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It is alleged that the practice of gerrymandering —dividing election districts into units to favor a particular group— subverts democracy by making congressional districts “safe” for one party or the other. As a result, only those voting in primaries are in effect choosing our representatives. Are primary voters more extreme in their views, and therefore pulling democrats to the left and republicans to the right? Or is the impact of gerrymandering actually overblown, while other more divisive contributing factors like the emergence of ideologically charged TV and radio outlets, the role of the internet and social network “echo chambers,” and campaign finance practices are in fact the real drivers of increasing partisanship? If gerrymandering is a major problem, is there policy or constitutional principles that might be part of the solution?
Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center
As has been widely reported, the congressional redistricting process in many places has devolved into an anti-democratic procedure where politicians essentially decide who they want their voters to be.
Allowing state legislatures to draw district lines is thought to produce two evils: incumbent protection and gerrymandering (enabling the party in control to draw districts in a way likely to produce more seats for that party than would result based on its overall strength in the state). One way to combat these evils is to create a non-partisan commission, independent of the legislature.
Gerrymandering is such a tried and tested electioneering technique that one might think that the founders intended for political parties to draw boundaries for congressional districts to suit their interests.
But before succumbing to the notion that jiggered legislative districts are at the root of America’s gridlock and divisiveness, it is worth considering the proposition that I, my co-authors and the many political scientists who have studied the effect of gerrymandering on polarization are not nuts.
Given that the forces that produce polarized politics are deeply embedded in the American political system, opening primaries, eliminating gerrymandering, reforming Congress, and regulating campaign finance are unlikely to provide much relief.
Chris Jankowski former president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about the Republican implementation of "Project RedMap" to win state legislatures for greater control of redistricting in 2010.
Even if Democrats recruit great candidates, raise gobs of money and run smart campaigns, they face an uphill fight to retake control of the House in this year’s congressional elections, regardless of the political climate in November.
This study features the Brennan Center for Justice’s initial analysis of the 2010 congressional redistricting cycle. It focuses on the likely impact of redistricting on the partisan balance of power in Congress.
As the government shutdown has entered its second week, there are few signs that the gridlock will be resolved anytime soon. But while finger pointing continues and federal employees stay furloughed, the larger crisis remains unresolved: gerrymandering.
Reforming the way district lines are drawn is critical to giving more power to our citizens by producing a fairer and more level playing field. In doing so, we can begin restoring the public’s faith and confidence in its elected leaders.
Cook Political Report suggests there are fewer competitive races than at any time in recent history. Which prompted Gawker to rail against gerrymandering. It's not quite that simple. The problem may be with the voters as much as the elected officials.
Race and politics will once again intersect at the Supreme Court when the Justices hear McCrory v. Harris and Bethune Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections. Both cases deal with the issue of gerrymandering, and whether certain congressional districts were purposely doctored in a way that is discriminatory toward minorities or makes their vote irrelevant.
The Georgia General Assembly drew a congressional district that combined black metropolitan neighborhoods, with neighborhoods in which blacks predominated on the coasts. The constitutionality of the Eleventh District was called into question.
The Supreme Court of the United States held that Shaw and others (Appellants) have a legitimate claim that North Carolina’s redistricting scheme was so irregular on its face that it could only be viewed as an effort to segregate races for the purposes of voting, without regard for traditional districting principles and without sufficiently compelling justification.