NATIONAL VICE PRESIDENT’S REPORT – John Duffy, National Vice President
The Undermining of Our Democracy Through Gerrymandering Is Finally Being Challenged
Gerrymandering, or manipulating, the boundaries of election districts is nothing new. The term gerrymander was first used in Boston back in 1812. Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry had redrawn State Senate election districts to the point where one of those districts was literally all over the map and said to resemble an exaggerated shape of a salamander. Hence the term Gerry-mander.
Over time, the practice of gerrymandering has, in many cases, become more and more extreme. This extreme gerrymandering is now clearly thwarting the will of the majority of voters in many states.
Courts and citizens weigh in
This abuse of electoral boundaries is starting to get more attention from the federal courts and citizens groups. In January, a panel of federal judges struck down North Carolina’s Congressional map, declaring it unconstitutional because Republicans had drawn the map seeking a political advantage. The constitutional violation centered on the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The ruling ordered the Republican-dominated state legislature to create new Congressional districts by Jan. 24. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the ruling from taking immediate effect while an appeal is prepared and considered.
There are two other challenges on gerrymandering that are already before the Supreme Court. Another three-judge panel ruled that Republicans had unconstitutionally gerrymandered Wisconsin’s State Assembly in an attempt to contain Democrats to a permanent minority.
Both parties gerrymander
In the other case, the justices will hear arguments by Maryland Republicans that the Democratic-controlled legislature redrew House of Representatives districts to flip a Republican-held seat to Democratic control. So, yes, as the Republican challenge in Maryland shows, Democrats too have had a hand in gerrymandering. Although it appears they are not involved in it as often as Republicans.
North Carolina and Maryland are considered to be among the top ten most gerrymandered states. Among the remaining states is West Virginia, where in the last election, greater than a third of the state’s population cast a ballot for a Democrat, but all of the state’s Congressional representation remains Republican.
In Kentucky, nearly 35% of the vote statewide goes to Democrats, but five out of six representatives are Republican. It’s believed that Louisiana’s Democrats would pick up another Congressional seat if the districts were drawn along nonpartisan lines. Utah would pick up a seat as well for the same reason.
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down three districts in Texas, citing an unfair impact on minorities. In Arkansas the heavily Democratic city of Little Rock remains a Republican district with skewed electoral lines that draw in surrounding rural populations. In Ohio it is believed that nonpartisan district lines could change the Congressional count from 12 (R) – 4 (D) to 9 (R) -7 (D).
In Pennsylvania, the State Supreme Court ruled the electoral map violated the state’s constitution by manipulating the district boundaries to favor Republican candidates. The court has ordered the legislature to submit a new map by Feb. 9 to Democratic Governor Tom Wolf, who had until Feb. 15 to sign off. If those deadlines pass without an agreement, the court said it would adopt its own boundaries. Experts hold up Pennsylvania as one of the most extreme examples of gerrymandering, saying the district lines have been worth two or three additional seats to Pennsylvania Republicans. Republicans unsuccessfully asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the state Supreme Court’s ruling. Therefore, the state must redraw the electoral map.
MI voters to decide
In Michigan, citizens are taking action against gerrymandering with the formation of an organization called Voters Not Politicians – www.votersnotpoliticians.com. Through a petition drive, VNP was successful in getting their proposal for an Independent Citizens Redistricting Committee on the ballot this fall. If the measure passes, it would take districting authority away from politicians and put it in the hands of citizens.
There is no doubt that gerrymandering is an assault on our democracy. In a true democracy, voters choose their politicians. Gerrymandering allows politicians to choose their voters. Hopefully, we are at a turning point where politicians who wrap themselves in the American flag, preaching freedom and democracy, will no longer have the power to rig elections in their favor!