2. ONE THE LIST: THE GERRYMANDER
Politicians don’t want every vote to count.
Every week, The Shit List shares one problem. Here’s what we’re adding.
In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers are maintaining their iron grip on the state legislature through carefully drawn voting maps that disenfranchise likely Democrats — especially black people.
This political tactic is called gerrymandering, and it impacts state and national laws ranging from reproductive rights to immigration reform.
Let’s break this down. States are divided into voting districts, each of which elects representatives to Congress and state legislatures. In most states, the majority party gets to draw the map of districts. Which brings us to…
Partisan gerrymandering. It’s when Party A packs voters likely to favor Party B into a few districts, assuring the majority of victories for themselves.
In 2010, the Republican state legislature in North Carolina crammed black voters (usually Democrats) into just two districts. As a result, Republicans won nine seats in the House, while Democrats won four — even though the parties each won about 50 percent of the vote.
This month, judges declared this district map unconstitutional because it dilutes black votes. In response, state lawmakers are drawing a new map:
“Our intent is to use the political data we have to our partisan advantage. I acknowledge freely that this would be a political gerrymander, which is notagainst the law.” — Rep. David Lewis (R-Hartnett)
He’s right. The majority party is legally permitted to use redistricting to its partisan advantage.
Gerrymandering violates the democratic principle that every vote is equal. In the 2014 midterm elections, Democratic candidates in North Carolina won about 44 percent of the vote — but secured only three out of 13 congressional seats. That’s just 23 percent of NC’s congressional delegation. One more time:
44 percent of popular vote → 23 percent of political representation.
In North Carolina, gerrymandering secured the Republicans a veto-proof super-majority in the state legislature, which they used to pass a voter ID law and eliminate same-day voter registration — both measures that further restrict the political power of black voters.
Gerrymandering occurs in virtually every state and dramatically affects the composition of the House of Representatives: Democrats are underrepresented in the House relative to the number of votes they’ve won. And since Congress is in charge of legislation, gerrymandering has touched many of the laws you’ve heard about in the news. Think: Planned Parenthood, gun control, immigration and nominating a Supreme Court justice.
There is a way to get around this. In 2010, California voters tired of partisan gerrymandering (this time, by Democrats) passed a proposal to set up an independent committee to draw voting maps.
It led to results: the congressional delegation elected in 2012 mirrored the state’s popular vote. Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Washington have also taken redistricting out of partisan hands by creating independent commissions.
Democracy in action, people — but only in a handful of states.
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