Every decade, after the census is taken, states redraw their district lines in a process known as redistricting . The process is intended to make voting fairer by evening out district populations. However, this process can be used to manipulate elections and disenfranchise voters in a process known as gerrymandering . Today, gerrymandering is actively undermining voting rights in America. To end this destructive practice, we need a constitutional amendment that will make discrimination based on political preference unconstitutional.
The goal of gerrymandering is to win the majority of a district’s votes for your political party. Political parties most commonly gerrymander by “cracking” a large population into several different districts to dilute their vote or by “packing” one voter demographic into a district, giving their party most votes .
In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that federal judiciaries lack jurisdiction to rule on partisan gerrymandering in Rucho v. Common. Since then, all gerrymandering cases have fallen to state legislatures for judgment, allowing both Democratic and Republican states to easily defend their gerrymandered districts .
Currently, the number of competitive congressional districts in the United States is the lowest it has been in three decades according to 2020 election data . It is now estimated that there are only 40 competitive seats left out of the 435 in the United States. In 2010, there were 73 . This means that as of 2020, control of Congress is determined by just 9% of all districts — a scary thought.
While gerrymandering to disenfranchise racial groups is unconstitutional under the 15th Amendment, there is a correlation between voter preferences in political party and voter race . In 2020, “nonwhite” voters accounted for 40% Democratic voters but only 20% of Republican voters . Therefore, Rucho v. Common essentially permits race-based gerrymandering disguised as political party gerrymandering.
In the United States, we pride ourselves on being a global leader in democracy. Voting allows any citizen to participate in the democratic process and elect leaders who represent them and their diverse interests. Gerrymandering renders this ideal obsolete, undermining our democratic process and prioritizing some voters over others.
Recently, advocates have called for nonpartisan organizations to redraw district lines; in theory, eliminating political biases in redistricting . However, there are two problems with this solution. First, it will be difficult for the American public to verify and trust that third-party organizations are nonpartisan in today’s political climate. Second, nonpartisan redistricting does not fully address the disenfranchisement of voters even if districts are drawn fairly. Because Democrats are often concentrated in dense cities whereas Republicans populate more rural areas, nonpartisan redistricting would give more power to Republicans (who geographically occupy more land) regardless of the number of Democrats in an urban setting . This would make a Republican vote more powerful than a Democratic one.
Due to the current conservative majority on the Supreme Court, overruling Rucho v. Common soon is unlikely. Additionally, the very brazen gerrymandering of the last few years has proven that state level solutions to gerrymandering are insufficient to make real change.
Therefore, to me, there is only one practical solution to ending gerrymandering. As Joel Benenson, a pollster and strategist, said in a visit to Duke University, “We need a constitutional amendment!” The 15th Amendment states that the right to vote shall not be “denied or abridged” on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” . While it is unconstitutional to deny these rights on the basis of race, as it stands today, it is constitutional to discriminate on the basis of political preference despite there being a clear correlation between race and political preference. To solve this, the words “political preference” should be added to the list of unconstitutional voting restrictions listed in the 15th amendment. This would prevent discriminatory redistricting and would revert the practice to back what it was intended to be: reflecting growth in population sizes.
Constitutional amendments are rare, but they give us invaluable freedoms like freedom of speech, women’s suffrage, and the abolition of slavery. The constitution has always been a “living document,” adapting to the changing times. Today, we need an amendment that better reflects the realities of voting rights in America. The United States is supposed to be a shining beacon of democracy, a place where everyone’s voice can be heard. We can live up to this these ideals by enacting this constitutional amendment and ending gerrymandering.
Zak Barasch is a Public Policy Undergraduate at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy. This piece was submitted as an op-ed in the Spring ’22 PUBPOL 301 course. This content does not represent the official or unofficial views of the Sanford School, Polis, Duke University, or any entity or individual other than the author.
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7) U.S Constitution. Amendment XV