How Voting in These States Could Be Rendered Meaningless Thanks to Gerrymandering
How you can stop the people intentionally redrawing electoral maps to give political parties an unfair advantage.
Illustration via Jean-Luc Bonifay.
Does your congressional district look like a melted fish hook? Are House election results polarized beyond belief across your state, while races remain competitive at the federal and Senate level? If it walks like corruptions and talks like corruption, it might just be a case of gerrymandering -- the process of redrawing Congressional district maps to insure that a given party has overrepresentation in the House, while the other has little -- and new analysis of the 2016 election shows that the issue is miles from being resolved.
"The gerrymanders of this decade have stuck. Even in years where Democrats have had a good cycle… seats aren't flipping hands," Michael Li, Senior Counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and co-author of the Center's Extreme Maps project told VICE Impact. "In the past, you would try to do these gerrymanders and at some point there would be a wave election and you'd lose some districts," Li said. "This didn't happen [in 2016], and that suggests that the gerrymandering techniques are getting that much better."
And these results aren't going unnoticed. Politicians from across the political spectrum, like Bernie Sanders to John McCain to Arnold Schwarzenegger, have called for court action against gerrymandering, and citizen coalitions in states including Colorado, Missouri, and South Dakota have put forward ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments to end unfair district mapping in their states once and for all.
"I think a lot of people are starting to understand that this is really pernicious and it's sort of undermining democracy at a pretty basic level. It's essentially rendering elections meaningless, it's helping to fuel the dysfunction that exists in our government," Li said. "There's a pretty persuasive case made that at least the most extreme types of gerrymandering need to be policed and there's hope that the courts will finally do something there."
While court decisions and ballot initiatives pend, here are five states that make it insanely clear that gerrymandering is a real and pervasive attack on our democratic system.
- Current House seat split: 13 Republican, 5 Democrat
This is probably the closest to a textbook case of gerrymandering you can get.
Pennsylvania has been one of the worst overall offenders of biased redistricting in recent history, with a skew of more than four seats in 2012, and a skew of more than three in 2014 and 2016, according to NYU's nonpartisan law and policy institute, the Brennan Center. Republicans had sole control of the map-drawing processes the last time around, and all of the seat gaps favor Republicans. Research from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project estimates the chance of Pennsylvania's election results coming in by nonpartisan processes alone at 2.8 percent.
In June, the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania filed suit in Commonwealth Court to have the state's district map thrown out, saying that the 2011 map is, "the product of a national movement by the Republican Party to entrench its own representatives in power."
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- Current House seat split: 10 Republican, 3 Democrat
North Carolina has a gerrymandering problem that just won't quit. Last year, a U.S. District Court ruled that 28 of the state's 170 districts were unconstitutional on the basis of race, meaning that the drawers of the Congressional map had intentionally packed minority voters into certain districts in order to leave others filled with white voters.
This ruling was upheld by the Supreme Court in May, affirming a call for state Republicans to issue a new, fairer map. Now, a federal court is ruling that nine of the state districts proposed under the new map are still unconstitutional. The courts have gone so far as to appoint a Stanford law professor to evaluate the districts, and even redraw them if necessary.
Both the original congressional map passed in 2011 and the redrawn map from 2016 favor Republicans by about 20 percent. The efficiency gap, which measures the number of wasted votes between two parties, and may suggest cause for concern if one party wastes far more votes than the other, comes out to 2.56 seats in favor of Republicans for North Carolina, which is the second highest gap in the nation, second only to Pennsylvania according to the Brennan Center.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gives North Carolina a measly 0.28 percent chance of coming into their current House split by nonpartisan means alone.
- House seat split: 9 Republican, 5 Democrat
Another battleground state with much to gain from some special interest districting, Michigan is almost as bipartisan as they come. In the 2016 presidential election, the state swayed to Donald Trump by just over 10,000 of more than 4.8 million votes cast. But the congressional election tells a different story, with Republicans winning 57 percent of House seats.
Like in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, Republicans had sole control of the map drawing processes in Michigan and all of the seat gaps favor Republicans. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project puts the chance of Michigan House results emerging by nonpartisan processes alone at 1.8 percent.
Grassroots group Voters Not Politicians have been collecting signatures since August to get an anti-gerrymandering initiative on the 2018 ballot. The initiative includes an amendment to the state constitution and the creation of an Independent Citizen's Redistricting Commission. It will need 315,654 signatures to warrant a vote. The petition can't be signed online, but registered voter in Michigan can find a signing event nearby through Voters Not Politicians' petition calendar.
- Current House seat split: 5 Republican, 3 Democrat
We have Wisconsin to thank for the Supreme Court taking up the issue of partisan gerrymandering for the first time in more than a decade, and the court's decision could establish a new metric for what constitutes unlawful districting.
Last November, a federal court ruled against the state's district map, calling back to the 2012 presidential election in which then-President Obama did well in the state, while Democrats gained zero seats in the legislature.
In 2016, Wisconsin's efficiency gap in seats continued its marked drop since 2012, coming in at .50 extra Republican seats, but other tests confirm that gerrymandering may still be a major problem in the state. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project found that Republicans won their districts by 64.5 percent in the state, while Democrats won theirs by 72.9 percent. This gap may suggest that Republican votes are intentionally spread throughout districts, in order to make their votes stretch further.
Princeton gives Wisconsin a 2.6 percent chance of achieving this difference through nonpartisan processes alone.
- Current House seat split: 12 Republican,4 Democrat
Ohio has some wacky-looking district lines (just check out district 15. Is that a fox?) and they do anything but reflect the state's political makeup. Republicans in Ohio have claimed 56 percent of the overall vote in the last three elections, but have gained 75 percent of House seats. Since the Congressional map was redrawn in 2011, not a single seat has changed hands in this Republican controlled state. The Brennan Center put Ohio's efficiency gap in seats at 1.60 in favor of Republicans.
While little effort has been successfully made to fight gerrymandering in Ohio, change could be on the way. In April, Republican Senator Frank LaRose introduced a new proposal to the state legislature which would require bipartisan cooperation in future redistricting efforts.
You can't fight gerrymandering without registering to vote . Local elected officials make crucial decisions about how elections go down and voting is a great way to make your voice heard on this critical issue.
Grassroots groups are also organizing nationwide to fight gerrymandering in their own states and districts. Check out this list from Common Cause to see if a group is working to create change near you.