OPINION: Gerrymandering a sickness of our democracy

(Creative Commons | J. Albert Bowden II)

For those who weren’t already aware, politicians are manipulating the value of your vote for personal or partisan gain – glad we have that settled.

One of the easiest and most impactful ways they have been doing this is by gerrymandering. To gerrymander, according to Merriam-Webster, is “to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”

That’s right; the politicians whose job it is to win these population districts are the people who are in charge of defining these districts. Once you’re in power over these districts, it is entirely too possible (and embarrassingly too predictable) to redefine them however you see fit to maintain your or your party’s legislative power in the state or even the country.

The basic idea is that legislators, through the redrawing of district boundaries, can overly concentrate likely-to-oppose voters into a small number of districts while spreading out populations of likely supporters between many districts. Even if they lose the overall vote, through district manipulation they might still be elected to more seats as a result.

That is exactly what happened on a macro scale in the 2012 election when Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, but Republicans conversely won the House 234 to 201.

This is certainly a manipulative tactic used by both parties, as on Oct. 20, 2011 Maryland’s district map clearly showed Democratic gerrymandering as well, but this strategy is implemented far more frequently by Republicans.

The Republican State Leadership Committee openly detailed this with their Redmap plan, which was their effort to influence redistricting. According to the New York Times article “The Great Gerrymander of 2012,” “The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.”

Even places like Politico, in their article “Gerrymandering could hurt GOP,” have suggested that, even though Republicans have largely ensured House control, it has had a hugely negative effect for them as well, polarizing their candidates into the hard-line, Freedom Caucus-like legislators that have held the Congress hostage.

Lawsuits are being pursued against political gerrymandering in places like Maryland, and as detailed by the Wall Street Journal, a constitutional amendment is being voted on (and is expected to pass) today in Ohio reining in the practice.

The most infuriating part of this affront to basic democracy is that it already has solutions including computer algorithms and independent commissions. According to the Washington Post article “What 60 years of political gerrymandering looks like,” New York is one example of clear success.

New York “has also set up an independent advisory commission that recommends congressional and state redistricting plans to the state legislature. This commission was set up in 1978, and shortly thereafter the level of gerrymandering in the state peaked and has been declining ever since,” according to the article.

California is another state where voters have taken control of redistricting by creating the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. As detailed by the NYT article, in 2012 “62 percent of the two-party vote went to Democrats and the average mock delegation of 38 Democrats and 15 Republicans exactly matched the newly elected delegation.”

Clearly we already have successful solutions, and this problem is prevalent in Kansas as well. If we truly care about the right to vote, we also should care about attempts to diminish it. This is both an obvious and solvable one, and in our complicated world of actually tough issues, this is a problem we should jump at the chance to solve.

Hi, I’m Jonathan. I graduate this December, majoring in Anthropology, with minors in Creative Writing and Political Science. After that … we’ll see. Maybe graduate school in environmental anthropology. Maybe I’ll finally pursue my old childhood dream of becoming an infomercial host. It’s up in the air. Some of my interests and hobbies include devout sports fanaticism, religious study, and composing country songs that serve to explain the unearthly amount of disdain I have for country music. My band’s called Catfish Hurricane, you should check us out. Well, actually, you shouldn’t. I love writing, which is how I accidentally stumbled into this job. This stumbling into good things is my plan for life in general.