What Is Gerrymandering? Supreme Court To Decide If The Political Strategy Is Constitutional
The nuances of politics can often be confusing. More often than not, Americans aren't familiar with or don't understand the complexities of voting, as well as the behind-the-scenes manipulation of America's political processes. One of these complexities is known as gerrymandering, an act which as of Monday is being debated by the Supreme Court on the basis of its constitutionality. So, what is gerrymandering?
In short, gerrymandering is when a political party manipulates boundaries within a voting district for its political advantage. Gerrymandering has been going on for decades, but reached a fever pitch in the 2012 election cycle when the GOP took over Congress in a large 234 to 201 margin, according to The New York Times.
In the 2016 case of Gill v. Whitford, a three-judge panel in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin ruled the state's restructuring of its electoral districts in 2011, a plan drawn up by Republicans, was an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander," according to NPR. The ruling ultimately found that the redistricting was biased towards Republicans, causing them to win 61 percent of the 99 districts despite the party winning just 48.6 percent of the two-party votes for state Representative in 2012. The lower court ruled the redistricting violated amendments of the U.S. Constitution, a decision that Republicans appealed to the Supreme Court. Now that the case will be heard by the Supreme Court, it marks the first "partisan gerrymandering case to go to trial in 30 years," according to the Campaign Legal Center.
Up until Monday, the lack of legal intervention in gerrymandering has created an environment in which there's still no "discernible and manageable standard for identifying unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders," according to to The Washington Post. If the Supreme Court rules against the state, it will set a strong legal precedent for future cases of gerrymandering. Additionally, if the state does lose its case, it will have to come up with a new redistricting plan by Nov. 1.
Now that this landmark gerrymandering case is set to go to trial, here is an explanation of the different types of gerrymandering and what each tactic actually means.
According to RedistrictingGame.org, cracking is when a party spreads "like-minded voters apart across multiple districts to dilute their voting power in each. This denies the group representation in multiple districts."
Packing is the opposite of cracking, but the tactics achieve the same goal of partisan manipulation. According to RedistrictingTheNation.org, "packing concentrates members of a group in a single district, thereby allowing the other party to win the remainder of the districts."
Hijacking is a bit more complicated than cracking and packing. Hijacking is when the party in power pits two rival incumbents against each other, forcing the candidates to undergo an intense and costly primary election. Once the general election rolls around, the winning incumbent, now weakened from an intense primary election, faces off with a strong candidate from the party in power. According to Politico, "if a state loses seats in Congress, the party in power will often pit two minority-party incumbents against each other in one district."
According to OccasionalPlanet.org, kidnapping is when a state legislature manipulates the system by "separating an incumbent candidate from his constituents and placing him or her in a district where he or she has no name recognition." This can occur when a politician's home address ends up in a district other than its base.
Although it remains to be seen how the Supreme Court will rule today, it's obvious something needs to be done about gerrymandering in America. Instances of gerrymandering dilute the voting power of constituents, and it weakens the true meaning of democracy. If the Supreme Court rules against Wisconsin on Monday, it will send a message to both Democrats and Republicans that manipulating voting districts for political gain is completely unacceptable.