Gerrymandering. It isn’t sexy. But it determines the fate of our nation.
The United States Supreme Court recently struck down the North Carolina district map, finding that it was gerrymandered along racial lines. Now the Court has agreed to hear the Wisconsin gerrymander case. Only this time, the gerrymander isn’t along racial lines, but tailored along strict partisan lines – and that might present a problem.
After agreeing to take the case, the Court in a 5-4 decision agreed to stay the ruling of a lower court that found the gerrymander to be unconstitutional. That will most likely affect the 2018 mid-term elections. The lower court ruling demanded that the lines be redrawn in time for those elections. However, by staying the order, the conservative members of the Court have insured that the gerrymander will stay in place, thus all but insuring Republican wins even if Democrats accrue a majority of votes. The reason given in the decision was that it would be a lot of work for nothing to redraw the lines should the court rule in favor of upholding the gerrymander. It is not a good portent for the outcome, which will most likely hinge on the vote of Justice Kennedy. Kennedy voted in favor of the stay.
It is instructive that the conservative members of the Court allowed that gerrymandering along racial lines is a bad thing, but doing so to tilt the vote in favor of one party, whether or not that party enjoys the support of a majority of voters, is just fine and dandy.
How lopsided is the Wisconsin gerrymander? Consider this: After the 2010 census and the resultant redistricting that went into effect, Republicans won 48.6 percent of the vote statewide but ran away with a 60-39 seat advantage in the state assembly.
The same tactics have been employed in states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, insuring Republican wins — even if Democrats receive more votes. In December of 2016, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a measure that would greatly reduce or eliminate gerrymandering of state districts. That’s good news. The bad news is it won’t take effect until 2021.
The Michigan district map below shows the egregious lengths lawmakers will go to pack as many Democrats (in this case, mostly people of color) into a “safe district” (in purple) while giving white Republican voters the advantage of being spread out over multiple districts.
Most people don’t understand gerrymandering and how it works. For a full understanding, I highly recommend Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy by David Daily. For those who want something faster, this video explains how it works.
The gerrymander has been around for a long time, but the kind of redistricting that is going on in modern times is gerrymandering on steroids, and it is a direct assault on the will of the electorate.
The sad thing is that neither political party is interested in doing something concrete about gerrymandering. They figure that once in power, they will get to draw those maps and tilt things in favor of themselves. Is that how a democracy is supposed to work? That’s not what I was taught in my Civics class.
The Court’s decision will have far-reaching consequences. One can only hope the will of the people will outweigh political partisanship. But I’m not holding my breath.