It's Time To Ban Congressional Gerrymandering

The electing of congressional representatives is far from fair and square.
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An explanation of how districts are redrawn.

An explanation of how districts are redrawn.

In today’s (supposedly) free American democracy, you probably think that “we the people” choose our congressional representatives, right?

Well, you’d be wrong. You don’t choose your congressional representatives ― your representatives choose you.

In the United States, we vote for our congressmen and women to serve in the house of representatives by districts. The number of districts each state gets is determined by the population of the state. California for example would get more representatives than Delaware because it has a higher population. Seems fair, right? Well, the electing of congressional representatives is actually far from fair and square. And it’s because how these districts are drawn. Whichever party is in power can re-draw the congressional districts to their advantage, so they can swing elections in their favor. This redrawing of districts to pre-determine elections before a single vote has been cast is called Gerrymandering. It is how the party in power picks its voters, instead of the voters choosing their representatives. It’s how the majority party can keep a power-grab on congressional seats, even if most of the population votes for the other party. And drawing districts to a party’s advantage is completely legal. Congressional Gerrymandering should be banned in the United States because it goes against the American principles of a free democracy.

Political cartoon about gerrymandering.

Political cartoon about gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering takes power away from the voters. It makes it so the voters don’t really pick their representatives, but vice versa. Even if the voters overwhelmingly pick one party, with gerrymandering, the other party can still get in power. That is not democracy at all. Gerrymandering is how the Democrats won a majority of over 1 million more congressional votes than Republicans, in a recent election, but they still lost 33 congressional seats to the GOP. Gerrymandering is completely undemocratic. How can we call a system that completely bypasses the wishes of the voters, a democracy? A democracy is supposed to be a system where the citizens have power through their votes, and where leaders are selected solely by the people. Gerrymandering turns what democracy is supposed to be on its head. It takes power away from the voters and puts it into the hands of the powerful. It also corrodes the integrity of a democracy and paves the way for a very unpopular Congress and equally unpopular laws.

“Whichever party is in power can re-draw the congressional districts to their advantage, so they can swing elections in their favor.”

Gerrymandering leaves the voters dissatisfied and discouraged with their Congress, and American democracy as a whole. Because gerrymandering takes away power from voters, it leaves voters feeling disempowered, to the point where they don’t want to vote or engage in civic action anymore. And because it’s the powerful choosing their constituents, and not vice versa, often, constituents are not happy with who their representatives are. On average, between 10 and 15 percent of Americans approve of Congress – and polls also found that there is more public support for traffic jams and lice than Congress. When asked to choose which they preferred, 67% of people surveyed picked head lice over Congress. And yet, in the 2016 election, only eight congressional representatives were defeated when they ran for re-election.

As for the way gerrymandering disempowers, in 2010, many Tea Party activists wanted to have their voices heard. But they then realized that their own representatives were either Democrats in blue districts or Republicans in red districts. Those representatives would not listen to the Tea Party activists because the gerrymandered electoral map meant that they didn’t need to. Congress is extremely unpopular, thanks to gerrymandering, but because of gerrymandering, voters can’t choose new representatives. It’s a vicious cycle. Gerrymandering also leaves voters feeling powerless, because why bother lobbying or voting when the result is already predetermined? Congressional gerrymandering makes it so that Congress is unpopular, and voters feel powerless, but some people have argued that gerrymandering is a good thing.

An artistic representation of how parties pick their voters instead of vice versa.

An artistic representation of how parties pick their voters instead of vice versa.

Some people (usually the party that is in power and is using gerrymandering to its advantage) say that gerrymandering is fine, because both Democrats and Republicans gerrymander, so the playing field is equal. Because both sides are allowed to gerrymander, and are guilty of it, pro-gerrymandering people say that the system is fair and that there is no reason to ban gerrymandering. But actually, the playing field is not equal at all. Republicans have an overwhelming control of the Senate and Congress, with 247 seats in The House and 54 in the Senate, not because they win the most votes, but because they have gerrymandered the majority of the United States, which allows them to hold onto their power. But even if the tides turn and Democrats gain back power and gerrymander Republicans out of office, it’s still not fair. Gerrymandering is just undemocratic. In the long run, it ends up hurting both sides and our entire democracy. Polls confirm that an overwhelming majority of Americans of all sides of the political spectrum, oppose gerrymandering. Gerrymandering allows for the country to be even more consumed by partisan fighting, and it is eating away at our democracy.

Because it goes against the American principles of a free democracy, congressional Gerrymandering should be banned in the United States. It takes power away from the voters, makes congress unpopular, discourages voters from participating in their democracy, and even though a certain political party is benefiting from it at the moment, in the long run, gerrymandering ends up hurting everyone. Gerrymandering is essentially why American democracy is broken. Lynn Westmoreland, the Republican redistricting vice chair in the House, says that gerrymandering is “the nastiest form of politics that there is.” The longer we let our congressional districts be decided by partisans, either Democrat or Republican, the closer we are to the death of American democracy.

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