The
role of government in congressional redistricting has always been an important
yet controversial issue. Redistricting in the United States is the process of redrawing
district boundaries when a state has more representatives than districts. This
occurs every ten years after a national census is taken. A great deal of power
and decision making is delegated to the states, and this is where the problem
comes into effect. Often times a state will attempt to manipulate their
district boundaries to benefit a particular political party. This process is
called gerrymandering. The research paper will examine the utilization of “packing,”
which is the concentration of a certain opposing party’s support in one district
to weaken it in another, and how its role in gerrymandering is disadvantaging both
the two major American political parties and the greater system of government.

The word gerrymander earned its name from the
Boston Gazette in 1812, a Massachusetts newspaper. Under Governor Elbridge
Gerry, the redrawing of state senate districts was said to benefit his
Democratic-Republican Party. One of the deformed districts was said to resemble
a salamander. The word “gerrymander” is a combination of the governor’s last
name and salamander (Greabe, 2017). The practice continued to be popularized as
the manipulation of state boundaries began to be undertaken by numerous states.

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Prior to the Civil Rights era, gerrymandering was an important tool in
suppressing the political power of black Americans. In 1965, the United States
passed the Voting Rights Act which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. While
this barred southern states from blocking their black populations right to
vote, it delegated many powers to the states regarding redistricting laws
(Kukla, 1997). The Voting Rights Act is also accused of preserving “minority-majority
districts,” protecting the gerrymandering powers of states (Mock, 2016).

The continuation of gerrymandering in modern
politics has been the center of several court cases that have failed to define
a solution to the problem. A landmark Supreme Court case, Baker v. Carr,
allowed courts to intervene in Congressional redistricting since the issue can
present justiciable questions. It was held true that an individual must be
weighed equally in legislative appointment (Epps, 2017). This verdict mirrored
that in the case of Reynolds v. Sims, which states that both houses of a
unicameral legislature must be apportioned equally (Kukla, 1997). While these
cases allowed for federal intervention in state gerrymandering practices, they
fail to initiate a federal law against the practice. This is because the legal
consensus on gerrymandering in the United States is still evolving. An extent
to this frustration can be directed at the Constitution. Because the
Constitution speaks in generalities and is abstract and vague, the Courts do
not have an established process for reviewing or challenging partisan districts
(Greabe 2017).  The Fourteen and Fifteen Amendments
in the United States Bill of Rights are held to be self-executing, which have
supposedly paved the way for a color-blind society (Vandiver, 1998). It is important
to note that no court order has found a standard to decide whether
gerrymandering has crossed a Constitutional line. This is due to the fact that
cases against gerrymandering are generally unsuccessful. Plaintiffs in multiple
Supreme Court cases have been unable to prove or show discriminatory intent in Congressional
redistricting. While mass amounts of minority voter dilution are evident, mounting
the type of political change needed to evaluate these growing measures is challenging
due to various local, state, and federal laws rooted in the constitution (O’Loughlin,
1982).

Proponents of gerrymandering assert that it is
rooted in minority interests. Issacharoff and Goldstein in 1996 presented the
idea that gerrymandering is a false narrative introduced by minority groups to
increase their political power. Under the siege of the Fourteen Amendment and
Voting Rights Act, courts altered multimember districts to single member
districts, laying the foundation for large minority representation. The minority
blame is not limited to simple congressional redistricting. Some actually place
the blame of racial gerrymandering on minority groups. Democrats are often
accused of “pandering to the demands of black and Hispanic politicians” for
safe congressional seats due to claims that minority candidates simply cannot
win. On the contrary, Republicans are accused of caving in to minority demands.

They do not want to be viewed as racist and thus enable these redistricting
practices to guarantee a safe minority seat, ultimately benefiting the greater
conservative mandate (Taylor, 2006). This “minority voter dilution” has led to
a greater barrier of representation in the United States (Issacharoff and
Goldstein, 1996). These proponents claim that that while there is uncertainty
surrounding gerrymandering practices, its overall effect is not to the extent
it is portrayed.

While many blame minority groups for the
dynamics of gerrymandering, others claim that it is the very practice that is
undermining their ability to properly participate in a democratic society. A
key critic of gerrymandering practices introduces the term “conjoined polarization”
and its contribution to the greater problem. This term establishes an idea that
partisan and racial identity overlap. This stigma surrounding race and party
has played an important role in Congressional redistricting (Hasen, 2017). The
discrimination against minority groups, especially African Americans, is
evident. This is especially true in Southern states where historical systematic
racism runs deep. Princeton University researchers found that gerrymandering
habits have hindered racial progression in several ways. First, the packing of
minorities has resulted in Congress adopting less minority-friendly
legislation. This is due to the fact that their ability to be elected to
Congress has significantly decreased. Second, due to this increased tradition
of congressional packing, Republicans have a greater chance of being elected to
Congress. Third, minorities in white-majority districts are often dependent on racial
or cultural coalitions to elect their representatives. This results in a generalization
of minority political views and ostracizes conservative minority groups who may
only have a voice through liberal groups or organizations. Fourth, minority
groups, especially African Americans and Latinos, are more likely to gravitate
towards Congressional districts compromised of their race. The product of these
trends is a less diverse spread of minority ideas geographically (Lublin,
1999). This utilization as race as a proxy has replaced the status of the political
party, thus enforcing the idea of conjoined polarization. This has led critics
to determine that courts are more likely to lean toward partisan election laws
rather than racial ones, and this is why gerrymandering can continue under the
guise it uses today (Hasen, 2017). Another contributing factor is the idea of “American
exceptionalism” and how it is used to marginalize minority groups (Waymer and
Heath, 2016).

  Gerrymandering trends suggest that the
practice is a significant contributor to hostile partisan politics that is seen
today. Both parties in the United States Congress represent very different nations.

Over four-fifths of Republicans in the House of Representatives are from
districts where the white population exceeds the national average. This is the
same for two-thirds of House Democrats. The packing of these minority voters has
put Democrats at a notable disadvantage. This is because their voter base is
more spread out, thus resulting in less seats (Brownstein and Askarinam, 2017).

To address the growing challenges of today’s
gerrymandering practices, critics are looking to racial boundaries in the educational
system and how its effects mirror those in the political system. The
relationship between racial isolation and zoning laws are found to correlate
with further attempts to hinder progress for those in lower-income areas to
lessen their influence. The role of American zoning boards corresponds with
trends of partisan redistricting boards. Both face scrutiny in their packing of
minorities and their will to progress the agenda of the white majority (Siegel-Hawley,
2013).  This type of segregation of
poorer residents from their wealthier peers enforces the idea that separation
of groups is acceptable on all planes of district creation (Waymer and Heath,
2016). Taylor in 2006 suggests that if school boards can learn to re-integrate,
then the revitalization of the electoral process is more plausible.

            The efficiency gap in American politics
is seen as a possible factor in the greater gerrymandering problem
(Stephanopoloulos and McGhee, 2015). This can be explained in a simple way. Imagine
there is a situation involving 30 orange voters and 40 white voters. Even
though there are more white voters, constituencies can be drawn to where the
orange politicians can take control of said legislature. Wasted votes, those
cast in each constituency that did not contribute to victory, are counted to
measure the votes wasted by both colors. The difference between the wasted
votes on each side is divided by the total number of voters to determine the efficiency
gap. This concept has been directly applied to congressional districts nationwide,
and more specifically the state of Wisconsin. During the 2010 state legislature
elections, the Republican Party won forty-eight percent of the vote statewide
but managed to capture sixty Assembly seats. The same applied to 2014, where
they achieved fifty-two percent but yielded sixty-three seats. A Federal
District Court panel ruled that the voting map severely disadvantaged Democrats
and is now under review. The Republican National Committee argued that the
efficiency gap is used to advance the partisan interests of the Democrats. They
claim that the map is a product of geography and not gerrymandering (Newkirk,
2017). This real-life situation serves as an example of extreme packing. In
this instance, large amounts of Democrats were packed into a single district,
thus wasting the votes of other Democratic voters in Republican-majority
districts. Analysis of partisan gaps are compiled from 1972 to 2012 shows that
while no party enjoyed a systematic disadvantage during those years,
pro-Republican gaps started to become evident during the 2012 election cycle (Stephanopoloulos
and McGhee, 2015).

            Gerrymandering is quite different
today than it was decades ago. It involves a plethora of individuals, including
lawyers, consultants, and various politicians. It is a mass corporate
undertaking and takes into account the wants of interest groups and financial
corporations. A party has the power to shift an entire electoral map if they
can become victorious at a certain election (Newkik, 2017). North Carolina
serves as a fine example of this type of utilization. It is considered the
epicenter of “national voting wars.” This is partly due to its controversial ID
laws as well as its status as a swing state. The state’s gerrymandering
practices is accused of inflating the African American vote, thus violating the
Voting Rights Act. Claims from the North Carolina legislature that they are acting
in the interests of minorities is found to be unconvicting (Mock, 2016). The
difference between gerrymandering in Wisconsin and North Carolina is simply a
matter of challenge. While the Wisconsin case relies on statistical data from
the efficiency gap, North Carolina challengers argue that the packing of
Democratic voters in their state violates their free speech and equal
protection under the Voting Rights Act.  

            It is easy to say that possible
solutions to the gerrymandering problem have been exhausted or remain out of
reach. Seven of fifty states have created nonpartisan councils to draw their
legislative districts. This results in a more community approach and supports a
goal of uniting a voter base of many demographics. While this is a step in the
right direction, it is necessary that further challenges be made to reverse the
goal of systematic oppression. The Constitution requires that state
legislatures determine the boundaries of their Congressional districts (Epps,
2017). One farfetched solution is the institution of proportional
representation. The Constitution only requires that Representatives be
residents of the state they seek to represent in Congress, not a specific
district or community. This scenario would see seats assigned to parties in
proportion to their popularity. While there are many different types of
proportional representation, it simply eliminates all electoral mapping
problems at once. It ensures that a party who receive less votes does not receive
more seats, and it “evens the playing field” by taking into account the margin
of victory. Disadvantages to proportional representation include the
complication of new ballots, the breakdown of the relationship between politicians
and voters, and its effectiveness in America’s two-party system. Another possible
solution is relying on algorithms and allowing a computer to generate district
boundaries. By optimizing the number of voters with compactness, a new method
could be utilized to focus on community grouping instead of partisan
separation. One final solution that is even more implausible is to increase the
number of seats in the House of Representatives. Today there are more citizens
per Representative than there was at the time the Constitution was written. The
lower house was meant to be more personal and highly democratic in nature. By
increasing the number of seats, it can help ensure that smaller communities are
represented.

            The role of gerrymandering in the United
States has no doubt had an enormous impact on social, cultural, and political
life. Several factors, including history, anti-minority sentiment, and legislation
have played important roles in the sustainment of a crippled political system. Challenges
to the status quo have resulted in layers of confusing and vague statues that
do little to reverse the actual problem. The root of offense lies in the Constitution
and its inability to defend the rights of minority groups while protecting the
rights of the states. Research and data about the topic was widespread, and
varied in nature from state to state. Possible solutions can be seen as controversial
and outrageous, yet something must be done to find a balance in Congressional
redistricting. While the fight for electoral justice continues to rage, the
voices of the minority and those who challenge it are echoed in the increased awareness
of this issue.