DEMAND THAT PARTISAN GERRYMANDERING END
ENCOURAGE ALL STATES TO USE AN INDEPENDENT,
BIPARTISAN COMMISSION TO DRAW THE MAPS
Gerrymandering -- or manipulating election districts to give one political party an electoral majority -- is one of the most blatant abuses of power in government and is a perfect example of partisan politics at its very worst. Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census and uses the data to assign each state the number of seats it will have in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next ten years. Individual states then draw legislative boundaries for congressional districts and state legislative districts. This process is conducted by the state legislature in some states, while a few states use independent commissions.
In its purest form, redistricting gives states the ability to appropriately respond to population shifts to ensure that no geographic area is underrepresented. Unfortunately, opportunist politicians kidnapped the system and made the despicable habit of drawing districts for competitive advantage standard operating procedure. Essentially, candidates now choose the voters they want instead of the other way around. Sophisticated voter profiling and a significant advancement in mapping technology allow legislators to essentially pick and choose the voters that will ensure their party’s victory. The prevailing system in most states is railroaded by partisan collusion and protects the interest of political parties to the detriment of the American citizen.
The tentacles of gerrymandering poison far more than just an election or two. In truth, it is the breeding ground for the deep ideological split between Republicans and Democrats in Washington. Unconstrained, freethinking candidates cannot win elections because these fabricated districts are drawn specifically to capture the crazed party faithful. And the crazed party faithful demand likeminded candidates. Therefore, the possibility of a moderate candidate is eliminated and the vast majority of this country is silenced.
.....and it works like a charm. Especially for Republicans.
According to an analysis by the Associated Press, in the 2016 presidential race there were "four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic ones. Among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many with Republican-tilted U.S. House districts. Traditional battlegrounds such as Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia were among those with significant Republican advantages in their U.S. or state House races. All had districts drawn by Republicans after the last Census in 2010." Furthermore, "Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country. That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable majority over Democrats instead of a narrow one."
An additional analysis by the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project found that "the extreme Republican advantages in some states were no fluke. The Republican edge in Michigan’s state House districts had only a 1-in-16,000 probability of occurring by chance; in Wisconsin’s Assembly districts, there was a mere 1-in-60,000 likelihood of it happening randomly."
The most stunning aspect of gerrymandering is the cocky, blatant way national political parties exploit it -- they don't conduct this strategy stealthy, they shout it from the mountaintops. The Republican State Leadership Committee has a plan called REDMAP, and they make very clear what their mission is: "In REDMAP target states, the Party that controls the state legislative majorities controls the pen to draw fair and constitutional lines for state legislature and Congress. After 2010, state legislatures had the responsibility to draw 361 congressional districts or 83% of the U.S. House of Representatives. Republicans drew 193 districts while the Democrats drew 44.
103 districts were drawn in states with split control, while 88 were commission based and 7 were at large." It's just gross.
Republican State Leadership Committee. "REDMAP." 25 Oct 2018
David A. Lieb. "Analysis Indicates Partisan Gerrymandering Has Benefited GOP." Associated Press. 25 June 2017
Samuel S.H. Wang. "Three Tests for Practical Evaluation of Partisan Gerrymandering." Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Published in the Stanford Law
Review, Volume 68, Issue 6. June 2016
California Citizens Redistricting Commission. "Background on Commission." 25 Oct 2018
Jessie Balmert. "Ohio Voters Just Approved Issue 1 To Curb Gerrymandering in Congress." Cincinnati Enquirer. 8 May 2018
Jessie Balmert. "Election 2018: What is Ohio Issue 1? How Would It Eliminate Gerrymandering?" Cincinnati Enquirer. 9 Apr 2018
Ben Botkin. "Colorado Amendments Y and Z: Measures Pass Handily." Denver Post. 6 Nov 2018
United States. Supreme Court. Rucho v. Common Cause. 588 US (2019). 27 June 2019
United States. Supreme Court. Lamone v. Benisek. 18-726. 27 June 2019
United States. Supreme Court. Vieth v. Jubelirer. 541 US 267 (2004). 27 June 2003
United States. Supreme Court. Davis v. Bandemer. 478 US 109 (1986). 30 June 1986
United States. Supreme Court. Gill v. Whitford. 585 US (2018). 18 June 2018
United States. Supreme Court. North Carolina v. Covington. 585 US (2018). 28 June 2018
The cleanest way to solve this challenge is to encourage all states use an independent, bipartisan commission to draw the maps.
The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is an excellent example. Formed in 2010 after the passage of California Congressional Redistricting Initiative, or Proposition 20, by 61.2% of voters, "the 14-member Commission is made up of five Republicans, five Democrats, and 4 not affiliated with either of those two parties but registered with another party or as decline-to-state. The Commission must draw the district lines in conformity with strict, nonpartisan rules designed to create districts of relatively equal population that will provide fair representation for all Californians. The Commission must hold public hearings and accept public comment. After hearing from the public and drawing the maps for the House of Representatives districts, 40 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts, and four Board of Equalization districts, the Commission must vote on the new maps to be used for the next decade. To approve the new maps, the maps must receive nine “yes” votes from the Commission -- three “yes” votes from members registered with the two largest parties, and three “yes” votes from the other members."
In May 2018, Ohio voters passed Issue 1, a ballot initiative process, by a 75-25% vote. Issue 1 was a vote to change how congressional districts are drawn for members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The new rules will take effect after the next U.S. Census. There are four steps to the new process: Step 1: Ohio lawmakers will draw the lines for Ohio's congressional districts. If 60% of lawmakers in each chamber, including half of the minority party, approve the map then it will last for 10 years. Step 2: If lawmakers can’t agree, a seven-member commission would make a map. That commission includes the governor, auditor, secretary of state and four lawmakers -- two from each of the major political parties. Any plan would need approval from four of the seven members, including two votes from the minority party, to last 10 years. Step 3: If the commission can’t agree, the lawmakers would have another chance to make a map. At that point, legislators would need only one-third of lawmakers from the minority party to agree with the plan for it to last 10 years. Step 4: If that doesn’t work, the party with more members can draw the map without input from the minority members. However, they need to follow some strict rules, and the map would last for only four years.
In the 2018 midterm elections, voters in four states also took gerrymandering into their own hands. Colorado, Michigan and Utah will create independent commissions to draw their boundaries following the 2020 Census, and Missouri will now utilize a statistical, nonpartisan model that will determine how the lines are drawn. In three of the states the measures passed by large margins: Colorado's passed with over 70% of the votes; Michigan's with 61%; and Missouri's with 62%.
Shockingly, in early 2020 Virginia state legislators voted in favor of an amendment to the State Constitution that took the power to redraw legislative districts out of their hands and into the hands of a bipartisan commission made up of lawmakers and regular citizens.
Even still, the U.S. Supreme Court should define a judicially sound, clear standard.
It would be nice if the U.S. Supreme Court would help us figure this out, but it doesn't look like that is going to happen any time soon. In June 2017, the Court essentially ruled that federal judges do not have the authority to stop extreme partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote: “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.”
In her dissent delivered “with deep sadness,” Justice Elena Kagan said: “The practices challenged in these cases imperil our system of government. Part of the court’s role in that system is to defend its foundations. None is more important than free and fair elections....The only way to understand the majority’s opinion is as follows: In the face of grievous harm to democratic governance and flagrant infringements on individuals’ rights — in the face of escalating partisan manipulation whose compatibility with this nation’s values and law no one defends — the majority declines to provide any remedy. For the first time in this nation’s history, the majority declares that it can do nothing about an acknowledged constitutional violation because it has searched high and low and cannot find a workable legal standard to apply.”
For decades, the Justices of the highest court in the land have been tossing the challenges of partisan gerrymandering around like they’re holding explosive dynamite.
In 2004, the Supreme Court heard the political gerrymandering case Vieth v. Jubelirer. In this case, the Justices found that the alleged political gerrymandering was not nonjusticiable (i.e. a federal court cannot hear it) because there was no clear standard for "adjudicating political gerrymandering claims." However, the decision stopped short of overturning the 1986 case of Davis v. Bandemer, where the Court found that alleged cases of partisan gerrymandering were justiciable, but failed to come up with an agreement on a clear standard for future cases. Do you see what happened here?
Which brings us to October 2017 when the Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford (read the full text here). This case was an appeal of a decision that struck down a Wisconsin state assembly map as unconstitutional based on partisan gerrymandering (gerrymandering based on racial or ethnic grounds has already been determined unconstitutional). During the Court's deliberations on Gill v. Whitford, it also included a similar case, Benisek v. Lamone, which involves the redistricting of Maryland's 6th congressional district. In the end, turning to what amounts to technicalities, the Supreme Court basically passed on ruling on partisan gerrymandering -- again -- by sending the cases back to lower courts.
The Supreme Court continued to make their position known in the case of North Carolina v. Covington: "'State legislatures have primary jurisdiction over legislative reapportionment'" (White v. Weiser, 412 U. S. 783, 795 - 1973), and a legislature’s 'freedom of choice to devise substitutes for an apportionment plan found unconstitutional, either as a whole or in part, should not be restricted beyond the clear commands” of federal law' (Burns v. Richardson, 384 U. S. 73, 85 - 1966). A district court is 'not free . . . to disregard the political program of' a state legislature on other bases (Upham, 456 U. S., at 43). Once the District Court had ensured that the racial gerrymanders at issue in this case were remedied, its proper role in North Carolina’s legislative districting process was at an end."