In North Carolina, a state court ruled a previously drawn district map unconstitutional on the basis that the constructed lines were blatantly partisan. This is just one example of the ongoing gerrymandering problem that has invaded our electoral system and unfairly displaced voter choices for the sake of party power.
Gerrymandering entails redrawing congressional district lines to sway elections in favor of certain parties, which suppresses voters’ voices. Voters of one party become a majority in some districts, ultimately handing that party a guaranteed vote. The outcome of more and more districts engaged in gerrymandering becomes all but predetermined, undermining the democratic process. The North Carolina court’s latest ruling is not only a win for voters, but also can set a precedent for strictly regulating the future of gerrymandering to ensure a fairer democratic process. Our electoral system does not need any further interference. With Russian meddling in our 2016 presidential election still fresh in our minds, we should strive to preserve the integrity of our democracy and work harder to value the voices of the people.
When the U.S. Supreme Court stated it would not take action on state gerrymandering cases this summer, it felt like a win for Republicans. With a conservative judicial majority sitting on the Court and gerrymandering historically giving Republicans an advantage, it seemed like Republicans would get away with rigging election outcomes. This meant several of the heavily manipulated states would stay weighted unfairly to Republicans and would be subject to extreme gerrymandering prior to key elections.
At this point, it feels like politicians will do anything to hold on to their seats of power, going so far as to disregard the purpose of the government we have established. America prides itself so much on being a democracy, yet we seem to be falling far from it as the next election looms. If a certain outcome is already secured, the votes of some become meaningless, so why bother holding elections? Manipulating which districts votes are counted for is undemocratic and clearly violates “one person, one vote” — if you can’t win fairly, then you clearly don’t deserve the seat.
However, there may still be some hope for our broken system, as Democrats have found a way to challenge gerrymandering: appealing to state courts. North Carolina ordered the district map to be redrawn for the 2020 election after the state court’s judgment, which is a win for Democrats and voters alike. Since the Supreme Court delegated states the authority to decide on their own gerrymandering cases, approaching it at the state level could potentially benefit those who live in states subject to extreme gerrymandering. Districts with absurdly-drawn maps could be reversed if state courts rule them invalid. Voters would then have their votes counted meaningfully and their interests fairly represented. If anything, it loosens the Republican grip on election outcomes and restores some honor to our democracy.
At the same time, it is also important to remember Republicans are not the only ones guilty of gerrymandering. Maryland is an example of Democrats’ own attempts at gerrymandering, where they tried to take back a seat that had turned Republican by redrawing the district to include more Democratic voters in the district. Even in the North Carolina case, is hard to completely believe Democrats had no partisan motivations. It happens that voters’ rights and interests are also upheld when challenging Republican-drawn district maps.
With the upcoming 2020 elections, there is a lot riding on which party will control the House of Representatives, given that the presidential election is occurring at the same time. On one hand, if other district maps are challenged in state courts, questioning their legitimacy could give candidates running a fair chance at previously uncontestable seats. Furthermore, voters would have a chance to have their voices accounted for properly.
While the Supreme Court is reluctant to set standards for gerrymandering because the question of what a “fair” district looks like is a subjective one, there still needs to be a way to fairly determine congressional districts. District lines should be separated from party lines; some states employ nonpartisan commissions to help draw their districts. Since there is no way to ensure anyone who is politically affiliated will produce a fair map, these committees employ a mix of partisan commissioners to keep each other in check. While there is a National Democratic Redistricting Committee, there should be an independent version to help states draw and maintain fair district lines. To keep our electoral process from corruption and preserve its integrity, we need to work harder to make sure that our elections can uphold the values of our democracy.
Alice Lin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.