Voter Suppression Threat: Gerrymandering

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Gerrymandering is defined as “when politicians manipulate voting district boundaries to favor one party over another.” Gerrymandering occurs when a political party wants to retain – or regain – control in the legislative branch of government. 

Gerrymandering may seem unconstitutional in practice, however, the United States Supreme Court has never labeled it as such. Instead, in 2018, the Supreme Court Justices, in a 5 to 4 ruling, essentially declared that when politicians have a dispute over gerrymandering districts the federal courts must stay out of the dispute. With this ruling, our federal courts now serve as the only hurdle politicians of both parties have to clear in order to draw their state’s district maps to benefit their political party. This ruling also leaves it up to states to decide if gerrymandering is proper. As far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, gerrymandering is not unconstitutional.

Gerrymandering greatly affects election outcomes. It puts the make-up of district maps in the hands of politicians who have a vested interest in putting their political opponents at a disadvantage. Gerrymandering can be considered a weapon, used used by either political party in power, to draw their state’s districtlines in favor of their political party, thereby ensuring election wins in those districts.

North Carolina Gerrymandered Districts

Gerrymandering originated in the Republican Party in 1810 when then-Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, the former Vice President of the United States, drew up a salamander-shaped district in the northern part of his state to help his political party win power in the state legislature. Fast forward from 1810 to today, and modern day gerrymandering is a very common tactic used to win elections and disenfranchise the vote.

In 2011 the Pennsylvania congressional map had been labeled one of the top three worst gerrymanders ever carried out in history. The League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and individual voters from each of the 18 Pa. districts sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania concerning the map, and they successfully won the lawsuit.

In their arguments they pointed out that in 2011, Pennsylvania’s elected officials manipulated the congressional district boundaries to minimize the chances of Democrats to be voted into the U.S. House of Representatives. Their lawsuit consisted of how Pennsylvania elected officials suppressed the Democratic Party and their chances of winning any form of representation in the U.S. House of Representatives due to the set up of district boundaries.

Cathy Yungmann is a member of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and has been working to support fair elections for many years. She understands how gerrymandering suppresses the vote, and she also understands that some people may not want to vote because they feel in gerrymandered districts, their vote may not matter anyway. Still, she says, “Voting is not only your right as a citizen, but it is also your civic responsibility. Voting is one way that you can effect change.” 

“Another way to counter gerrymandering is to become active in a grassroots organization like the League of Women Voters, which has successfully sued to overturn gerrymandered maps,” Yungmann said. 

In  2018 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court declared that the 2011 Pennsylvania US congressional district map violated the Pennsylvania constitution. This case provided evidence that in Pennsylvania, gerrymandering violates the state constitution. 

The take away from this case for other states is that if there is enough evidence of unfairness and citizens are willing to come together and fight against the injustices within their state something can happen and change can occur. States’ lawmakers can also take away that they cannot harshly carry out district bordering and gerrymandering without being checked for their wrong doing and they might be violating their own state laws. This should also give hope for other residents in other states letting them know that if they feel their political party is being unfairly suppressed and not given a chance to even win an election, they can speak up against the injustice. 

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Youth Voters Unite is a transmedia storytelling project produced by senior Communication majors at Cabrini University. Students in Senior Convergence: Media for Social Justice are reporting this academic year on the voting process and voting justice topics. Their goal is to educate youth voters on the importance of engaging in the political process and claiming their right to shape their own future. 

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