In a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court declared last week that federal courts could not intervene when it comes to the act of partisan gerrymandering—widespread voter manipulation affecting a number of states.
Instead, the court has left these decisions up to individual states, effectively doing nothing to combat the issue of a majority party in state legislatures silencing the voice of any minority.
But what exactly does gerrymandering even accomplish? And has gerrymandering affected elections of the past? It’s complicated, but gerrymandering has and will continue to have an impact on many state elections and Congress for the foreseeable future. Let’s dig in.
What exactly is gerrymandering?
In general, gerrymandering is an act of voting manipulation in which a party will attempt to re-draw congressional district boundaries in order to gain favor over another party. In most states, state legislators and the governor have control over this process (and there are certain rules depending on the state, like all areas within a district must be contiguous or physically adjacent to one another, for instance).
Think of gerrymandering using this example from the Washington Post: Let’s say you have a very small state of just 50 people with 30 people who lean blue and 20 people who lean red. If that state is allowed five reps, theoretically, a mapmaker could re-draw districts that allows him or her to send three blue reps and two red reps to the House, representing the state’s split.
But if that mapmaker happens to lean blue, maybe they just so happen to manipulate this process by re-drawing districts in a way that allows every district to lean blue, and thus, have five blue representatives in the House.
There are two gerrymandering strategies: “packing” and “cracking.” Packing is the act of putting as many voters of one party into as few districts as possible, so they’re less likely to influence outside districts. Cracking is the act of spreading voters across district lines, so they’re less likely to gain the majority of any district.
Some districts can also use gerrymandering specifically to silence the voices of black voters and other minorities; in June, the Supreme Court ruled against Republican legislators in Virginia after it was deemed that re-drawn districts sorted voters based on race.
Is this happening now?
Yes, and it has been for a long, long time.
Despite being a purple state, North Carolina was forced to re-draw its districts after the 2010 census and a ruling by the Supreme Court; a Republican-controlled legislature re-drew the state’s districts to pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible, a decision that allowed the state to have 10 Republicans and just three Democrats in the House. (Republican-controlled state legislatures also re-drew districts in their favor in states like Ohio and Wisconsin.) In Maryland, the reverse happened; seven of eight congressional districts were re-drawn to favor Democrats, through the redistribution of both conservative and liberal voters.
Another example of “extreme” gerrymandering was the Republican-controlled House after the 2012 election, despite President Obama’s win over both the electoral college and popular vote.
What happens next?
Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts may not become involved in decisions regarding the re-drawing of districts, state legislatures can basically continue to do as they please.
Fortunately, a number of states have adopted independent commissions to help draw congressional districts and the House also passed a bill in March to combat partisan gerrymandering (though the Senate has yet to make any ruling over it).
After the 2020 census results become available, the Supreme Court’s decision to leave gerrymandering up to states will alter our Congress for generations to come—unless another federal decision stops this from happening.
By Josh Ocampo/lifehacker
Posted by The non-Conformist