weaken the Federalist Party. According to local media, the new districts resembled a salamander, and thus the term “gerrymandering” was born.
But what good does gerrymandering do besides marginalize Federalists? When used correctly, gerrymandering can fight the true bias creator in American politics: geography.
In an article for the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden write about the inherent bias in geography. Through their research they expand on the idea that geography creates a Republican bias in house elections because of population layout.
Democrats are disproportionately grouped together in cities while Republicans tend to be spread out in suburbs and rural areas. Accurately dividing a state into districts is more difficult when a large segment of voters are clustered together. This means that if states weren’t gerrymandered in some way, it would be extremely difficult to get an accurate representation of the state’s political leanings.
So how do we fix gerrymandering? How do we keep our politicians from acting in their own self-interests? The answer is simple and something most of the world already does: make redistricting an independent process.
In the 1960s Canada struggled with a gerrymandering problem and switched to three-person commissions consisting of judges, social scientists and retired public officials. They received much better results. In another study done by Frontier International Electoral Consulting, 60 countries were studied to see how their districts were drawn. Of the 60 countries studied only 14 allowed legislators to play a dominate role. Of those 14 countries, only France and the United States employed a winner take all system.
That’s right! The United States of America does something only the French do. I’ll let you take a moment to collect yourself.
Done throwing up? Good. Contact your congressman, write your senator and demand that America move away from legislator-controlled gerrymandering.
It’s not right to let politicians manipulate districts to support their parties. It’s not right to let Republicans in rural places control state politics just because Democrats are smart enough to live in cities. And it certainly can’t be right to be like the French.