Gerrymandering has been in the news a lot lately. What is it, and why is it such a problem? How can we fix it?
Every 10 years, a census is taken to determine the population of each state. After this determination, states must redraw their federal and state legislative distractions in a process called redistricting or reapportionment. States do this to ostensibly ensure their citizens receive the equal representation they deserve in their state and the federal government. Accordingly, the intent is to make sure that each congressman, state senator and state representative have about the same number of people in their districts and that the districts don’t unnecessarily split up communities. Gerrymandering is a perversion of this process. Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district boundaries to best benefit a political party instead of citizens.
Gerrymandering is rampant in our country. Most states allow the legislature to draw district boundaries in any way they want, leading to the main consideration is how many seats can be won, to ensure that the party in power stays in power, instead of how to give Americans the representation they deserve in government. Gerrymandering allows politicians to pick their voters instead of allowing voters to pick their politicians and circumvent popular will. In 2012, Democratic Congressional candidates won 1.5 million more votes than Republicans, yet fell far short of a majority in the House. In North Carolina legislative Republicans hold veto-proof majorities in both houses, despite the state’s being narrowly divided in state-wide election results. Florida, Ohio, and Wisconsin, some of the swingiest and most important states, all have few, if any at all, competitive House seats and safely Republican legislatures. Gerrymandering is not just a Republican problem; Democrats do it, too. Republicans control more states now, so they are doing it now.
Gerrymandering is perhaps the main factor in the gridlock and partisanship that has dominated our nation’s politics. You may have heard the term “primaried” This refers to a politician having to worry not about the district but to the most radical of the members of his or her own party. Accordingly, politicians in gerrymandered districts do not have to appeal to a wide variety of citizens with a diverse set of needs and views. They only have to appeal to the voters in their party who vote in the primary. All these politicians need to do to continue their careers is to win primary elections, which are dominated by the most extreme and partisan of voters. To win these voters over, politicians must continually become more and more extreme to avoid a successful challenge. Extreme politicians have no interest in making government work; they only want to make sure they can get re-elected and win their primaries.
Gerrymandering is a problem in Pennsylvania. A partisan commission made up of legislative and Supreme Court appointees draw the new maps every 10 years in a very political process. Republicans control 13/18 House seats – 72% – despite winning the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election by the narrowest of margins in losing it in the two previous presidential elections. The state legislature is not much better, with an entrenched gerrymandering Republican majority. This was accomplished by splitting up communities, pulling together far-away locations with favorable political registrations, and creative line drawing. In the last redistricting process, the legislature attempted to split the West Chester borough into 3 different districts to dilute its Democratic voting power but was unsuccessful after a public outcry. They were successful in splitting up Phoenixville borough, though. Splitting up communities prevents their interests from being heard and deprives them of the representation they deserve. When communities are divided up across different districts, essentially their needs are made meaningless and their citizens are made powerless. We should not stand for this. Our legislature is extremely conservative and neither represents the diversity of Pennsylvania nor works to benefit all Pennsylvanians.
How do we fix this issue? By supporting politicians opposed to gerrymandering and groups committed to electing them and creating solutions to gerrymandering. In Pennsylvania, there is a bill in the General Assembly. H.B. 722, which would end gerrymandering in our state by creating a non-political citizen commission which would consider community interest over political benefit in redrawing legislative districts. Many politicians from both sides of the aisle support this bill, but Republican leadership has been unwilling to move it forwards. We as citizens must call our politicians and show our support for this bill. Ending gerrymandering would go a long way to creating a good government for all Pennsylvanians.
Running for State Representative in the 157th