Redistricting or Reapportionment
Find Your State's District Maps/Redistricting Plan
- A Brief History of Gerrymandering
- Maryland Gerrymandering
- Solutions to Gerrymandering
- Does Non-Partisan Redistricting Actually Work?
- Redistricting Games
IntroductionFive ways the NY Times depicts gerrymandering
After each decennial census, a state must redraw its congressional districts to match population shifts within the state and incorporate any new or lost seats due to immigration in or out of the state. In most states, state legislatures redraw the district. Redistricting has become a purely partisan exercise and new districts often represent the interests of the party that controls the state legislature rather than the communities in the state or really anything else. How did gerrymandering begin? What effect does gerrymandering have on politics? And what can we do to limit gerrymandering? Katina Burley, Pete Burnes, Jonathan Holtzman, Ame Roberts, Marissa Sims, and Nicole Zimmerman address these questions here.(Table of Contents)
A Brief History of Gerrymandering
The political practice of redrawing and organizing districts is nearly as old as America itself. According to a historical overview published by the Illinois Republican Party, Patrick Henry was one of the earliest known public officials to utilize the tactic. In 1788, he and his cohorts reconfigured the borders of Virginia's 5th district. This maneuver was designed to prevent James Madison and his Federalists from acquiring a Congressional seat.
Gerrymandering did not acquire its unique and colorful name until several decades after Patrick Henry's boldly strategic move. The Massachusetts Historical Society asserts that, in 1812, a Massachusetts governor by the name of Elbridge Gerry approved a redistricting measure that was intended to provide the Jeffersonian Republicans with a crucial seat in the state legislature. A prominent newspaper caught wind of the story and published a drawing which depicted the newly reshaped Essex County as a monstrous, salamander-like creature. This image resonated with nearly everyone who laid eyes on it. Its popularity effectively ingrained the term "Gerrymandering" into the public's memory.
Source: "The Birth of the Gerrymander." Massachusetts Historical Society, September 2008.
Throughout much of America's history, gerrymandering has remained an unspoken, and largely unaddressed, political norm. A piece published in a recent edition of the Maryland Law Review asserts that this is primarily due to the fact that, until the latter half of the 20th century, states essentially had the authority to redefine their districts on their own terms. Their decisions were subject to very little government scrutiny. According to several prominent Political Science professors at Franklin and Marshall College, it was not until the landmark Baker v. Carr decision was reached in 1962 that the Supreme Court was able to hear and pass judgment on issues relating to reapportionment. This case set the stage for a number of other verdicts which gradually expanded the Federal Government's ability to regulate gerrymandering practices over the next several decades. However, despite these safeguards, gerrymandering continues to be utilized in extremely questionable and often immoral ways by politicians seeking desperately to gain political influence. As a result, thousands of unsuspecting citizens are callously marginalized.
In 1964 the United States Supreme Court established "fair and effective representation" as the basic goal of legislative apportionment. This ruling was followed by the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This act was enacted in order to prohibit Southern states from effectively blocking their black populations from voting. In the cases the Supreme Court has recently decided, Sections 2 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act have been under intense scrutiny. It is important, then, to be familiar with the basic provision of section 2, which states: "A. No voting qualification to voting or standard, practice or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgment of the right of any citizen of the United Stated to vote on account of race or color, or in contravention of guarantee." Section 5 provides that jurisdictions covered by these special provisions were not to implement any change affecting voting until the Attorney General or the United States District Court of the District of Columbia determined that the change did not have a discriminatory purpose and would not have a discriminatory effect.
Another largely influential case involving gerrymandering was Davis v. Bandemer in the 1980's. The case came from a redistricting dispute in the state of Indiana. The state would swing Republican to Democratic on a fairly normal basis. The Republicans controlled the General Assembly when the 1980 census was taken, and they reapportioned the state to exclude the Democratic minority. In 1982, multiple Democratic organizations challenged the decision claiming that the Republican's partisan gerrymandering interfered with the Equal Protection Clause. The Supreme Court upheld the gerrymandering, stating that it was justifiable under the 14th Amendment, because there was no proof that the gerrymandering would hurt Democrats in future elections. The action merely created "safe seats;" there was no proof that it was racially charged or meant to discriminate any particular groups. The case is very controversial; many believe that it is a stamp of approval by the Supreme Court on gerrymandering, while others suggest that it makes it easier for self-interested Congressmen to manipulate the districts.(Table of Contents)
Late in 2011, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley offered his proposed redistricting plan for the State of Maryland in accordance with the 2010 census. The plan was widely panned by critics, including those who support non-partisan districting, on the grounds that it was very clearly designed to result in the election of 7 and not 6 Democratic members of the House of Representatives.
Both major market papers for Maryland, The Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post, came out against the proposed redistricting plan, and by mid-2012, sufficient signatures had been submitted to the State Board of Elections that the map was to be put to a referendum on the 2012 ballot.
The plan was sustained by a vote of 64.1% to 35.9%, a margin much higher than the partisan split that is generally observed in Maryland political demography, and compared to the DREAM Act question, which passed by 58.9%, or the Civil Marriage Protection Act question, which passed by 52.4%, truly won on a bipartisan basis, in spite of its blatantly partisan nature. This may be due in part to the nebulous wording of the question text, which read "Establishes the boundaries for the State's eight United States Congressional Districts based on recent census figures, as required by the United States Constitution." This vagueness does not hint at the changes that were made to the demography of the districts, essentially leaving voters to do external research on the subject. And since the question was put at the same time as much more capital intensive initiatives (civil marriage, DREAM Act, gambling) there was little political capital left for activists to advocate for the rejection of the proposed redistricting.
We have included a sample map that takes into consideration the 2010 census that is far less gerrymandered than either the 2010 map or the 2000 map for that matter; it would likely result in no more than two Republican congresspeople being elected, one from the Eastern Shore, and one from western Maryland, as it had been in Maryland for most of the 2000s.
Mary-Monster: A new mutation which appeared in and around Lord Baltimore's Old Manor in 2011
2011 Maryland Congressional District 3
"The Pinwheel of Death" (ROLLCALL)
"The Most Gerry-mandered District in America"
"A Broken-Winged Pterodactyl, Lying Prostrate Across the Center of the State"
Alas, our above sample fair map will never see the light of day. Instead, the state of Maryland will be disfuntioning with a plot nominated by The New Republic to include "the most gerrymandered district in America," which is Congressional District 3, also described by one unnamable but oft-quoted federal judge as a "broken winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state." Such is the nature of redistricting used to advance political interests instead of democracy.(Table of Contents)
Currently, the redistricting process in 42 of 50 states is handled by the state legislature. However six states, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington, give "first and final" responsibility for drawing districts to independent commissions. In all of these states except Arizona, the majority and minority leaders in the state legislature select even numbers of members of the committee. In Montana, New Jersey and Hawaii, these members select the final member, who is the committee chair. In Arizona, the state courts select a pool of committee members and the state legislative leader pick even numbers of committee members from that pool.
In Iowa, a group of non-partisan staffers redraw congressional (and state legislative) districts without 'any political or electoral data' including the addresses of incumbent congresspersons. The maps must be approved by the state legislature.
California voters approved an initiative in 2008 creating a "Citizens' Redistricting Commission" consisting of five Democrats, five Republicans and four "others". All California registered voters are eligible to apply to the commission, 60 applicants are selected based on "relevant analytical skills, ability to be impartial, and diversity by a review panel of state auditors". Then, the majority and minority leaders of both houses of the state legislature can disqualify up to two candidates in each category bringing the field to 12 Democrats, 12 Republicans and 12 others. The state auditor then randomly picks eight commissioners who then pick the six remaining commissioners.
Of course, one of the problems with proposing state level redistricting reforms is that partisans on both sides will say that partisans on the other side will continue to gerrymander in other states. In response to this, federal legislators have introduced bills requiring all states to establish independent, non-partisan redistricting commissions. Representative John Tanner (D-TN) introduced the Fairness and Independence Redistricting Act, a bill to require all states to create independent, non-partisan redistricting commissions, in the 109th, 110, and 111th congresses. Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) introduced an identical bill in the Senate. The bill died in committee in all three sessions and Representative Tanner retired in 2011. A group of Columbia University Law students put together a potential map of what districts in each state would look like if they were drawn by a nonpartisan authority.(Table of Contents)
In 104th Congress (and the 105th, 106th and 107th congresses), Representative Cynthia McKinney introduced the Voter's Choice Act. This bill would have repealed a 1967 statute requiring single member districts and allow states to create multi-member "super districts" with members elected by proportional voting. Maryland actually employs a similar system in the House of Delegates; in more urban areas as many as three delegates are elected from the same district. McKinney and other supporters of the bill argued that that these super districts would allow for more geographically cohesive districts, better representation of the district's diversity, more voter choice, and less influence of money on elections.
Like Maryland's urban districts in the House of Delegates? FairVote, an electoral reform advocacy group, put together sample super districts for each state. Under their plan, for example, Maryland would be divided into two super districts. District A would consist of district one, two, three, five and seven and district B would contain districts four, six and eight. Under this plan, voters will likely elect five Democrats, two Republicans and one seat would be competitive.
Another proposal for fixing gerrymandering from FairVote is "Districts Plus." In this system most members are elected in single member districts and then additional seats are assigned to parties based on the partisan split of the popular vote. For example, in a 100 member legislature, voters would vote in 80 districts just as they do today. Then 20 additional seats are distributed among the parties so that the popular vote matches the number of seats a party has in the legislature. If a party wins 54 percent of the vote but only 39 out of 80 seats, they would be assigned 16 "accountability seats."
Michael Balinski argues that too many Congressional districts are "safe" and that Congress lacks true competition. He proposes a mathematical solution to the problem and calls it "Fair Majority Voting." Balinski truly believes that this type of voting will reconcile the desires of the party and the voter by:
- Giving each district one representative
- A more proportionally represented system where representatives are chosen based on total votes
Under Balinski's proposal, when a person goes to vote at the polls, they vote for the candidate and also cast a ballot for the party. The system that is in use now gives the Congressional seat to the candidate with the most votes, but this can often result in one party winning more representatives even though the second party won the majority of the vote system wide.
In Fair Majority Voting, it's a symmetric system. Because you are casting your vote for the candidate and the party, it ensures that the party that wins the popular vote wins the proportionate number of seats. The distribution of votes is currently unbalanced under the gerrymandered system we have because the political districting allows certain parties in certain districts to count more in relation to the other party. Balinski believes that enacting the Fair Majority voting and making each vote equal, would stop the abuse of gerrymandering.(Table of Contents)
There is some skepticism that, for all of its praises, non-partisan redistricting does not solve all of our problems in democracy. For example, Alan Abramovitz, Brad Alexander and Matthew Gunning of Emory University found no evidence that districts in states with non-partisan redistricting were more competitive than those with partisan redistricting.
In California, Democrats were able to manipulate the new non-partisan redistricting system in their favor by presenting inaccurate or misleading information to the panel. For example, one group, the Asian American Education Institute, a group purporting to represent the Asian American community in the San Gabriel valley turned out to be a front group funded by the state Democratic party to protect Rep. Judy Chu's seat in the 32nd district. The group's lead representative, Jennifer Wada, lives in Sacramento, 400 miles away from the district and grew up in Idaho. Many expected that non-partisan districting would hurt California Democrats but in the 2012 election, they actually netted four congressional seats.(Table of Contents)
If you find the topic of redistricting and gerrymandering as fascinating as we do, try out one or both of these games. You, too, can manipulate district lines to achieve the results you want!
The first game presented, created in part through a grant by The Annenberg Foundation, gives players the opportunity to appreciate firsthand the difficulty that comes in satisfying the many legal and partisan requirements of district map makers. The game's multiple levels simulate different scenarios of gerrymandering for one party, both parties, and for racial concerns.
The second game does not have an object per se, but it does provide the lay-person an opportunity to use the same real-life tools and information that district map makers have when crafting legislative districts. It gives the user the opportunity to craft districts down to the individual precinct, and has data as recent as the 2010 election.http://gardow.com/davebradlee/redistricting/davesredistricting2.0.aspx
(Table of Contents)
Marissa's Sources:Cain, Bruce E. "Assessing the Partisan Effects of Redistricting." JSTOR. 2 June 1985. 03 Dec. 2012.
Fridman, John N., and Richard T. Holden. "Cambridge Journals." Cambridge Journals. 20 Apr. 2009. 03 Dec. 2012.
Glazer, Amihai, Bernard Grofman, and Marc Robbins. "Partisan and Incumbency Effects of 1970s Congressional Redistricting." JSTOR. 3 Aug. 1987. 03 Dec. 2012.
McCarty, Nolan, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal. "Does Gerrymandering Cause Polarization?" JSTOR. 3 July 2009. 03 Dec. 2012.
Shotts, Kenneth W. "The Effect of Majority-Minority Mandates on Partisan Gerrymandering." JSTOR. 1 June 2001. 03 Dec. 2012.
Pete's Sources:"Gerrymandering: History and Illinois Background." Gerrymandering: Stealing Elections the Legal Way. Web. 22 Nov 2012.
Lalor, John, ed. "Gerrymander." Library of Economics and Liberty. Web. 22 Nov 2012.
Madonna, Terry, and Michael Young. "Gerrymander in the Docket." Franklin & Marshall College. 13 2003. Web. 22 Nov 2012.
Tabor, Neil. "The Gerrymandering of State and Federal Legislative Districts." Maryland Law Review. 16.4 (2012): Web. 22 Nov. 2012.
"The Birth of the Gerrymander." Massachusetts Historical Society. Web. 22 Nov 2012.
Ame's Sources:Balinski, Michael. Fair Majority Voting (Or How To Eliminate Gerrymandering)
Cooper, Michael. "5 Ways To Tilt an Election." The New York Times.
Davis Et. Al. v. Bandemer 478 U.S. 109. Decided June 30,1986.
Schuck, Peter H. "The Thickest Thicket: Partisan Gerrymandering and Judicial Regulation of Politics." Columbia Law Review Vol. 87, No. 7, Nov., 1987.
"The Great Election Grab: When Does Gerrymandering Become a Threat to Democracy?" The New Yorker, December 1, 2003.
Nicole's Sources:Abramowitz, Alan I., Brad Alexander, and Matthew Gunning. "Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections."
The Journal of Politics 68.01 (2006): Print.
The journal article looks at competitiveness in elections for the US House of Representatives. The 2002 and 2004 elections for the House were two of the least competitive election of US history and elections have become less competitive over time. Why is this? The authors found that ideological polarization between the two parties and increased incumbencies played a statistically significant role in this decreased competitiveness but increased partisan redistricting didn't.
Pierce, Olga. "In California, Democrats' Redistricting Strategy Paid Off." ProPublica. ProPublica, Inc., 9 Nov. 2012. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.
This article summarizes ProPublica's findings about redistricting in California in light of the most recent election. In 2008, California votes passed a referendum creating a non-partisan, citizen run redistricting committee. In theory, this process should create new districts reflecting California's communities and not the interest of its political parties. However, California Democrats were able to manipulate the committee by providing it with misleading information through front groups, like one purporting to represent the state's Asian American population but funded by the state Democratic party.
"Redistricting Reform." FairVote. The Center for Voting and Democracy, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.
This website from Fair Vote looks at various proposals for reforming redistricting and ending gerrymandering. These proposal include national legislation in the House and Senate that would require all states to create a nonpartisan districting system and multi-member districts.
"Appendix F - Redistricting Commissions: Congressional Plans." Minnesota Senate. State of Minnesota, n.d. Web. 07 Dec. 2012.
This document from the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) and hosted by the Minnesota State Senate summarizes and breaks down how redistricting works in states that have non-partisan (or bi-partisan) redistricting. Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Montana and New Jersey all delegate responsibility for redistricting to independent committee by who's in that committee and how the committee membership is chosen varies by state.
Jonathan's Sources:Annie Linskie, "Congressional map draws tepid support, even opposition, from some Democrats." Baltimore Sun, October 8, 2012
An article published by the Baltimore Sun that lays out the objections that Republicans and some Democrats have to the new districting plan for Maryland.
Dave Bradlee, "Dave's Redistricting 2.2"
Dave's Redistricting Map. A much more technical software product that gives the user the opportunity to district any state's Congressional, state-legislative, or local-legislative as he or she sees fit. Includes 2010 census data and election data.
Robert Draper. The League of Dangerous Mapmakers. The Atlantic. October 2012
An article explaining the perils of gerrymandering and how the redistricting process has become increasingly more anti-democratic in its nature, securing seats for party loyalists while squashing centrism from Congress.
Maryland State Board of Elections, "2012 Official General Election Results"
State board of elections website provides precise numbers for the election results on the different ballot questions and provides the wording to the questions themselves.
Chris Swain, Assistant Professor, Co-Director, EA Game Innovation Lab, Interactive Media Division, USC Annenberg Center; The Redistricting Game.
Redistricting Game created by the Annenberg Foundation, includes a significant amount of explanation for the redistricting process to lay-people and allows for first-hand attempts at districting imagined locales.
An editorial published by the Washington Post that urges a vote against Question 5 in the 2012 election.
Jeff Guo, "Welcome to America's Most Gerrymandered District". The New Republic. November 8, 2012
Refers specifically to the Third Congressional District of Maryland as being exceptionally gerrymandered and also speaks to the apathy with which most residents view the redistricting process.
Katina's SourcesHalpin Jr, Stanley A., and Richard L. Engstrom. "Racial gerrymandering and southern state legislative redistricting: attorney general determinations under the voting rights act." J. Pub. L. 22 (1973): 37.
Kukla, Christopher. "Race-Based Legislative Gerrymandering: Have We Really Gone Too Far." J. Legis. 23 (1997): 119.