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  • Jenna Burtch

“A little to the right, yep, perfect.” : The Consequences of Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering, verb, gerund, or present participle, “manipulating the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class.” - Oxford Languages

After the 2022 Midterms, full of flips and upsets, gerrymandering is on the minds of many. With the house in the hands of Republicans, and Democrats in control of the Senate after Senator Catherine Cortez Masto’s win in Nevada, we are approaching a split congress. While it is known that the president’s party almost always loses seats in the first midterm of a presidency, this midterm is an outlier in Congressional history. The differences in these races came down to extremely small voting margins throughout gerrymandered congressional districts across the country, and is what led to these close races.

It is essential to understand the foundation of gerrymandering in the American political sphere. “Gerrymandering” as a term originated in the United States when the “Gerry-Mander” was coined by the Boston Gazette in March of 1812. The term was inspired by Elbridge Gerry, Governor of Massachusetts, who signed off on the Jeffersonian Republicans’ district maps that had been drawn to grant greater political advantage in Congress. This was the United States’ first use of redistricting manipulation.

Gerrymandering as a concept existed outside of the States far before Eldrifge Gerry and the Jeffersonian Republicans’ gave it a name. In 18th century England, politicians created “rotten boroughs” with so few eligible voters that politicians were able to buy the votes of the few people who could vote to secure seats in Parliament year-after-year. After its introduction from Britain to the U.S., it was used almost immediately and has yet to be stopped. When Black men won the right to vote through the 15th amendment, gerrymandering was used and abused to a whole new level to suppress the votes of Black men.

Voter suppression and gerrymandering are a match made in heaven for both sides of the isle. After the 15th amendment and post-civil-war redistricting began, many representatives of the House and states across the country began refusing to reapportion their house and state legislative districts after each new census. The laws requiring states to redraw their districts after each census was collected were hardly enforced and thus began an era of population disparities in the House and state legislatures, especially in states that redrew their districts in a way to suppress almost all black voters. This eventually spurred the Supreme court to make a number of rulings to counteract the rampant voter suppression as a result of gerrymandering.

In the 1960s, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court made several rulings to crack down on the highly unregulated practice of gerrymandering. These rulings included Baker v. Carr which requires states to redraw districts on a regular basis and established the “one person, one vote” precedent in Gray v. Sanders. In 1964, the court made two more important rulings, one being that all state legislative districts must have approximately equal populations (Reynolds v. Sims), and in Wesberry v. Sanders, the court ruled that states must adjust congressional districts so that each member of the House represents the same amount of people, and states gain or lose members as population shifts. These four rulings set numerous state precedents to assist in reducing gerrymandering in American politics.

Now, in 2022, after the dramatic midterm races, gerrymandering is able to shed light on how such contentious and close midterm races come to be. Heading into the ‘22 midterm season, Republicans held a small lead over Democrats in terms of their congressional district count after districts were redrawn according to the 2020 census. However, this small lead came from a much larger congressional bias held by Republicans in the House of Representatives as a result of the firm grip Republicans historically held over the majority of U.S. congressional districts. For over 50 years, Republicans have held a bias in the House, reaching their peak of R +6 in 2012 and sitting at roughly R +5 in 2020. After redistricting due to the 2020 census prior to this past midterm season, the Republican House bias was predicted to drop dramatically due to Democrats taking more districts across the country. While this may seem far fetched due to the results of this past midterm, it rings true in the fact that Republicans only held a 3 district lead over Democrats going into this midterm season.

Leading up to this midterm season, Democrats have taken advantage of the 2020 census redistricting and were able to flip many historically red districts blue across the country, closing the gap between Republican and Democratic held districts. In 2019, Nancy Pelosi called gerrymandering, “unjust and deeply dangerous” but it is the same Democrat that used gerrymandering to end the Republican House bias and take lead in the Senate this past midterm. Both sides of the aisle, Republicans and Democrats, have continued to play up the dangers and distrust that comes from gerrymandering in the common era, but it cannot be ignored that both parties will use the historically disenfranchising method when it benefits them most.


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