Spotlight: Gerrymandering

[Tuesday, May 4, 2021] You might have heard the news a few weeks back: The U.S. Census Bureau released its preliminary results from the 2020 census, and announced that seven U.S. House seats would shift as a result.

You might also have seen a lot of headlines that looked something like this:

USA Today: “Aggressive gerrymandering could give Republicans a House majority in 2022.”

The decennial census, and the congressional redistricting that follows, has a MASSIVE impact on our political system. But it’s a confusing, jargon-filled process that can be hard to make sense of.

This Off the Sidelines Spotlight breaks it down for you: Redistricting and its implications, the problem with partisan gerrymandering, and what we all can do — now — to protect the progress we’ve made.

A quick civics primer: The House of Representatives has 435 seats, divided among the 50 states based on population.

Every ten years, the U.S. Census Bureau reallocates these 435 congressional seats among states based on census data. States with growing populations may gain seats, states with stagnant or shrinking populations often lose seats.

And just last month, the Census Bureau announced that SEVEN House seats will shift as a result of the 2020 census. Here’s a state-by-state breakdown:

States LOSING House seats: Illinois, New York, California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Michigan

States GAINING House seats: Texas (x2), Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, Montana

Even though only 13 states are either gaining or losing congressional seats, every single state redraws their congressional district lines every ten years.

Here’s the problem, though. Each state sets its own rules for who controls and redraws lines. There isn’t one uniform set of rules (or even federal guidelines) for how states can redraw congressional districts in a fair, non-partisan way.

And the same Republican-led state legislatures that are passing the draconian voter suppression bills we’ve seen across the country are going to manipulate the redistricting process to maintain power.

ger·ry·man·der·ing
/ˈjerēˌmandər/
noun

The practice of dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections

*Merriam-Webster dictionary*

In most states, redistricting is a highly partisan exercise.

Today, only nine states have an independent redistricting commission with primary responsibility for redrawing congressional districts: Arizona, Colorado, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Michigan, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington.

Another six states have an “advisory commission” that may assist the state legislature with redrawing lines: Maine, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, and Utah. And three states have “backup commissions” if their state legislatures cannot agree: Connecticut, Indiana and Ohio.

State legislatures mostly control redistricting in the remaining 32 states, though the rules vary by state. And Republicans control the redistricting process in far more states than Democrats.

The Brennan Center for Justice has flagged Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Texas as four states “at particular risk for abuse” because Republican-controlled state legislatures have unilateral authority over redistricting.

So: Partisan gerrymandering is a serious problem (most gerrymandered states are currently under GOP control) that enables politicians to choose their voters — instead of the other way around. And we’re at serious risk of losing the House in 2022 as a result of this upcoming round of redistricting. What can we do?

  • The single most important thing we can do to put an end to partisan gerrymandering is to pass HR-1, the For the People Act. You’ve likely heard about this bill in the context of voting rights and election reform. The For the People Act also addresses partisan gerrymandering by requiring states to establish a bipartisan, independent commission to redraw House districts.
  • We also need to lean in NOW to supporting frontline, vulnerable House Democrats. This is particularly important in states like Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida, where GOP legislators will be looking to redraw House district lines to make it harder for Democrats to win re-election.

READ | The Brennan Center for Justice breaks down the newly released 2020 census data and its implications

WATCH | John Oliver explains the perils of gerrymandering — true to form, Oliver’s take is hilarious, horrifying, and highly informative

READ | This Vox piece explains the 5–4 Supreme Court decision in 2019 that ruled that federal courts cannot stop partisan gerrymandering

READ | This piece, also from the Brennan Center for Justice, explains why the For the People Act is critical to fair voting maps

READ | There are real policy implications of partisan gerrymandering. This piece, from the Center for American Progress, explores how the politics of gerrymandering prevents state leaders from expanding hugely popular programs to provide child care, education and other supports for families

ADD YOUR NAME: Sign our petition calling on Congress to pass the For the People Act to protect our democracy and put a stop to partisan gerrymandering.

MAKE A DONATION: Any amount you give to Off the Sidelines today will go directly toward helping re-elect frontline Democrats who will save our House majority. Progressive leaders like Rep. Lucy McBath in Georgia, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher in Texas and Rep. Val Demings in Florida need our urgent support to win re-election.

Off The Sidelines is @SenGillibrand’s movement to help women run for office—and win.

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Off The Sidelines

Off The Sidelines

Off The Sidelines is @SenGillibrand’s movement to help women run for office—and win.

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