Courts, representatives should crack down on gerrymanderingBy Emma Royal | 01/16/2018 8:20pm
Earlier this week, federal judges ruled North Carolina’s congressional district map unconstitutional because the jagged, interlocking districts were a product of partisan gerrymandering. This is the first time that a federal court has cracked down on partisan gerrymandering as opposed to racial gerrymandering, marking a major shift in policing the practice.
There is no question that gerrymandering is a malicious technique, no matter which side of the party line it originates from. It is very important that the Supreme Court continues to consider gerrymandering cases and hold lawmakers to a constitutional standard, in conjunction with our legislative and executive branches.
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing a congressional district map so that votes are unfairly shifted in favor of a certain political party. With the assistance of modern technology, some offenders have even gone so far as to cut around streets, houses, and alleys in order to secure an advantage by separating communities into multiple districts, or cramming as much blue or red territory into one district as possible. Both of these techniques, known as cracking and packing, respectively, can be used to disperse or combine racial and ethnic groups in order to diminish their influence on election outcomes.
2018 is a midterm election year, which is especially important for Democrats facing a Republican-controlled house, senate, and presidency. A complete restructuring of districts in North Carolina eliminates a Republican advantage, which could flip key seats in the left’s favor. There is no question that North Carolina Republicans are opposed to redrawing, as they will lose key votes in a swing state due to redistribution.
Gerrymandering is not just a Republican issue. Both parties have been accused of the practice many times over the years, but even when court orders rectify uneven district lines, they do not necessarily provide protections against a repeat offense. Districts are redrawn in tandem with the census, so by the time an illegal map is discovered, the damage has already been done. No additional protections are put into place so that the next party that comes into the majority rule doesn’t redraw the districts after the next census in order to stay in power. The cycle is endless and increasingly frustrating and unfair to voters. In the North Carolina case, we are glimpsing a sliver of hope.
The gerrymandering issue is indicative of a much larger problem: politicians care far more about how you vote than whether or not you are being accurately represented in Congress. Our elected officials draw congressional maps and it is difficult to prevent biased district drawing when they are their own watchdog. Being able to draw the map is an immense source of power, one that can be used to obstruct democracy.
This sort of power should never belong to anyone who has a political bias, but unfortunately, it is difficult to find anyone who is not politically biased in one way or another. Even the most moderate individuals and experts have their own personal motivations for electing one representative over another, and we could still end up with unintentionally biased maps.
This is not to say that hiring an expert wouldn’t help change the tide. Even though a perfectly unbiased person does not exist, we can put pressure on those we have elected to form moderate, bipartisan congressional map committees. Getting as close as we can to true unbiased policy is always better than staying far away from it and continuing to allot the power to eliminate democracy to those up for election.
There is no question that it threatens the very foundations of our country to allow gerrymandering to continue with the strength that it does today. The decision to elect any individual to office belongs to the American people, not to the political parties. We champion an “every vote counts” mentality, but they don’t truly count equally unless our districts are fairly proportioned. Urge your representatives to truly represent you as they were elected to do, not just their party.
Emma Royal is a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering. Her column runs biweekly.