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The Real Threat to American Elections: Gerrymandering

Alexia Ayuk, Special Projects Editor

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If researchers took a poll, the political question most asked by Americans today would probably be “did Russia interfere with our election?”

 

Although Russian interference links to a government issue of national security and information integrity in the cybersphere, America’s election issues are more extensive than just Russia. For years, there has been a process that invalidates the very system of democracy and the will of the people: gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a process that draws district lines in ways to increase a party’s chance of winning an election; it is another failure in our democracy due to its capability to dilute voting power. The United States has been predetermining its elections for years due to the increases in technology. Some political parties in power have been using voter data to remain in power in their districts. This manipulation undermines the authority of American voters (who many of us high school students will soon be) lessening the impact of our right to vote.  

 

One of the most fundamental rights every citizen is given is the ability to express their political beliefs and ideas. The Supreme Court recognized in the case of Gaffney v. Cummings (1973) that district lines could be drawn so that parties may “minimize or cancel out the voting strength of racial or political elements of the voting population.” This conclusion from the Court demonstrates the legal ability for the right to vote to be manipulated. The amicus curiae brief was filed by the State’s Attorney General of Michigan (co-signed by 12 other states). It stated that the party in power’s capability to factor in voting history and party affiliation when determining the district lines is done to “disfavor the other party and to ‘punish’ voters of the other party by making it harder for them to win seats.”

On March 28th, the Supreme Court heard the case of John Benisek and other Maryland residents challenging the violation of their First Amendment rights. These citizens are alleging that during 2010 and 2011, gerrymandering by Maryland Democrats curtailed their ability to elect a Republican candidate to the House of Representatives. According to Document 202, the Court Memorandum filed by District Judge James K. Bredar in the Benisek v. Lamone case, Maryland’s Sixth District had 208,024 Republicans and 159,715 Democrats prior to the 2011 shuffle (the time period in which the appellants are claiming the district lines were manipulated to remove Republican voters from the Sixth District. The Maryland Democrats then swapped 66,400 Republican registered voters out of the Sixth District for 24,400 Democrat registered voters during the 2011 shuffle. This created a Democratic majority of 192,820 Democrats to 145,620 Republicans.

 

At the time of the 2010 congressional election, the political composition of the Sixth District’s eligible voters were  47% Republicans, 36% Democrats, and 16% Unaffiliated, making the District favored in the side of Republicans. In the 2012 election, the first under the new map, displayed a stark shift to 33% Republicans, 44% Democrats, and 22% as Unaffiliated. The newly transformed Sixth District transformed the demographics to maintain only 51% of its original population. Furthermore, “approximately 60% of these residents — those from Frederick County and more than half the population of Carroll County — were shifted into the Eighth District[…]. In the place of the removed residents, the plan added to the new Sixth District approximately 350,000 residents from Montgomery County, most of whom had previously been assigned to the Eighth District” (Document 202).

 

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley even claimed in a deposition that “part of my intent was to create a map that, all things being legal and equal, would, nonetheless, be more likely to elect more Democrats rather than less.” Eric Hawkins, an analyst for the Beltway data firm NCEC Services, who was tasked with the job of drawing new district lines, also admitted in his deposition that his intention while drawing the maps was to “see if there was a way to get another Democratic district in the state.”

 

Through this evidence, the case can be made that O’Malley and other Democrats were using their party power to maintain control of the governor’s office. Although one may claim that Gaffney v. Cummings recognizes this ability as legal, gerrymandering gives those in government the ability to discount votes, a process that should be deemed undemocratic. This confession by the former governor displays a horrendous abuse of power to maintain political gains. O’Malley and Maryland Democrats were using the redistricting process to change the partisan composition of the Maryland district to ensure their party’s support, inflicting a First Amendment burden. If States are not allowed to intentionally “burden the availability of political opportunity” (Anderson v. Celebrezze),  “dictate electoral outcomes” (Cook v. Gralike,), and “interfere with [the] freedom to believe and associate” (Rutan v. Republican Party), then it should also be illegal for them to gerrymander district lines.

 

In the Reply Brief from the Attorneys for Appellants, it states that “the State now agrees. It affirmatively concedes (Br. 30) that, no matter how one conceives plaintiffs’ burden in this case, the majority was wrong to ‘[draw] the line between tangible and intangible interests at the point where a seat changes hands.” That is so, and the State argues because ‘[t]he circumstances that a group does not win elections does not resolve the issue of vote dilution.’

 

This is the second case about the unconstitutionality of partisan gerrymandering the Supreme Court will hear this term. Robert Barnes of The Washington Post asserted that Benisek v. Lamone has the power to “reshape the way American elections are conducted.”

 

As the future voters of America, this is an issue that should alarm you. Gerrymandering is a process that has the potential to discount your vote and unjustly allows party officials to remain in power whether one wants them to or not. The real question of contention, in this case, seems to be shifting from the idea of the Maryland Democrats’ intent in changing district lines to rather how can we solve the issue of redistricting to facilitate fair elections.

 

Works Cited

  1. John Benisek, et al., Appellants v. Linda H. Lamone, Administrator, Maryland State Board of Elections, et al. Document 202. United States District Court for the District of Maryland. 2018. Supreme Court Collections. Benisek v. Lamone Memorandum.

Wines, Michael. “Just How Bad Is Partisan Gerrymandering? Ask the Mapmakers.” The New York Times, The New  York Times, 29 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/29/us/gerrymander-political-maps-maryland.html.

Hicks, Josh. “Md. Gerrymandering Lawsuit Could Impact 2018 Voting Map.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 June 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/md-gerrymandering-lawsuit-could-impact-2018-voting-map/2017/05/31/e1050080-461e-11e7-bcde-624ad94170abdddd _story.html?utm_term=.ed3a8fb7662f.

Barnes, Robert. “Supreme Court Will Take up a Second Gerrymandering Case This Term.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 8 Dec. 2017, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/2017/12/08/4fde65f4-dc66-11e7bbbbbg-b1a8-62589434a581_story.html?utm_term=.7d10faa74a92.

Daley, Dave. “How Democrats Gerrymandered Their Way to Victory in Maryland.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 25 June 2017, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/how-deep-blue-maryland-showsreeeeeeedistricting-is-broken/531492/.

 

Important Links and Resources

 

Benisek v. Lamone Memorandum: https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/legal-work/Benisek_v_Lamone_Memorandum_08.24.17.pdf

 

Supreme Court Document Files on This Case: https://www.supremecourt.gov/docket/docketfiles/html/public/17-333.html

 

Featured image: The Herald-Mail

 

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