If you look at congressional districts across the country, you may be surprised to find all kinds of unique sizes and shapes. For example, in Ohio, you’ll find District 9, aka the “Lake Erie Monster” and Pennsylvania has “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck.”
Why do these odd-shaped congressional districts exist?
Gerrymandering is a political practice where state legislatures draw congressional district lines to favor their party and expand their power.
It’s been going on since the founding of the country.
The US Constitution and Gerrymandering
For the moment, this sounds mundane and boring, but it’s vitally important to understanding gerrymandering.
Article I, Section II of the Constitution provides each state at least one US Representative. Apportionment is the process whereby congressional seats are determined based on population. Each district ideally serves the same approximate number of people.
It seems straightforward enough.
Now the challenge — the Constitution does not provide direction to the states on how to apportion the congressional districts. It leaves it up to each state to decide and decide the politicians do — to their advantage.
The Role of Politics in Creating Congressional Districts
Patrick Henry is thought to be the first practitioner of gerrymandering in 1787, although it was not referred to as such at the time. Henry designed an unusual-looking district that would ensure the defeat of James Madison in Virginia’s first congressional election and guaranteeing he would receive more votes than Madison. It didn’t work.
The term gerrymandering comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. Gerry was a Founding Father: he also was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, congressman, diplomat, reluctant framer of the Constitution, and the fifth vice president.
In 1811, Gerry signed a redistricting bill that would increase the Democratic-Republicans Senate majority in Massachusetts’ April 1812 election, even though the Federalists had more votes. Critics decried the practice and mocked the odd-looking district saying it looked like a salamander.
While some things change, it seems some things stay the same.
Winners and Losers
Gerrymandering has been a political exercise in determining winners and losers since the drafting of the Constitution.
State legislatures redraw congressional boundaries every 10 years after a constitutionally-required census determines the population of each state. The majority party that dominates a state legislature gets to decide how the congressional districts are drawn since the minority party can’t block the vote.
Therefore, the two parties end up deciding how the districts are shaped and find creative ways to draw them to their advantage, just as Patrick Henry did in 1787.
Gerrymandering and the Courts
Is gerrymandering legal? That depends on if it benefits you or your opponent.
In 2018, the Supreme Court declined to get involved in three gerrymandering cases after activists filed suit. In both Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, Democrats filed suit against the Republican state legislatures whose re-drawn districts heavily favored Republicans. In Maryland, the Democratic state legislature re-drew the state’s congressional districts so only one was Republican.
Activists in both parties have since filed suit in state courts. In early 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the Republican-drawn congressional districts were unconstitutional and re-drew the lines themselves for the 2016 presidential campaign. Some made the claim the elected Democratic-majority state Supreme Court enacted its own form of gerrymandering. The US Supreme Court refused to hear the case once again, claiming it was a state issue, not a federal one.
What Is the Future of Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is a political process that is used to gain a political advantage. Winners never complain and the losers…
The federal courts will likely remain silent. Many of the state courts are also not getting involved as most state Constitutions require the legislature to decide congressional districts.
The reality is that voters are solving the issue themselves. Some studies have found that voters are geographically moving into areas that suit their political leanings, even if the districts were not politically gerrymandered. This might mean that partisan gerrymandering may not be as much to blame as our own desire to flock together.
As voters gerrymander themselves, it will continue to create a new dynamic of blue and red districts that are decided by voters, leaving the politicians little they can do to gerrymander the vote to their advantage.
Copyright 2019, TargetLiberty.com