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Summer Seminar: Gerrymandering

By Riley Carolin

On August 4th, we had the incredible opportunity of hearing from guest speakers JoAnn Loulan and Laura Kavanugh, the leaders of the political action committee Local Majority. Their aim is to advance democratic priorities through flipping seats in local and state elections. We were able to hear from the activists on the importance of fair districting and the ways in which gerrymandering is a barrier to democracy.

To understand gerrymandering, we must first understand congressional districts. Each congressional district is roughly even in population and has the power to elect U.S. congress members and state legislatures. District lines are usually decided by one of two commonly used methods: independent commission, or by state legislature. Every 10 years, after the census, congressional district lines are redrawn. Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating district lines in order to favor a given political party. While it may seem like the influence of gerrymandering can only be seen on a local level, this is not true. Gerrymandering has the power to flip the House one way or another. An example of this is REDMAP (short for the Redistricting Majority Party), an effort by the Republican party to flip the House in their favor. This initiative was wildly successful as in 2016, Republicans were able to gain control of the House despite the fact that four million more votes were cast for Democrats that year.

The consequences of gerrymandering are detrimental to a true democracy. Gerrymandering can undermine the will of people and silence vulnerable voices, particularly BIPOC. This can create falsehoods and inaccurate reflections of the way the majority of a given population is actually voting. Gerrymandering can also cause further polarization. Representatives of each party tend to feel less inclined to reach across the aisle, as focus is shifted towards garnering more support within their existing base. But, what many don’t know is that partisan gerrymandering happens on both sides of the aisle and is not prohibited by the Supreme Court. Although many cases debating the legality of this subject have made their way to the Supreme Court, the court has made the decision not to take a firm stance on gerrymandering.

So, what can be done to prevent the harmful effects of gerrymandering? Currently, in the majority of U.S. states, redistricting is decided by the state legislature, the very group that benefits from the effects of gerrymandering. Utilizing an independent commission would allow states to form district lines in an unbiased way. Fairer redistricting would allow for the voices of all to be represented and the will of the people to be accurately reflected through voting.

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