Gerrymandering is the act of dividing up district maps in a way that benefits one political party by giving them the majority and detrimental to the other by giving them the minority in as many districts as possible (“Gerrymander”). On election day, Michigan residents will have the opportunity to vote on Proposal 2, an initiative for gerrymandering reform (Ross). The legality of allowing the state legislature to draw district lines is still debated in many states. Politicians and activists have argued that allowing state legislature to create the congressional maps should be outlawed as it gives them an unfair advantage to structure them in a way that benefits their political party (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Gerrymandering”).
In 1912, Elbridge Gerry pioneered gerrymandering as Governor of Massachusetts, in which his administration created a law that restructured the state senatorial districts so that the Democratic-Republicans would have the majority (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Elbridge Gerry”). The Boston Gazette published a satirical cartoon by Elkanah Tisdale, forming the districts into a dragon-like creature dubbed “The Gerry-mander,” which is where the term comes from (Encyclopedia Britannica, “Elbridge Gerry”). This accurately portrayed the practice of gerrymandering, as it is used by politicians to give their own political party an unfair advantage, skewing the votes of the state population.
Reform has been widely discussed, and there have been a few solutions proposed. Two of the most popular solutions are handing over the responsibility to an independent commission or a computer software that creates the areas automatically.
An example of the handing over the responsibility to an independent commission is Proposal 2, mentioned above. Proposal 2 suggests that a commission should be formed by Michigan residents, who would work together to draw the districts so there will be equal representation (Ross). Pennsylvania is another example of implementing an independent commission. In February 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court determined their congressional map to be unconstitutional as the State Constitution requires elections to be “free and equal” (Lai and Navratil, “Pennsylvania, gerrymandered”). In light of this, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new map that was created by Stanford law professor and “redistricting expert,” Nathaniel Persily (Lai and Navratil, “Pennsylvania, gerrymandered”). According to journalists Jonathan Lai and Liz Navratil, “Pennsylvania has an electorate that votes in about equal numbers for both political parties, making it a key battleground state in recent presidential elections,” but “Republicans have consistently won the same 13 of the state’s 18 U.S. House seats under the previous map” (“Pa. gerrymandering case”).
The other solution mentioned above is having a computer software create the district maps for us, taking out any potential bias altogether (Ingraham). A software engineer created an algorithm that can “‘optimally compact’ equal-population congressional districts in each state, based on 2010 census data (Ingraham).” It uses the smallest unit used by the Census Bureau to ensure equal representation (Ingraham).
Either way, gerrymandering reform is being widely discussed and enforced in many states to make sure politicians do not use the practice to benefit their own political party. This would be beneficial for both Democrats and Republicans as neither one would have an unfair advantage. For each state that still allows state legislature to create their own congressional maps, gerrymandering reform would strengthen the weight of the state population’s vote. Michigan residents will have the chance to cast their votes on Proposal 2 one way or another on election day.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Elbridge Gerry.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 July 2018, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Elbridge-Gerry.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Gerrymandering.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 5 Nov. 2014, http://www.britannica.com/topic/gerrymandering.
“Gerrymander.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gerrymander.
Lai, Jonathan, and Liz Navratil. “Pa. Gerrymandering Case: State Supreme Court Releases New Congressional Map for 2018 Elections.” www2.Philly.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, 10 Sept. 2018, www2.philly.com/philly/news/politics/pennsylvania-gerrymandering-supreme-court-map-congressional-districts-2018-elections-20180219.html.
Lai, Jonathan, and Liz Navratil. “Pennsylvania, Gerrymandered: A Guide to Pa.’s Congressional Map Redistricting Fight.” Http://www2.Philly.com, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Daily News and Philly.com, 24 Sept. 2018, www2.philly.com/philly/news/politics/state/pennsylvania-gerrymandering-case-congressional-redistricting-map-coverage-guide-20180615.html.
Ross, Rhonda. “Learn More about Proposal 2 at Gerrymandering Town Hall in Grand Rapids.” WZZM, WZZM, 16 Oct. 2018, http://www.wzzm13.com/article/news/politics/elections/learn-more-about-proposal-2-at-gerrymandering-town-hall-in-grand-rapids/69-604732115
“This Computer Programmer Solved Gerrymandering in His Spare Time.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 June 2014, http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2014/06/03/this-computer-programmer-solved-gerrymandering-in-his-spare-time/?utm_term=.0dec6b567cb0.
Feature Image: https://rantt.com/the-top-10-most-gerrymandered-states-in-america/