In the United States, we believe that each person has one vote and that each vote counts equally among all other votes. But what if I told you that that is far from the case. Gerrymandering, which is the practice of drawing district lines for a political advantage, ensures us that not all votes contribute equally to election outcomes. Particularly in the past decade, advanced computing and data gathering has turned the art of manipulating district borders into a science. And using this science, a particular party can be all but guaranteed a win on election day in a given area.
Central Claim: Gerrymandering harms democracy in the United States.
Claim 1: Gerrymandering ensures that not all votes contribute equally to election outcomes.
Grounds: advanced computing and data gathering has turned the art of manipulating district boarders into a science. By using this science, a particular party can be all but guaranteed a win on election day in a given area.
Backing: If a state or city’s population consistently votes 60 percent for one party over another, you might expect that the majority of elected officials in that area would be from the leading party. However, through gerrymandering, district boundaries can be drawn in such a way that the minority party wins a greater number of seats. (Ellenburg, Gerrymandering driven by technology, not simply politics)
Sub backing- As mathematics professor and author Jordan Ellenberg wrote in a New York times article published in October 6, 2017, “About as many Democrats live in Wisconsin as Republicans do, but you wouldn’t know it from the Wisconsin State Assembly, where Republicans hold 65% of the seats, a bigger majority than Republican legislators enjoy in conservative states like Texas and Kentucky”.
Claim 2: Gerrymandering is hardly a new problem. Politicians have engaged in it for hundreds of years.
Backing: Political Scientist Brian Klaas described the term’s history in a February 10, 2017, article in the Washington Post: The word ‘gerrymander’ comes from an 1812 political cartoon drawn to parody Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry’s re-drawn senate districts. The cartoon depicts one of the bizarrely shaped districts in the contorted form of a fork tongued salamander. Since 1812, gerrymandering has been increasingly used as a tool to divide and distort the electorate. More often than not, state legislatures are tasked with drawing district maps, allowing the electoral foxes to draw and defend their henhouse districts.
Sub backing- Klass further argues, gerrymandering has resulted in uncompetitive elections across much of the country: In 2016, only 17 seats out of 435 races were decided by a margin of 5 percent or less. Just 33 seats in total were decided by a margin of 10 percent or less. In other words, more than 9 out of 10 House races were landslides where the campaign was a foregone conclusion before ballots were even cast. In 2016, there were no truly competitive congressional races in 42 of the 50 states (Wasserman).
Claim 3: While gerrymandering has long existed, evolving technology has dramatically changed how the practice affects elections.
Grounds: High-Powered computers and access to demographic and voting data records allow politicians to predict how small changes to districting lines might alter electoral outcomes.
Backing: (Ellenburg) New York Times “Gerrymandering used to be an art, but advanced computation has made it a science. Wisconsin’s Republican legislators, after their victory in the census year of 2010, tried out map after map, tweak after tweak. They ran each potential map through computer algorithms that tested its performance in a wide range of political climates. The map they adopted is precisely engineered to assure Republican control in all but the most extreme circumstances.”
Claim 4: As gerrymandering has become more mathematically sophisticated, fair elections advocates are challenging the practice in both state and federal courts.
Grounds: In Pennsylvania, fair election advocates have based their case against a highly gerrymandered districting map on the state constitution.
Backing: As law professor David S. Cohen wrote in a January 23, 2018 in Rolling Stone: “The Pennsylvania Supreme Court gave a big boost to [the effort to reduce partisan gerrymandering] by ruling the state’s congressional map was unconstitutionally gerrymandered. Better yet, the ruling should be final and unreviewable by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Sub backing: (Cohen)This was one of the most closely watched gerrymandering cases in the country. In every election since the state map was redrawn by Republicans in 2011, Republicans have won the same 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, despite Pennsylvania voting for President Obama in 2012 by over 5 percent and only barely favoring President Trump in 2016 by less than 1 percent.
Sub backing: (Cohen)What makes this case so important is that it was decided by a state supreme court on the basis of state constitutional law and when a state supreme court makes a decision on the basis of its own state’s law, the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t review the case. It’s as if a different country’s court system decided a case under that country’s law. The U.S. Supreme Court would have no say. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court made this clear saying explicitly that it reached its conclusion on the ‘sole basis’ of the state constitution. (Wolf and Weiser)
Conclusion: Now that I have defined gerrymandering for you, explained how it hurts our democracy, and given an example of current cases against it, I would like you to take that forward with you as a young voter. For in the future, hopefully you will get a change to vote on gerrymandering and you will vote against it. Because you want your vote to count equally among all other votes.
Cohen, David S. “Pennsylvania Court Rejects Congressional Gerrymandering.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 25 June 2018, https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-news/pennsylvania-court-rejects-congressional-gerrymandering-126236/
This article goes more in depth in the Pennsylvania case on gerrymandering. Describes gerrymandering as being unconstitutional. I used this article for the Pennsylvania case. Cohen points out the significance of this case and how it can help in the future if gerrymandering goes away. I also used his points on how Pennsylvania determined the results on their case on the bases of a states decision rather than the United States Supreme court decision.
Ellenberg, Jordan. ‘Gerrymandering driven by technology, not simply politics.’ The Post and Courier 6 October 2017. Online Article. https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/commentary/gerrymandering-driven-by-technology-not-simply-politics/article_d5231ad6-aabe-11e7-bb8a-3fcc7b2741d6.html
In this article, Ellenberg goes in depth of the technology side of gerrymandering. It is described
as a computer science where particular programs can collect data from surveys being done and help map out an area to help a particular party. Ellenburg defines gerrymandering and gives examples throughout the article. I used this article for the computer science aspect of gerrymandering.
—. ‘How computers turned gerrymandering into a science.’ The New York Times 6 October 2017. Online Article. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/06/opinion/sunday/computers-gerrymandering-wisconsin.html
In this article, Ellenberg does the same as the previous article, it describes gerrymandering as a computer science. I used this article because it gives a good description of how Republicans in
Wisconsin tested out this computer science by running their maps through different scenarios to
see what outcomes could be achieved. It shows how it maps out your districts to give you a win in the larger districts and a loss in the smaller ones.
Klaas, Brian. “Gerrymandering Is the Biggest Obstacle to Genuine Democracy in the United States. So Why Is No One Protesting?” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/democracy-post/wp/2017/02/10/gerrymandering-is-the-biggest-obstacle-to-genuine-democracy-in-the-united-states-so-why-is-no-one-protesting/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.908ae045baaa
In this article, Klass gives a detailed definition of gerrymandering, what it is, where it came from,
And examples. He also describes elections being won by landslides due to gerrymandering. Klass gives reasons as to why gerrymandering is harmful to democracy and he also describes
situations of where gerrymandering can be beneficial. I used this article to give a history of gerrymandering and to give an example of how it makes elections unfair.
Wolf, Thomas P. and Wendy R. Weiser. ‘The Supreme Court sidestepped partisan gerrymandering.oters need a decision before 2021.’ The Los Angeles Times 19 June 2018. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-weiser-wolf-gerrymander-scotus-20180619-story.html
This article describes different court cases throughout the country involving gerrymandering. It describes gerrymandering as harmful and gives examples to back that up. I used this article for it’s information on the Pennsylvania gerrymandering case.
Evans, James. ‘What is gerrymandering in the U.S. and what is an example?’ Quora 12 October 2017. online article. https://www.quora.com/What-is-gerrymandering-in-the-US-and-what-is-an-example
Wasserman, David. ‘Presidential Election Results: Donald J. Trump Wins.’ The New York Times 9 August 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/elections/2016/results/president
This website gives election results from 2016, presidency, senate, house, exit polls, and, state results. I used this article to provide credibility on Klass’s statements on ‘elections being won by landslides’. It does have other links in the website that provides you with breakdowns of how each state was won as well.
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