You're Viewing the Archives
Return to IVN's Frontpage

Partisan Gerrymandering Takes Democracy Away from People

by Lucas Eaves, published

Redistricting Process in the United StatesSince the official results of the election were published, a lot has been said about the disparity between the popular vote, in which the Democratic candidates received a majority of the votes, yet a majority of the House seats went to the GOP.

These results can be explained by the use of partisan gerrymandering, which is the practice of redrawing electoral districts to create an advantage for a particular party or group of people.

Electoral districts are redrawn for two reasons. The first reason is that the constitution requires states to allocate seats in the House of Representatives to each state based on population. Every ten years, the districts must be redrawn based on updated census information.

The second reasons is that, in the 1960, the Supreme Court ruled that the states must make sure that their congressional and state legislative districts have roughly the same population. Thus, even if the number of congressional seats in a state did not change, they still have to redraw the lines of the districts according to the demographic evolution.

The task of redrawing the electoral boundaries however has been subject to partisan manipulation for decades. In fact, 37 state legislatures have primary control of their own district lines, and 42 legislatures have primary control over the congressional lines in their state. In the other states, either a politician or an independent commission are in charge of the redistricting.

Thus in many states, the party who controls the state legislature when the electoral boundaries have to be redrawn can control the redistricting process. As a result, the GOP or the Democratic Party often draw the lines in their favor. Sometimes, they really go out of there way to achieve the desired result.

For a quick example, take a look at the 7th District in Pennsylvania which was drawn in order to transform a usually pro-Democratic district into a Republican district:

Credit: Brennan Center for Justice

Redistricting in the United States

Another example is the old 23rd district in California, the "ribbon of shame" as Gov. Schwarzenegger named it. This district snakes the cost of California for nearly 200 miles in order to avoid the GOP inland neighborhood and favor Democratic Representative Lois Capps.

Credit: Brennan Center for Justice

Redistricting in the United States

There are examples of crazy districts all around the country, and makes the political field less competitive at many levels. When one party takes the upper hand during the redistricting, it has the effect of making the district "safe" for a particular party for an entire decade.

As a result of making districts safe for one side of the partisan divide, both parties don't have to spend as much money during the general election. This is because such districts are not competitive. In more practical terms, these manipulations take the democratic process away from the general electorate and give it to the partisan representatives that often draw the lines.

Districts were redrawn in 2010. Over the next 8 years, activists in many states will be pushing for changes like the recent initiative in California, which created an independent redistricting commission, or Florida, which added a new "Fair redistricting criteria." Such initiative have attempted to take away the process from partisan hands.

It is too soon to know the extent of the changes these reforms have had. It is clear that without any change the gap between the will of the voters and the results will remain wide.

About the Author