Gerrymandering: Drawing districts for political advantage

In an era of deep partisan division, the Supreme Court could soon decide whether the drawing of electoral districts can be too political.

A Supreme Court ruling faulting the Wisconsin redistricting plan could have far-reaching consequences for the redrawing of electoral districts due after the 2020 USA census.

The Constitution mandates decennial reapportionment and redistricting of congressional and state legislative districts to reflect population shifts.

Gerrymandering has been derided for generations, often mocked in cartoons depicting bizarre-shaped districts that look like salamanders or spiders.

The word "Gerry-Mander" is more than 200 years old, with the Boston Gazette publishing the term in 1812 to describe then-Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry's attempt to manipulate the state's map to benefit his party. "It's a symptom of politics going haywire and something that we increasingly see when one party has sole control of the redistricting process". Republicans control the majority of legislatures, and 2010 redistricting gave the GOP advantages in elections in those states.

This morning, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear an extremely important case next term on political gerrymandering: Gill v. Whitford. "It is clear that the drafters got what they meant to get".

Supporters of Wisconsin's map say that "the election results it produced are similar to those under earlier court-drawn maps", as The Associated Press reports.

A nonpartisan redistricting process is not only fair and impartial, it also would cost taxpayers far less than than the two million tax dollars and counting used to draw and defend the current maps. They say the federal court overstepped its bounds and judges should stay out of an inherently political exercise.

"This is a reflection of Wisconsin's political geography, where Democrats concentrate in urban areas like Madison and Milwaukee, as well as incumbency advantage", the state wrote.

The Supreme Court may devise a better test.

The measurement could appeal to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has said he is willing to referee claims of excessively partisan redistricting, but only if the court can find a workable way to do so. Now the court has walked through that open door, with Kennedy as the likely deciding vote once again.

Democrats have accused Republicans of taking improper actions at the state level to suppress the turnout of minority voters and others who tend to support Democrats and maximize the number of party members in state legislatures and the U.S. House of Representatives.

The nation's highest court on Monday said it will hear arguments in the case.

It was statistical measurement of how many votes in each party were wasted, either because they were so diluted in a district they could never achieve a majority or because they were so concentrated in a district that they were in excess of what was needed to get a majority.

Twelve Republican-dominated states are supporting Wisconsin in its defense of the 2011 redistricting plan.

In California, redistricting is the responsibility of an independent commission set up to ensure no one party unduly influences the outcome.

  • Larry Hoffman