Gerrymandering: a legal, yet unconstitutional practice in government

Jacob Gottesman, Staff Writer

While we live in a democratic country, there is a bipartisan issue that is threatening the legitimacy of our elections: gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the act of creating district lines in order for a specific political party to gain voters.   To see how gerrymandering can affect an election, you can look back at the 2012 Congressional election in Pennsylvania.  In this election, Democrats won about 50 percent of the overall popular vote in the state while Republicans won about 49 percent of the vote.  However, due to the way district lines were drawn, Democratic candidates won only 5 of the 18 House seats.  For a state that’s just about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, it is unjust that Republicans could get so many more House seats.  In elections that are hijacked by gerrymandering, politicians are choosing voters instead of voters choosing politicians.   

“This practice prevents people from electing politicians that truly represent them,” said senior Emily Kraus. 

Gerrymandering is a problem that affects both sides of the political spectrum.  Both parties are guilty of trying to take advantage of redistricting in order to gain political power.  Democrats have used gerrymandering in Illinois and Maryland, while Republicans have taken advantage of redistricting in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  In recent years, Republicans have been more successful in creating districts that give them an advantage because they currently control more state governments, which are responsible for drawing the district lines.  Advancements in technology have turned gerrymandering into a science, which has only exacerbated the issue.  

“Why should politicians who are biased get to decide which group of people will be able to vote for them?  This seems inherently anti-democratic,” said senior Saige Gitlin.

While the Supreme Court has struggled with this issue in the past, it has never ruled that political gerrymandering is illegal.  As the law stands, the Court has acknowledged that some partisan gerrymandering is bound to occur and is allowed.  The open issue is how much is okay.  

Only racial gerrymandering, which is designed to disadvantage minorities, has been ruled illegal.  After 2008, Republicans pursued a strategy of redrawing district lines in order to gain seats in Congress.  As a result of this effort, Democrats a substantial number of seats in the House of Representatives.  Now Democrats are trying to reclaim control of state legislatures and perhaps begin to draw new district maps before the 2020 census.  

Currently, there are two cases pending before the Supreme Court addressing the issue of gerrymandering.  The first case involves the Wisconsin State Assembly and will address the question of whether there is any constitutional limit to partisan gerrymandering.  Wisconsin Republicans redrew district maps and, as a result, gained control of almost two-thirds of the seats in the state assembly, even though they only won about half of the popular vote.  If the Wisconsin district maps are struck down, it is estimated that maps in many other states may also be invalidated.  Another case pending before the Supreme Court involves the Democratic-controlled redistricting in Maryland.  Decisions in both of these cases are expected in June. 

A possible way to prevent gerrymandering is to have independent commissions be responsible for drawing election maps to ensure that districts are fairly distributed.  While there will inevitably still be bias, a commission would be able to act in a much fairer way than partisan politicians.  Another idea is for computer programs to distribute districts in a non-biased way.  

Most people, both Republican and Democrat, can agree that those who might benefit from drawing electoral maps should not have a say in the way those maps are drawn. 

“By redrawing [district] lines, politicians are creating political action that doesn’t reflect the voice of the people.  I think gerrymandering is unconstitutional but, as with many things in politics, this is an unfair practice that can be changed,” said freshman Clay Gropper.  

Hopefully, the Supreme Court will rule that this practice is unconstitutional so that our elections can truly be a reflection of the will of the people.