Let’s Break it Down: Gerrymandering

In an idealistic system of democracy, everybody’s voice is heard, everyone is equally represented and nobody rearranges the situation to skew the results in his or her favor. Gerrymandering does not fit with that perfect form of government.

Gerrymandering is the process by which an electoral district’s boundaries are changed in favor of a particular party or a certain candidate’s election. After every national census, which take place every 10 years, voting districts are reapportioned. During this time, districts are often gerrymandered to ensure that a certain political party has more voters in the district than those of the other party. By law, each district must have the same population, but tactics such as “packing” and “cracking” can control which way a district ends up voting. “Packing” is when politicians try to consolidate as many of the other party’s votes into as few voting districts as possible, so that their districts have the majority of votes in the favored party. “Cracking” refers to  how districts are reapportioned in varying shapes and sizes instead of a standard shape so that the final result ends with the victory of the preferred party.

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken on Gill v. Whitford, a gerrymandering case from Wisconsin. In 2011, Republicans in Wisconsin took complete control of the redistricting process, which takes place at least once every 10 years.

However, the lines of the Wisconsin districts were redrawn with the help of extensive computer algorithms to ensure that the Republican party would have control over both sectors of the Wisconsin legislature for at least the next decade; the effects were seen a year later. According to the New York Times, the 2012 Wisconsin State Assembly elections ended with about 53 percent of the state’s votes going to the Democratic Party, even though 60 out of the 99 State Assembly seats went to Republicans. Four years later, it was discovered that a computer program was used to redraw Wisconsin’s district lines using information of the state’s voters’ demographics and to anticipate likely election outcomes.

A proposed way of testing the constitutionality of redrawn district lines is to check the new map’s efficiency gap. Partisan gerrymandering forces the losing party to “waste” votes, which is achieved by adjusting voting district boundaries so that the winning party always receives the majority of votes in that region; ultimately, all of the losing party’s votes in that district are pointless. The efficiency gap calculates the number of wasted votes for each party and then divides it by the total number of votes from the state. Eric McGhee and Nicholas Stephanopoulos, the creators of the efficiency gap measurement, suggest that a calculation of seven percent or higher should prove unconstitutional gerrymandering, according to the New York Times.

The Supreme Court is currently working on Gill v. Whitford, and a decision will be reached in the spring. 


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