Abolish Gerrymandering: This Voter Suppression Must End

Elbridge Gerry’s Map, Boston Centinel, 1812

With the loss in Virginia, many Democrats are worried about the next few years and what they mean for the party. And with the redistricting of congressional districts occurring across the country, Democrats are in an even more precarious position. This process, which occurs every ten years, is as politically intense as it is shameful. Every decade, state legislatures redraw their congressional districts. In many cases, the objective is to stack the deck for their party to win as many districts as possible irrespective of the people’s will. Across parties, this self-dealing continues unabated, and the worst part is that it is completely legal.

The Power of The Map

Across the country, Democrats are at a disadvantage, as most of the state legislatures are controlled by Republicans. The effects of that reality are all too clear. In Texas, legislatures are already making plans to offset increases in non-white voters by rewriting their districts to diffuse those voters’ concentration in a given district. The result is nothing short of amazing.

A New York Times analysis found that districts counted as ‘toss-ups’ in 2020 would now be overwhelmingly Republican if the proposed map was accepted. In the 10th Congressional District, the Republicans’ 2 point lead will rise to an insurmountable 20 point stronghold. The power of redistricting in Texas alone is immense, and the consequences are national in scale. Earlier this year, Texas was the only state to gain 2 seats by reapportionment alone. To add to this, Republicans are planning to split districts surrounding Dallas’ metropolitan area and spread its voters in with more rural, Republican voters, creating an entirely new district under Republican control.

Democrats are far from innocent in this process. Illinois Democrats are planning a similar move with their control over redistricting. Once completed, Democrats will likely have cut out Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s 16th district, making Illinois one of the “most gerrymandered states in the country.” Democrats would likely gain two seats, leaving 14 Democrats and 3 Republicans to represent the state in Congress. Illinois is losing a seat, however, due to reapportionment.

Even when considering the problems with Illinois, Republicans are undeniably the main beneficiaries of gerrymandering. The GOP has the power to redraw 187 congressional districts compared to the Democrat’s 75. By redrawing the districts in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and South Carolina, Republicans could gain as many as 13 seats in the House, ensuring a majority for the GOP.

Racism and Partisan Gerrymandering

Despite the obvious corruption of such a system, political gerrymandering is not illegal, per se. In Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), the Supreme Court heard two cases involving partisan gerrymandering. The Women League of Voters of North Carolina sued the state over redrawing, alleging that the state was engaging in illegal partisan gerrymandering. Similarly, Common Cause also sued the state, alleging the same.

In a 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts and his conservative colleagues ruled that the question of partisan gerrymandering constituted a “political question” beyond the federal government’s jurisdiction.

In the majority opinion, Roberts argued that: “We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts…Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions.”

Official portrait of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts.

The problem with this perspective is easy to see. A legislature could easily map out a district with the clear intent to dilute a racial group’s political power without expressly doing so, just as Texas is doing right now.

Texas’ Hispanic population continues to grow significantly, outpacing any other group. Between 2010 and 2019, the Hispanic population accounted for 53.6 percent of the population increase in the state, with 84 percent of Texas’ increase in population coming from minorities. Nationally, the Hispanic population increased by 52 percent, making Hispanic voters the rising share of the electorate.

Texas Demographic Center, 2020.

With this rise in Hispanic voters come more Democratic voters, something that is certainly starting Texas Republicans. During the 2020 presidential election, 58 percent of Hispanic voters voted for Joe Biden, compared to 41 percent who voted for Donald Trump. Though not as strong in their party identification as Black Americans, Hispanics represent a serious challenge to the status quo in Texas and around the United States.

Texas Presidential Exit Polls, NBC News, 2020.

Republicans in Texas have pulled out their pens and plan to dilute this new voting block in response to this new political force. Splitting Western Texas and Eastern Irving, Republicans hope to split the Latino vote into the 6th, 24th, 25th, and 33rd districts, ensuring the influence of Latino votes never reaches the level of power that a just system would allow. In other words, a clearly racial policy takes on a political perspective and, through that perspective, justifies itself to the Court despite the prejudiced nature of the decision.

So What Now?

The Court’s decision mentioned above makes such a suit incredibly difficult. It is unlikely that any new lawsuit will overturn the gerrymandering anytime soon. However, states still retain the right to decide how to organize their redistricting. And after these districts are established, they remain that way for ten years. Meaning that the public has ten years to organize and pressure their state leaders to establish independent commissions to redraw their districts, taking power out of the hands of their legislatures. Several states already do this, though 33 still maintain the legislature-oriented model.

It will take significant effort and long-term effort, but unless there is an amendment to the Constitution or the Court has more justices added soon, it is the only way to end the continued abuse of the electorate. So long as legislatures continue to control redistricting, our democracy will remain under the thumb of the powerful.

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