Everything You Should Know About Gerrymandering

Thor Graham

Gerrymandering is the process of manipulating the political districts shape in order to skew the power in that city, county, or state towards the political party that is currently in power. The New York Times notes that gerrymandering’s “goal is to draw boundaries of legislative districts so that as many seats as possible are likely to be won by the party [in power’s] candidates.” 

There are two main ways that a party can change the map: packing or cracking. A “packed” district groups as many of the opposing party’s voters as possible into one district. This benefits the party in power because they will be more likely to win most of the surrounding districts. Meanwhile, a “cracked” district is the opposite. Cracking splits up the opposing party’s voters into districts where the party in power’s voting bases are larger, canceling out the other party’s base.

The Washington Post provides some examples of the consequences of gerrymandering. In Pennsylvania during the 2012 election, “Republicans garnered only 49 percent of the votes statewide in U.S. House races but captured 13 of the 18 House seats.” Gerrymandering is not just a Republican party exercise. In Maryland during the 2016 election, “Republicans won 37 percent of the statewide House popular vote, which translated into just one of the state’s eight House seats”. 

This process is extremely unfair for the minority party, because gerrymandering effectively makes the votes of the minority party useless. In gerrymandered districts, the party in power will stay in power, barring a wave of voting from the opposition (although some gerrymandered districts are drawn so well that this would be practically impossible). This cycle repeats itself, as if the map is drawn “well” then the minority will never gain enough seats to change the gerrymandered map.

These are some images of wards or districts that are examples of Gerrymandering that exists in the US:

This is Maryland’s 3rd District:

This is Chicago’s 2nd Ward. As you can see the map drawers aren’t even subtle with their district maps.

Map from Time Out Chicago article

During June 2019, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that federal courts cannot and will not hear cases about partisan gerrymandering. The Republican judges were the majority in the ruling and the court will not hear any other cases related to gerrymandering due to the new precedent. The New York Times reports that Chief Justice John Roberts said: “We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” While it seems that the practice of gerrymandering is used more often by the Republican Party, both parties use it to their benefit, so ending its practice is not a partisan issue. With courts no longer able to stop gerrymandering, it seems that the parties in power can be aggressive as they want when drawing up new, favorable districts. CNN’s analysis of the ruling is: “It’s a sweeping ruling that could alter the balance of power in state legislatures and Congress for years to come.”

Now to my opinion on gerrymandering. While gerrymandering is not illegal, I think it is unfair for the people in the districts whose votes are being suppressed, and it is a major loophole in the democracy that we try so hard to uphold. The whole point of a democracy is to give power to the people, and gerrymandering does the opposite. It exclusively gives power to the current leaders of that district, and there is nothing anyone can do about it. I believe the Supreme Court made a mistake by shying away from making a decisive ruling on a major threat to our democracy, which the court is tasked with upholding. 

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