Humanosity says…It’s a little bewildering that US politicians can influence the drawing of electoral boundaries. Surely they should not be let anywhere near this as it will inevitably lead to the undermining of democracy? This article looks at how a court ruling could finally mean the end of this practice.
Back in September of 2019 a court in North Carolina ruled that the Republican party is guilty of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” In a 3-0 judgement the court found that the new electoral boundaries produced by the Republicans were
“tainted by an unconstitutional deprivation of all citizens’ rights to equal protection of law, freedom of speech, and freedom of assembly.”
They went on to state that these new boundaries
“deprive North Carolina citizens of the right to vote for General Assembly members in elections that are conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully the will of the people”.
The ruling forces local Republicans who are in charge of the state legislature to redraw the new boundaries in a much fairer way. This has implications for the country as a whole.
What is Gerrymandering?
There are 435 congressional districts across the US and the number each state has is based on the population. In North Carolina the number is 13 and every decade the legislature has to redraw these lines to take account of changing demographics.
Over the years when Republicans have been in charge of the process they have been found to redraw the boundaries in such a way that Democratic voters are concentrated in one or a few districts – usually a city centre so that Republicans are the majorities in all other, usually rural districts.
In last year’s midterm elections, North Carolina was one of four key states where Democratic candidates increased support from voters compared with 2016 but gained relatively few seats. The Democrats here gained almost 3 percentage points but couldn’t get any new seats. Ohio, Michigan and Texas were the three other key states where we saw a similar trend.
What Does This Mean for Future Elections?
The North Carolina Court demanded that the boundaries be redrawn, saying that “voters are not freely choosing their representatives, rather, representatives are choosing their voters.”
By finding what the Republicans had done in North Carolina illegal, it was hoped that the case would serve as a blueprint for other states where the issue of gerrymandering has been discovered, such as Texas, Wisconsin and Maryland.
In the wake of the midterms, more than 60 per cent of Michigan residents voted in favour of a measure by which the state’s political map would in future be drawn by a citizen’s commission made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and five unaffiliated voters.
The Supreme Court
However a decision in June of 2019 by the Supreme Court in means that this decision is unlikely to seriously affect the 2020 Presidential Elections.
Critics had hoped that the Supreme Court would end the process of gerrymandering. But in its 5-4 ruling, the court found that the power to address partisan gerrymandering lies with Congress, not the courts.
“Our conclusion does not condone excessive partisan gerrymandering. Nor does our conclusion condemn complaints about districting to echo into a void,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.
Whilst the original North Carolina decision was in the state courts and so still stands the Supreme Court ruling has meant that federal courts cannot intervene in the process. With a new census to be done in 2020 whichever party controls the state legislature after the 2020 elections will be able to engage in gerrymandering without fear that that federal courts will get involved.
That means the battle over gerrymandering will return to the State level in the 31 states that still allow their legislatures the dangerous luxury of being able to determine their electoral districts.