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June 23, 2021

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Gerrymandering: How are US elections ‘MANIPULATED

10 min read
Us Election

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last november 2020 saw the most contentious election in us history i’m sure you all remember perfectly well what happened the increase in voter turnout postal voting the swing in favor of the democrats and accusations of all kind with no basis that ended with the storming of the capital itself

However that experience served to suddenly raise a lot of questions about how exactly american democracy works and in particular about the tools that can generate electoral results that don’t always correspond to what the majority of the people voted for and no i’m not talking about the allegations poured out by trump or his friend with the horns on capitol hill but rather by things like gerrymandering which is a political instrument quite unknown outside the country but which is a machine for distorting electoral results

All of this was not invented by Clinton or Obama or bush or fox news or whatever supervillain your camp happens to have we are actually talking about a practice that is more than two centuries old that representatives of both the democratic party and the republican party resort to so the question is what is gerrymandering why isn’t this illegal and more importantly what might gerrymandering mean in the coming years today on TWEETASM

we’re going to answer all of those questions but first let’s look at a little bit of history jerry’s salamander the u.s electoral system is complex it does not boil down to who gets the most votes remember for example what happened in 2016 when trump won the election despite having three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton

Something that by the way has happened five times and always benefited the republican party such are the quirks of the electoral college even so this isn’t due to vote manipulation you see as you all know the united states is a federation of 50 states that have been incorporated in dribs and drabs since 1787.

Today its federal form is absolutely consolidated but the differences between the various states have always been evident throughout the years even coming to blows with the american civil war in the mid-19th century and

This is why from the very beginning an electoral mechanism was put into place to fulfill a mission to avoid the victory of a candidate supported only by one region of the country even though that support was very very strong this is why the united states does not vote directly for the president but for the electoral college and whoever gets the most votes in a state gets all the votes of that state in the electoral college

it doesn’t matter how strong the margin of victory is whether you win the state by one point or by 25 the number of delegates you get is the same we all know this and is precisely what explains why there is no correspondence between the popular vote and the final result of the presidential election but the fact that there is no proportionality in the presidential elections does not mean that there is manipulation gerrymandering is not at work here gerrymandering is used in the legislative elections both for the state legislators and for the house of representatives at the federal level why well because in presidential elections each state forms a single constituency

however in the legislative elections the territory of each state is divided to assign a seat to each district and since those in charge of dividing the territory are the politicians themselves it results in gerrymandering producing effects as outrageous as this one republicans won 50.3 percent of north carolina’s votes for congress they took 10 of 13 seats news observer that’s right 10 out of 13 represent 77 of the seats north carolina has in the house of representatives so the democrats with 46 of the votes only received 23 of the seats and here right here

Where gerrymandering comes in because districts are not like states which are geographically defined districts change periodically every 10 years for both the state legislature and for the house of representatives the territory is divided into as many districts as there are seats up for grabs the only requirement is that all districts have more or less the same number of people and then the candidate with the most votes in the district wins that seat so exactly how the district maps are drawn is extremely

Because there are two ways to draw the lens it can be done as it is done in the state of iowa where computer software designed to avoid splitting counties and that does not take into account political interests is used to draw the districts of course when done this way the districts are almost exemplary but unfortunately

this isn’t the norm in most states it has traditionally been the political party that dominates the state register that defines the electoral districts and when they resort to gerrymandering the district maps start to take on some very odd shapes how odd well check out this one from illinois’s 4th congressional district but why on earth is it called that couldn’t they say something simpler like they manipulate rig or distort the maps to get their way in elections well in order to explain why it’s called gerrymandering we have to go back to 1812.

at that time the governor of Massachusetts elders jerry enacted a measure that changed the districts to give an electoral advantage to his party the democratic-republican party founded by thomas jefferson the new district was oddly shaped and a newspaper the Boston gazette published this cartoon the new district took the form of a salamander and so the term gerrymander was born from the combination of the governor’s surname jerry with salamander sounding more like

A pokemon and it’s pretty curious right the point is that the goal of gerrymandering is very simple draw legislative districts maximizing your chances while minimizing your opponent’s options and many of you will say well this doesn’t exactly sound like fair play and surely someone’s trying to stop it right grant well the answer is yes one is William Whitford a law professor at the university of Wisconsin who denounces the gerrymandering that has been practiced by republicans in this state to give you an idea in the last elections the candidates of the democratic party won 53 of the votes

but only got 38 of the congress seats but the democrats also use gerrymandering when they can in maryland for example they designed the map to take seven of the eight districts in play for the house of representatives seems totally legit right the fact is is that whitford is very clear about what exactly gerrymandering is in a democracy citizens are supposed to choose their legislators in wisconsin legislators have chosen their voters through redistricting that makes it practically impossible for democrats to capture a majority in the state assembly no matter how many votes get statewide for democrat candidates William Whitford a university of Wisconsin law professor emeritus professor Whitford made

it all the way to the supreme court well without much success to speak of so do you want to know how the courts have ruled on the matter, of course, you do so stay tuned Gerrymandering has been addressed by the u.s supreme court on numerous occasions and the answer given by the highest federal court has always been the same it’s not very elegant but it is not a matter that the judiciary can control

in 2004 however there was almost a change when the nine justices on supreme court were split over the possibility of placing limits on gerrymandering but in the end it was business as usual the judge decisive in tipping the balance argued that the problem was that the formula for imposing restrictions on gerrymandering that did not involve substantial intrusion into the political life of the nation had not been found yet 14 years later in 2018 gerrymandering took center stage at the supreme court once again and once again it came out on top supreme court declines to set limits on political gerrymandering wall street journal broadly speaking what the supreme court has come to say about gerrymandering is that

it is much better to stay out of politics which is the business of the state parliaments provided however that it is not being used to be prejudicial to a minority with the intention of discriminating on racial grounds in short the u.s supreme court has given the green light to partisan gerrymandering having overcome the judicial hurdle the only barrier to gerrymandering comes from initiatives such as those led by the group voters not politicians we’re talking about activists in michigan who got the necessary support so that the citizens of the state could vote in a referendum on

whether or not they wanted to put an end to this practice once and for all and amazingly voters not politicians achieved their goal and the design of voting districts in Michigan has been placed in the hands of a commission made up of equal parts representatives of the two major parties and citizens chosen by lottery similar commissions have been operating in arizona and california for decades and initiatives like voters not politicians have been replicated in other states like colorado utah and Missouri this is all well and good but there are two problems first this initiative does not work for everyone because it is only considered in about 10 other states and the second is that human beings are often quite contradictory and in missouri that does seem to be the case voters repeal clean missouri redistricting plan they enacted in 2018 missouri independent thanks missouri for making us all look bad but what would you say

if i told you that all this gerrymandering threatens the democratic party’s majority in the next election check this out the census every 10 years the same movie is repeated in the united states the masterpiece independence day i’m kidding all years ending in zero like the last one 2020 are census years and that census triggers a process at a political level redistricting the 435 members of the house of representatives are redistricted every 10 years to give more representation to states that have gained more population versus those that have lost population or have grown less

since the last census in terms of the latest census the change in the white house has been very important and you see one of trump’s last measures was to exclude illegal immigrants from the official census counts something that biden annulled the day after his inauguration and that curiously may have bad consequences for the democratic party by repealing trump’s census order on unauthorized immigrants biden just gave texas gop an extra house seat or two dallas news indeed texas is expected to be the state that will benefit the most from the new reapportionment

Under trump provisions it was going to gain only one representative but by also counting irregular immigrants texas is now expected to gain up to two new seats and florida another one we are talking about two states that have been republican strongholds for more than 20 years on the other hand democratic party strongholds such as illinois new york and california are losing seats and remember that in the last elections for the house of representatives the democrats barely had an advantage of nine representatives so all indications point to the republicans potentially taking over the house majority in the 2022 midterm elections

simply because of the new reapportionment without needing to win more support and at this point it is very very important to underline the importance of gerrymandering why because the increase in the populations of texas and florida comes mostly from the growth on the outskirts of the big cities and the truth is is that the urban voter tends to vote democrat in fact the mayors of the 10 largest u.s cities are from the democratic party that is why gerrymandering will play a decisive role in drawing up the districts in this way the republican party will combine rural areas with areas close to the cities

That its candidates have a chance of winning in fact there is already talk that they are working on maps of places like houston atlanta and ohio to pick up new districts but remember this is not something exclusive to the republican the democratic party is preparing to do the same with the territories they control take new york for example democratic state lawmakers move to redraw their own district lines to ensure majority for years to come recently in the house of representatives the democratic party passed the so-called people’s bill a sweeping bill that would put an end to gerrymandering once and

for all of course nothing will happen in the end because the bill needs a 60-vote super majority in the senate and the text covers too many issues to convince the republican senators that would be required and another thing to be aware of is that as a direct consequence of all this practice is that it fuels polarization of the discussion and of political action so to explain gerrymandering virtually guarantees that a party will sweep a district right so the real battle for candidates is in winning the primary and getting their party’s nomination.

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