opinion   |  column

COLUMN: The effects of extreme partisan gerrymandering



Get-out-the-vote organizations and initiatives spend much time each major election cycle trying to convince Americans that their votes matter. 

Each person’s vote is like a drop in the electoral bucket. If enough people turn out for a party or candidate, the accumulation of votes could tip the bucket over for a new party to unseat the current incumbents, or enough votes could anchor current incumbents to maintain their governing power.

But, many Americans simply don’t show up to the polls — only 55.7 percent, a figure well below turnout levels of other developed democracies, according to Census Bureau figures. The act of partisan gerrymandering could be a big source of the low turnout.

Eligible voters can often feel burned out and disillusioned about their actual effects on elections. However cynical it sounds, it turns out these potential voters could be right.

Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral constituency boundaries on a map to favor a specific political party in election outcomes. 

These laws, which have historically favored the Republican Party at federal and state levels, can make voters’ sentiments more negative. 

Districting is decided by state legislatures and can be the tipping point for a party to gain the majority in a statehouse, or which state representatives will be sent to the District of Columbia.

The shapes of electoral districts often look like the ink blots of Rorschach tests but more jagged. But misshapen electoral districts are not only asymmetrical and confusing, they’re unfair to American voters and the democratic voting process.

The Supreme Court is currently deciding whether partisan gerrymandering is constitutional in Gill v. Whitford, a case regarding unfair redistricting in Wisconsin. 

According to FiveThirtyEight, the court will analyze three key questions to determine the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering. 

State legislatures will be tested on whether redistricting was intended to benefit one political party over the other. 

They’ll also be tested on whether that measurable voting discrimination against a specific party was sustained over time. 

Additionally, they’ll have to defend themselves against whether partisan gerrymandering was the sole reason for a party’s electoral loss.

According to the New Yorker, the conservative justices on the court often argue that electoral redistricting should be left to the states, whereas the liberal justices argue that the problem has blown way out of proportion and its constitutionality should be questioned. 

While Gill v. Whitford won’t be decided until summer 2018, it’s clear that decades of redistricting have disillusioned average voters. The U.S. partisan gerrymandering laws decrease the voting power of average Americans. 

As a result, the Republican Party has reaped more benefits of unfair redistricting than the Democrats, despite being a party whose constituency is in the minority.

Voters should feel confident their vote matters. They should not feel cynicism from unfair redistricting laws crafted by Republican state legislatures. 

In deciding the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering laws, we are deciding whether democratic power should be turned over into the hands of citizens.

jsbourkl@indiana.edu

@jsbourkland

Like what you're reading? Support independent, award-winning college journalism on this site. Donate here.

More in Column



Comments powered by Disqus