The Daily Escape:
Lighting at Devils Tower, Wyoming. It is considered sacred by Northern Plains Indians – photo by Shaun Peterson
It isn’t a secret that aggressive gerrymandering (dividing election districts to give one political party a majority in many districts, while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible) has been a cornerstone of Republican political strategy for more than a decade. It has been a stunning success.
And in several (mostly Republican) states, officials have also used vote suppression, such as reduced voting hours, closed polling stations, or other barriers to voting, like strict ID rules to create a political advantage.
Democrats tend to win the majority of votes nationally, and in many Congressional and state-wide elections, only to win less than a pro-rata share of seats. 2016 showed the political impact of gerrymandering. Republicans held a 54-46 majority in the US Senate. They used that majority to deny a Supreme Court appointment to President Obama on the pretext that it was an election year. At the time, the 46 Democrats represented 20 million more citizens than their GOP Senate counterparts.
Ian Millhiser at Think Progress hows the logical outcome for our political future: (emphasis by Wrongo)
And then there is the single most frightening projection facing both large-D Democrats and small-d democrats in the United States. By 2040, according to Dean David Birdsell of the school of public and international affairs at Baruch College, ‘about 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states.’ That means that 70% of Americans ‘will have only 30 senators representing them, while the remaining 30% of Americans will have 70 senators representing them.’
If this is our future, what does “one person, one vote” mean? “One person, one vote” can have several connotations, but it should denote that fairness is inherent in our electoral system. Gender, race, and importantly, where you live, shouldn’t enhance or diminish the value of your ballot.
Winning the gerrymander battle will only be accomplished on the state and district levels. Whoever controls the state legislature and the governor’s chair will decide how fair or unfair the state’s apportionment of seats will be. Rolling Stone’s Ari Berman writes about North Carolina:
On January 9th, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s US House map, which gives Republicans a 10-to-three advantage over Democrats, the first time a federal court has invalidated congressional lines for partisan gerrymandering. But on January 18th, the Supreme Court blocked the redrawing of North Carolina’s maps, pending appeal.
GOP-drawn districts have also been struck down in Alabama, Florida, Virginia and Texas. Many of these rulings are being appealed by Republicans, making it unlikely these districts will be redrawn before the 2018 elections.
And Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court just struck down the state’s Congressional maps, where Republicans have a 13 to 5 advantage, and ordered they be redrawn in 2018. Booman writes:
If you’re handicapping the likelihood of the Republicans losing control of the House, you need to adjust your odds in light of this news. If it stands, it could be the decisive factor that changes the ultimate outcome.
This is a good reminder that bad laws can be challenged under state constitutions (but not federal laws). States are free to recognize more rights than those recognized under the US Constitution, they just can’t recognize fewer rights. And cases decided under state constitutions are usually outside the US Supreme Court’s jurisdiction. For example, a number of states have stricter search and seizure provisions than the federal constitution. This is the sort of “federalism” that conservatives hope you don’t learn about.
Voter suppression and partisan gerrymandering are the greatest threats to our democracy. Suppression provides states with the opportunity to gerrymander. Taken together, suppression and gerrymandering provide the means to disenfranchise significant parts of the electorate from our democracy.
Here’s Millhiser’s money quote:
The government of the United States no longer derives its powers from the consent of the governed. And by the time voters head to the polls in November to elect a new Congress, America will have existed in this state of profound un-democracy for nearly a decade.
Can this be fixed? Yes, by a combination of voter turnout at the state level, and state court challenges to bad re-districting. We also have to hope that the Supreme Court doesn’t act in a completely partisan manner like they did with Citizens United and the voiding of significant parts of the Voting Rights Act.
It is profoundly wrong that the way we draw legislative districts, and malapportionment, have conspired to rob American voters of much of their ability to choose their leaders.