Gerrymandering: The REAL threat to our representative democracy — and what you can do about it

What is “Gerrymandering?”

GERRYMANDERING is the deliberate manipulation of legislative district boundaries to give and advantage to or to benefit a particular party or group, or to cause disadvantage or harm to an opposing party or group. It distorts the electoral process, undermines democracy, and renders legislative elections a meaningless exercise. It’s a conflict of interest for the legislature to draw it’s own district lines.

Why is Gerrymandering so important?

We live in a representative democracy — that is, we elect people to represent us at local, state, and federal levels.  Logically, the best way to determine who is represented by a “representative,” is to divide the area into districts evenly by population.

For example:

  • The House of Delegates in the Virginia General Assembly has 100 delegates.
  • Virginia’s population is approximately 8,000,000.
  • Dividing 8 million Virginians by 100 representatives tells us that each delegate should represent 80,000 people.
  • Thus, the state should be divided into 100 House of Delegate districts, each containing 80,000 people and each district being geographically contiguous.
    • Why “geographically contiguous?”  Because, if a district is fairly compact, the delegate can easily visit the entire district, and, the district will be somewhat homogeneous in terms of issues and needs.

However, this is not the way it happens today.  Using sophisticated mapping software, political operatives can draw district boundaries so the districts include only wealthy people, or, only poor people, or, a majority of one political party, or, other characteristics.  In the period between 2010 and 2014, Republicans nationwide drew both state and federal electoral districts that (1) contained majority Republicans, and, (2) packed Democrats into a small number of districts.  Thus, while Democrats won the majority of votes cast in Congressional elections, Republicans won the majority of seats because they are the majority in a majority of districts.

North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District is considered to be one of the worst cases of gerrymandering in the nation.  The district was drawn to be “majority-minority” — that is, to pack African-Americans into a single district, thereby diluting their voting influence.

Here is Louisiana’s 2d Congressional District.

And here are two articles that discuss gerrymandering in detail.

America’s Most Gerrymandered Congressional Districts, Washington Post

Gerrymandering is Even More Infuriating When You Can Actually See It, Salon.

The definitive book on Republican gerrymandering, 2000-2016, and its impact on the US Congress is:

RATF***ED:  The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy, David Daley.

How Does the Process Work in Virginia? (Here’s how we can fix it.)

In Virginia, state legislators redraw district lines for the U.S. Congress, the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia after every 10-year census. Under the current system, the party in power in the House and the party in power in the Senate can draw the lines to serve their own interests, not those of our communities.

Virginia is ranked as one of the most gerrymandered states in the country both on the congressional and state levels based on lack of compactness and contiguity of its districts.[1] Virginia is ranked the 5th worst in the country.[2] Throughout the Commonwealth, counties and cities are being broken in half or into multiple pieces to create heavily partisan districts.

Forty-six localities are split in the Virginia Senate district maps and 59 localities divided in the House of Delegates’ maps.[3] In 2013, 56 candidates in the House of Delegates faced no real competition in the general election, with 22 Democrats and 34 Republicans facing no major-party challenger. Of the remaining 44 races, only 19 were considered competitive to some degree. In the end, only two seats changed parties. [4] [5]

Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry may get the credit for being the first to use political maps as a tool to influence elections, but “gerrymandering” as the method has been coined, is believed to have originated in our Commonwealth much earlier. Scholars point to Gov. Patrick Henry as the first example of political redistricting in the United States. In the 1780s he attempted to fix an election by creating a district to force Federalist James Madison to face Anti-Federalist James Monroe. The practice of gerrymandering has not changed much in the past 228 years…what has changed is the technology used to draw the lines more ruthlessly and effectively, and the large amounts of money behind this subtle practice.

Why is this important?

Because — every ten years the US conducts a nationwide census.  As a result of people moving, some areas lose population, others gain.  For this reason, state and federal electoral districts must be re-drawn every ten years to reflect population changes — one state may lose a Congressional seat while another state gains a seat.  Thus, in the year following each federal census, the nation undergoes REDISTRICTING — after the 2020 federal census, redistricting will be done in 2021.

We must ensure that the 2021 redistricting process in Virginia (and nationwide, for that matter) is done fairly and does not result in more gerrymandering to benefit one or the other political parties or any group.

What can you do?

  1. Read about gerrymandering — how it’s done, what are it’s effects.
  2. Join OneVirginia2021 in their efforts to ensure fair redistricting in Virginia.
  3. Write letters to editors supporting an independent commission for Virginia’s redistricting
  4. Contact your state representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate.  Demand that they support an independent redistricting commission.
  5. Enlist your friends in the effort to ensure fair redistricting in 2021.