In this episode Beth and Kelly finish up their election series with a focus on a true threat to our democracy - gerrymandering. To give some context, gerrymandering, is the drawing of the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage over its rivals. This practice is one of the most serious ways politicians can rob you of your vote. If your legislators are intentionally taking away your voice, they are violating your first amendment right to free speech as well as your right as a citizen to vote.
In 2015, Simon Jackman, a professor Political Science and Statistics at Stanford University published a study which analyzed 786 different state legislative plans between 1972 and 2014 and found that five of the 10 worst Republican gerrymanders had been passed since 2010. That does not mean that Democrats haven’t used the same practices, they just haven’t done it to the same extent.
Who has the power to change district maps?
In most states (37 of them), the state legislature has primary control of the redistricting process, both for state legislative districts and for congressional districts. That means that in most states the district lines are drawn by whatever party is currently in power. What could go wrong?!? How are we as a country resigned to the idea that instead of voters choosing their representative, instead we have representative choosing their voters?
It should be noted that shape does not matter - straight lines aren’t necessarily better, because America doesn’t live in squares and rectangles. We need to make sure populations are represented fairly, and not split up through partisan redistricting.
In one fun note about the state of Florida: Florida is one of the few states whose state constitution has specifically included language prohibiting district gerrymandering along party lines. Who’d have thought Florida was ahead of the curve on this one?
How is it legal?
Well, it isn’t always illegal. In 1993 the Supreme Court ruled in Shaw vs. Reno the court ruled in a 5-4 decision that redistricting based on race must be held to a standard of strict scrutiny under the equal protection clause. So, while racial redistricting is definitely illegal, redistricting along partisan lines is still definitely legal, for now.
How can gerrymandering be stopped?
One way is through lawsuits from voters or voter representatives, such as local democratic, republican or other parties. A recent example was the case out of Wisconsin, Gill vs. Whitford, which alleged that in 2011, the Republican-led legislature in Wisconsin redrew state maps to heavily favor their own party. They used a method called packing and cracking, wherein they packed Democratic voters into just a few districts, and then ‘cracked’ any leftover Democratic voters by splitting areas and spreading their vote across several districts, thus giving themselves the majority of the votes per area.
The Gill vs. Whitford case went all the way to the Supreme Court, who decided against hearing it and sent it back for another go round in district courts. As of October 4th, the state of Wisconsin has issued a motion to intervene, but we have no updates at this time. We have put an illustration of the redistricting on the show’s blog page so you can see the redrawn maps and how they have affected votes in WI.
Another case, Common Cause vs. Rucho, was brought in the state of North Carolina. In this case, Common Cause, joined by League of Women Voters, challenge the state legislators that the maps drawn in 2016 are unconstitutional. In August of this year, a 3 judge panel found their case was valid and ordered the maps to be redrawn. The North Carolina General Assembly filed a notice of appeal which would take this case to the Supreme Court next year.
Seriously, these guys aren't even subtle about it:
The truth is we are more than capable of having redistricting done using very simple algorithms. It’s not a difficult idea to figure out, it can be done with simple math percentages and move with growing or decreasing populations as each census allows, perhaps with an independent group assigned to ensure underserved populations are still receiving the representation they are due. We are not beholden to party leaders to make these changes, but if we’re not pushing for changes in this area there is no incentive to make it happen.
Is there fake news about gerrymandering? Well, likely no. You literally can’t make this stuff up - it’s true and it is what it is. There is also the fact that nothing has to be done in Congress in order to have maps redrawn - so there is no reason to “rile the base” to gerrymander. Districts are redrawn every 10 years based on the census and in 37 states- the state legislature does this. And - have you EVER heard of district redrawing as a reason to vote for someone? If you did hear it, you were likely a republican donor and being contacted by a group called “Project REDMAP” (short for Redistricting Majority Project).
This is an issue about winning. And everyone wants to win. The question is - how far are you willing to go to win? Are you willing to disenfranchise voters and take away the voice of millions of Americans in order to make your party dominate so that you can get what you want? Gerrymandering is not about making it harder to vote - like voter ID laws. It is supposed to be about making sure that groups of people are fairly represented, but can be used to weaken or strengthen a vote of a group of people.
Beth’s Jam of the Week: Ed Sheeran, The Shape Of You
Kelly’s Jam of the Week: The Carters, Apeshit
Gill v. Whitford
Who draws the lines?
Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap
Shaw vs. Reno
The Supreme Court still won’t crack down on partisan gerrymandering — yet, at least
The Most Serious Challenge to Gerrymandering in Modern Times Reaches the Supreme Court
How to spot an unconstitutionally partisan gerrymander, explained
Florida State Constitution
Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap
Five myths about gerrymandering
Assessing the Current Wisconsin State Legislative Districting Plan
They're Still Drawing Crazy-Looking Districts. Can't It Be Stopped?
Gerrymandering: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
NC Republicans admit to partisan gerrymandering (part 1)
How to flip the House
How Dark Money Helped Republicans Hold the House and Hurt Voters
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