Our Viewpoint: A gerrymandering fix should be top priority

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, January 31st, 2018 at 6:11 PM

It’s a cold November morning and, with opinions in mind and politicians you’re ready to vote for, you’re off to the polls. 

Everyone you know is voting for your favorite candidate, and you’re sure that will be enough to turn your district blue, but when the votes are counted, it goes red yet again. You’re furious and don’t understand how this could happen.

So what should you do next? Well your next move should be to take a look at the districts you’re in and you might see why the polls swayed the way they did. 

One of the culprits of this bait-and-switch very well may be  gerrymandering. It’s a concept that is back in the news again, but has been a staple since 1812 when the term was first coined.

Gerrymandering is the practice of redrawing election districts in order to put one party or race in an advantaged position. While it isn’t so much used for race, but such an argument could be made in certain cases, it is still often used to make sure red states stay red and blue states stay blue. 

Contrary to popular belief, there are actually two types of gerrymandering, partisan and bipartisan, but only the first has been labeled an issue. 

Bipartisan gerrymandering, the practice of redistricting that favors officials of both parties, however, is legal as it doesn’t negatively affect one group or another. But for simplicity’s sake, I won’t go into that anymore.

Now as far as partisan gerrymandering, this maintenance of the status quo has caused several lawsuits throughout the years, with the first one, Davis v. Bandemer (1986), resulting in the Supreme Court agreeing that partisan gerrymandering violated the Equal Protection Clause. However, there was no constitutional standard that could be used to evaluate claims of its occurrence, so ever since, the Court has been stuck on how to strike down gerrymandering due to lack of plurality or majority in ruling. 

To imagine how gerrymandering works, it’s easier to describe it with simple shapes and colors, along with the assistance of a graphic from The Washington Post. 

Their article, “Gerrymandering, explained,” described “three different ways to divide 50 people into five districts. In the first image, they showed a breakdown of 60 percent blue voters and 40 percent red (of the 50 people). In their “perfect representation,” that would equal three blue districts won and two red districts won (or 3/5 and 2/5 of voters). But, in the following examples, by altering shape of a district, they show how you could actually create five blue districts winning, or how you could actually have three red districts as winners (despite red not winning the popular vote). 

In the case of gerrymandering, those in power can merely change district lines around, thus keeping states red or blue for many years, despite what actual vote numbers are. 

Now one might think, “surely this can’t be allowed,” but as I stated above, it’s extremely common. 

One of the current districts in Pennsylvania was just said to resemble “Goofy kicking Donald Duck,” which doesn’t seem like much of a logical shape considering the state’s rectangle. If you’re interested in which one, it’s the 7th District, and it’s quite a monstrosity.

Luckily though, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently ruled that the current congressional boundaries of the state are unconstitutional. 

This comes in the wake of a North Carolina federal judge recently ruling the same thing less than a month ago. The New York Times reported the judge as calling such boundary creation as “motivated by invidious (unpleasant) partisan intent.” 

When it comes down to it, this isn’t a strictly Democrat or Republican problem, but instead a majority problem. Generally, whoever is in power wishes to stay in power, so when they’re able to change district lines, it is best done when they have the power to do so nearly unopposed.

However, there is a distinct difference in how they handle their own form of gerrymandering, according to Kimball Brace, president of Virginia-based Election Data Services.

Commonly, when Democrats control redistricting, they tend to create “coalition districts,” which then tend to include a variety of different liberal groups in order to form Democratic-leaning seats.

Republicans, however, tend to lump voters of similar demographics together to create deep-red and very blue districts, resulting in a lack of moderate lawmakers.

While there haven’t been cases as extreme as Venezuela, where the socialist majority went from a 48 percent vote to a 60 percent vote following re-allocation of districts, the U.S. definitely isn’t in the clear. 

Things must change soon, that is without a doubt, but with opposition from 12 Republican congressman, who state the immediate changes called for by the Pennsylvania court will result in disruption of the 2018 elections, this may be put on the backburner yet again. 

But if it does see a loss of urgency and priority, how long will that last? It may be a very long time before this issue is fixed if a sympathetic majority isn’t in place and willing to change such laws, even if it puts them at a disadvantage in the future. 

Our Viewpoint is voted on by the staff of The Spectator. It is written by the acting Voices editor.

Tags: voices, viewpoint

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