This is the second in a five-part series educating the public about the benefits of passing the For the People Act.
Make no mistake, this is democracy in reverse. Rather than voters being able to pick the politicians, the politicians are trying to cherry-pick their voters. I say this cannot stand. … that sacred and noble idea, one person, one vote is being threatened right now. Politicians in my home state and all across America in their craven lust for power launched a full-fledged assault on voting rights. They are focused on winning at any cost, even the cost of the democracy itself. … It is the job of this body to do all that it can to defend the viability of our democracy. And that’s why I am a proud cosponsor of the For the People Act, which we introduced today.Sen. Raphael Warnock
In his first speech on the floor of the Senate, delivered on March 17, Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia spoke passionately about the need to defend American democracy with the For the People Act. One of the specific elements of the bill that he called out is the political trick of gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in order to give one party an unfair advantage in elections.
Before we talk about how the For the People Act (FTPA) would ensure that gerrymandering no longer impacts — or decides — our elections, let’s make sure we understand what gerrymandering looks like and what it does.
Imagine the first block (left) is the map of a state with 50 voters and five separate districts within it. As we can see in the three accompanying “maps,” there are various ways to draw the boundaries of each district to place a different majority in power.
Here is another “map” showing specific strategies for gerrymandering districts, called “packing” and “cracking.”
The first map is competitive with an equal number of red voters and blue voters, so candidates have to work and listen to the voters to get elected. Red voters in the second map are concentrated into one all-red district, which gives the blue party the chance to sweep the other districts. In the last map, the blue voters have been overly concentrated in one district and then spread across the remaining three, making it hard for blue candidates to win a majority. One district, three ways to break up the voters.
For a real-life example, look no further than the maps many states have been using for the past 10 years, which were drawn after the 2010 census. North Carolina’s map was so egregious that in 2018, although Republicans only took 50.3% of the vote for Congress, they won 10 out of 13 seats, or about 70% of the seats.
In fact, due to the redistricting based on the 2010 census, the Brennan Center for Justice determined that 16 or 17 Republicans in the House of Representatives were elected due to gerrymandering.
The For the People Act takes concrete steps to stop gerrymandering, which contributes to the polarization of our politics and allows politicians to pick their voters. It requires that all states use independent, bipartisan redistricting commissions and outlaws drawing partisan district maps.
The FTPA prohibits the adoption of any map that has the intent or effect of “unduly favoring or disfavoring” one political party over another. This isn’t rocket science, but it is science. Over the years, researchers have developed several methods to determine potential gerrymandering, intentional or not, and the FTPA sets out a standardized, two-part statistical test that easily indicates maps that create bias and need to be redrawn.
To further support the creation of competitive congressional districts, the FTPA establishes uniform rules that every state must follow when drawing boundaries. These rules include enhanced protections to make sure the political effectiveness of communities of color is not diluted (see “cracking” above). It also includes a mandate to keep towns, neighborhoods, and other geographic areas where people have shared identities and common interests together in one district. An example of this impact can be seen in California in the 2000s when San Luis Obispo County was divided into several different districts.
The FTPA also will require that congressional redistricting be transparent and participatory, with open meetings and public hearings. This rule ensures that average Americans can be a part of the process. For instance, in 2011 Republicans in Pennsylvania redrew maps that radically favored their own party but they did not make the map public until right before the bill was up for a vote in the state senate, where it passed. “In 2010, the politicians were thinking very hard on how to draw maps,” said Jon Eguia, an applied game theorist at Michigan State University. “So in 2011, [those politicians] drew a lot of very bad maps in very many states. Now we’re all paying attention.”
Lastly, the bill requires that states carry out congressional redistricting using independent commissions. Instead of allowing party-affiliated state politicians to draw the maps, the FTPA gives this authority to a bipartisan citizen commission, ensuring that people of all parties approve of the new maps. The commission will be made up of qualified, diverse citizens and the process will be open to the public and will solicit their input.
The FTPA boldly proclaims we have had enough of gerrymandering, enough of politicians picking their voters instead of earning the people’s vote. Since the Supreme Court removed itself from the issue in its 2019 ruling that partisan gerrymandering did not violate the Constitution and thus could not be overruled by federal courts, it is up to the states to fix their own corrupt mess. And that’s why we the people must stand up and demand that our legislators pass the For the People Act!
All this week DemCast is focusing on educating the public about the benefits of the For the People Act and the urgent need to pass the bill in order to protect our democracy. To catch up on all articles, just click the links.
- Monday: Protecting the Freedom to Vote
- Wednesday: Getting Big Money Out of Politics
- Thursday: Election Security
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