Running head: THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 1 The Case for Responsible Congressional Apportionment Joshua Deese Palm Beach State College
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 2 The Case for Responsible Congressional Apportionment “There could be an unprecedented redistricting war, and both sides are going into it fully armed,” says Michael Li, an attorney and electoral politics scholar (Pierce & Rabinowitz). The issue of congressional redistricting and apportionment has been at the forefront of American electoral politics since the dawn of the republic. Political scholars in favor of gerrymandering claim that it helps lower the cost of elections, making the voting bloc more compact and concentrated. Those against gerrymandering claim that the practice effectively makes congressional races less competitive, less fair, and unnecessarily focused on race and partisan politics. Indeed, partisan gerrymandering should not be allowed as it deprives voters of their entitled right to fair, free, and open elections, which can and will lead to potentially irrevocable consequences for our political and electoral systems. Redistricting and apportionment have been in place in America’s electoral system since the first United States Census in 1790. Although similar, these two terms are different. Redistricting refers to the process in which lines are drawn on a congressional map to divide up electoral districts. This usually depends on the amount of seats contained within a state. Apportionment is the process in which the number of seats/districts remains, is added, or is subtracted from the state. This is based on changes in population based on the previous census. Seats can be gained, lost, or remain the same. For example, “Some areas of the state now have fewer residents due to several factors including Hurricane Katrina. Other areas have more population.” (Public Affairs Research Council, 2011). The United States Congress is comprised of 2 chambers, the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate. The Senate holds
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 3 100 Senators, where there are 2 per state. The House holds 435 Representatives, where there are a certain number of seats/districts allocated to each state, based on their population at the time of the most recent census. Seats can be added or subtracted based on these population shifts, thus, prompting the redrawing of congressional districting map lines in order to make the districts more representative and equal to the communities housed within them. Moreover, these lines also affect how other races, including those for circuit court judgeships, school board seats, city, and county council seats, which undoubtedly have a larger and more immediate effect on communities, compared to the United States Congress. Finally, after redrawing the map, it is usually up to (in most states) the state’s legislature to review and approve the new lines. A smaller amount of states use an independent commission, consisting of mostly civilians and some government leaders to receive constituent feedback, create a plan of proposed districts, and ultimately approve them. The difference here is that state legislatures have the opportunity to skew the lines on a partisan basis, whereas the independent commission is mostly an assortment of citizens chosen at random, swearing an oath to remain unpartisan and unaffected by political thought, beliefs, or ideologies. Figure 1: Gerrymandering Explained
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 4 Gerrymandering is the process of drawing electoral district lines to the effect in which a particular minority group (political party, race, socio-economic background, religion, etc.) is at a disadvantage over a majority group. This prevents the minority from having a fair and equal opportunity to have their candidates, values, and votes have an effective impact on the outcome of the election. Professor Coleeza states that it is important to note “a minority is a group of people that is different from other groups in some important way AND that has often been discriminated against because of that difference” (Public Affairs Research Council, 2011). The term “gerrymandering” comes from Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced gahr-ree), who drew the state’s electoral districts in such a way, many took notice of its shape – an apparent salamander or dragon, thus giving him the namesake. Figure 2: Original “Gerrymander” Map The act of gerrymandering is illegal, if done for racial purposes, or any other form of discrimination towards a protected class. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling (Gill v. Whitford) that gerrymandering in this sense was illegal, as it violated the “One Person,
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 5 One Vote” standard of the Equal Protection Clause, there continue to be attempts to unfairly skew the maps through party lines. It is much harder to prove partisan gerrymandering. Moreover, recent court challenges have placed the burden on the plaintiff to produce sufficient evidence proving the violation of one’s right to a fair vote, as well as the extent of said injury, and other contributing factors. Critics argue that elected officials seek to have congressional districts drawn in a way that minimizes the number of contested races (Bump, 2013). It’s in both the best interests of the parties and the voters, as fewer competitive races mean less fundraising efforts and staffing needs on the campaign trail and election season overall. This creates a much more cohesive district, therefore ensuring that a larger amount of voters actually get the representation they want. Further, opponents of doing away with gerrymandering claim that the practice makes electoral races even more competitive (O’Connor, 2013). The argument that gerrymandering allows for a better electoral process is a flawed one. Gerrymandering takes a huge toll on the integrity of America’s elections, costs millions of taxpayer dollars to combat and reverse, and has the potential of changing the American political landscape dramatically, in ways that harm the civic fabric of the United States. For instance, critics argue that gerrymandering makes political races more competitive. However, just as recently as June 2018, the issue of gerrymandering came up in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, when lines were disproportionately drawn for Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District. The Court ruled that the lines must be “much more competitive” (Wines, 2018), so as to not yield an unfair advantage to a specific party or incumbent. The Court eventually drew the lines themselves and made them more equal. The lines were drawn and approved in 2011 by the Republican-led legislature, and
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 6 were later corrected in 2018. The result of this gerrymandering allowed for 7 years of unfair representation and immeasurable amounts of government waste and taxpayer funds. This is hardly the type of government responsibility and oversight we expect from our lawmakers. Figure 4: A graphic depicting the 2018 controversy over Pennsylvania’s 7th district (following page). The argument for responsible congressional apportionment doesn’t just stop at elections becoming more competitive. The current redistricting system in place is a broken one. Most state legislatures appear to draw partisan lines when making their maps, tending to favor the majority. This phenomena of political bias leaves room for dangerous precedents to be set. Despite rules and laws set in place by both the United States Supreme Court and the Federal Elections Commission, gerrymandering is still practiced today, under the guise of creating equal districts that benefit the constituency.
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 7 Michael Wines, political reporter at The New York Times states that even federal Members of Congress have influence on state’s lines. Professional data makers were summoned to the U.S. Capitol to meet with top Congressional leadership, to format new maps on special computer software. Some members, from both parties, even made explicit requests to leave their district alone, thus leaving it untouched and giving the incumbent an uneven advantage towards any outside competing candidate (Wines, 2018). The issue of cracking and packing are also issues that come out from these unfair practices. Cracking refers to the practice of vote dilution, where the minority is spread so thin over different districts, that their electoral influence has little-to-no impact on voting. Packing refers to the practice of placing pockets of minority voters in one district or area, so as to not interfere with other districts. In short, these are all sleazy back-room political tricks that are used to undermine the American public and take away from the legitimacy of the American electoral process. The United States has a history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement. The increase of this type of political and electoral behavior simply go against the “One Person, One Vote” standard set forth by the Supreme Court of the United States. These malicious actions muddy up the essential integrity of elections, allowing inconsistent and unfair trends to skew towards the majority. According to Marozzi (2016), in reference to the State of Ohio, claims: In 2012, Republican congressional candidates received just over half of the statewide vote, yet they won 75% of the seats. In 2014, Republican candidates received 57% of the statewide vote and yet again they hold 75% of congressional seats. This is not democracy; this is rigging elections. Gerrymandering is obvious
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 8 in swing states like Ohio. Ohioans voted for a Democratic president in 2008 and 2012, a Republican Governor in 2010 and 2014 and since 1975 both parties in the US Senate have represented Ohio evenly. And yet three-quarters of our Congressmen are Republican? Skewed district lines consolidates the power of the party in control and leaves voters with less accountable elected officials, with less pressure to solve the problems facing all voters. Figures 5 and 6: Comparisons of gerrymandering on a district and state level To better bolster the integrity of our nation’s elections, many look westwards towards California, to look at their approach. The Voters First Act, passed by voters in 2008, gave birth to the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a 14-person body. The panel consist of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 members of parties that are neither Democrat nor Republican. These members are chosen at random in a lottery-type selection, in a pool of other commission applicants. The Commission took into account factors including, but not limited to: population equality (one person, one vote), the Federal Voting Rights Act (ensuring equal opportunities for minority voters), and geographic integrity (the breaking up of cities, counties, and neighborhoods must be kept to a minimum. There was a great deal of opposition to this system – the vote had passed
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 9 by less than 2 percent. Many expressed that it was unconstitutional, though, it was later upheld in a U.S. Supreme Court case (Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission) that an Arizona Commission of the same design, claiming that it was within the state’s rights to create an independent commission. As the State of Michigan looks to whether or not it will follow suit with California, Senior Public Policy Writer Ron French of Michigan Bridge interviewed three members of the commission to reflect on their work. When asked what the Californians thought of the initative 8 years later, one commission member said “Everywhere we go, people say ‘We love our district.'” (French, 2018). Another member responded “There’s overwhelming public support. Even now, I have people telling me ‘I’m so glad you guys drew the lines because you guys were listening to us.’ To the extent that the public has rallied around the process, I think politicians backed up a little” (French, 2018). Despite claims that gerrymandering and the ability for legislators to draw lines their way should remain, there are a growing number of examples of states creating fairer, more cost-effective and transparent representation in Congress. One policy recommendation to consider is to persuade our state legislators and executives to pave the way for independent review commissions. This would allow for a more equal map drawing process, which with growing trends, would lead to a more equally represented nation. Of course, politicians and powerful stakeholders will not yield to this goal so easily. Another policy remedy which may be effective in swaying over legislators would be to create a federal mandate which gives states tax breaks and credit incentives, should they choose to use the independent commission model. Finally, a rating system by the Federal Election Commission may be implemented, publicly rating each state on election
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 10 fairness and transparency, against a rubric of criteria goals. This may add political pressure to those in power, making them more maleable to changing their views or vote. In today’s particularly tumultuous political climate, power politics has taken the mold of a very frightening creature. With corruption hopped up on powerdrunkenness, the pillars of our democracy are at risk of erosion, if not worse. We must stand up for our right to vote freely and fairly. If a voter’s conditions are not fair in their voting situation, it is their right to demand and express the need for a more transaprent process. This ensures that the sanctities of liberty, equality, and responsible leadership will be preserved. Until that day comes, however, it is important to harken back to Michael Li’s words. “There could be an unprecedented redistricting war, and both sides are going into it fully armed” (Pierce ; Rabinowitz). As community organizers and legislators gear up to take their side of the fence, one thing is for sure: there will be all-out political war.
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 11 References Bump, P. (2013, October 29). No, Gerrymandering Is Not Destroying Democracy. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/07/no-gerrymandering-not-destroying-democracy/312772/ French, R. (2018, July/August). California’s redistricting commission has some free advice for Michigan. Retrieved from https://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/californias-redistricting-commission-has-some-free-advice-michigan II, V. R. (2018, June 18). The Supreme Court Punts on Partisan Gerrymandering. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/06/partisan-gerrymandering-stands-for-now/563063/ Lopez, A. (2018, July 22). After Supreme Court Punts On Gerrymandering, Democrats Make It A Campaign Issue. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2018/07/22/630635629/after-supreme-court-punts-on-gerrymandering-democrats-make-it-a-campaign-issue Marozzi, J. C. (2016, June 6). Four Reasons Gerrymandering is Killing Democracy. Retrieved from https://www.fairdistrictsohio.org/blog/four-reasons-gerrymandering-is-killing-democracy O’Connor, P. (2013, July 28). House Districts Keep Getting Safer. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324170004578634270313876136 Pierce, O., ; Rabinowitz, K. (n.d.). ‘Partisan’ Gerrymandering Is Still About Race. Retrieved from https://www.propublica.org/article/partisan-gerrymandering-is-still-about-race Public Affairs Research Council. (2011, February). Reapportionment ; Redistricting. Retrieved from https://www.nfoic.org/sites/default/files/Redistricting-Fact-Sheet.pdf
THE CASE FOR RESPONSIBLE CONGRESSIONAL APPORTIONMENT 12 Shapiro, C. (2018, June 19). With gerrymandering, Supreme Court hangs on Justice Kennedy’s words. Retrieved from http://thehill.com/opinion/judiciary/393012-with-gerrymandering-supreme-court-hangs-on-justice-kennedys-words G. (2018, January 25). Should Partisan Gerrymandering Be Illegal? Retrieved from https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/should-partisan-gerrymandering-be-illegal/ Wines, M. (2018, January 29). Just How Bad Is Partisan Gerrymandering? Ask the Mapmakers. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/29/us/gerrymander-political-maps-maryland.html