curved like a worm, straight as an arrow.
. . .
Yes, a line is fine, but when a line swerves,
when a line bends, watch what can happen . . .
a shape begins!
from: When a Line Bends . . . A Shape Begins
By Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustrated by James Kaczman
Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997
I like to think my vote counts. After all, that’s what a representative democracy is supposed to provide for its citizens, a meaningful election. While I understand that a majority is necessary, I vote for a representatives who, in turn, will vote in my interest. But what happens when our representatives don’t voice the majority’s opinions? How can that happen anyway?
In 1812, Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, signed a bill that created a partisan district in the Boston area. He drew a line around neighborhoods that were not defined geographically, but included more of “his” people. Because its shape was compared to a mythological salamander, we get Gerry-mander . . . gerrymander. Here's a map of MA including a map of his gerrymandered area around Boston.
This re-districting technique caught on quickly. Districts in any particular state can be drawn to include or exclude areas and create politically advantageous voting blocs. The only conditions: the district must be contiguous and the district must not cross state lines.
In 1911, Congress ruled that the number of representatives be capped at 435.*
Because the cap remains at 435 but the population continues to grow, the average Congressional representative now represents well over 700,000 people. Raising the cap comes with its own set of problems. Most involve providing enough room for office spaces and meeting rooms.
The U.S. Constitution requires a census every 10 years for the express purpose of redistributing Congressional districts. States may gain or lose any number of representatives, based on their current population. But populations do not grow evenly. In the mid-1960s, the Supreme Court decided that a similar number of people should reside in each district.Sometimes an area needs to be re-drawn so a more consistent number of people can be represented.
The Census is a population count. Citizenship is not a requirement for inclusion. As a matter of fact, inmates, although most do not have the privilege of a vote, are generally counted in the district where they are housed, not where they lived before.
Each state decides who draws the lines.
If the district lines are seen to be gerrymandered, that is giving advantage to one group over another, especially if the targeted group is in the minority, the Courts can be called in. That is what is happening now in Ohio and several other states.
As late as last month, Federal judges in Ohio have declared that Ohio’s map, drawn by Republicans, gives the GOP an unfair advantage. The Supreme Court is reviewing claims of gerrymandering in Maryland and North Carolina.
According to Politico.com https://www.politico.com/story/2019/05/03/ohio-redistricting-gerrymandering-1301141 “The high court’s conservative majority signaled during oral arguments that it might be uncomfortable with judicial efforts to rein in partisan gerrymandering.” Michigan, Ohio and several other states with pending legislation concerning gerrymandering will most likely not make any decisions until the Maryland and North Carolina decisions have been handed down.
Even if the Supreme Court is okay with gerrymandering, I am not. I understand that a direct democracy in a country of 328,868,954 people, (https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/us-population/) is impracticably cumbersome. But when I cast a vote for the candidate who I expect will represent the majority of people in my district, I also expect that he or she has a fair shot in receiving a majority of the votes cast.
I hope I have not presented an over-simplified summary in my search for understanding this complicated issue. I’m glad gerrymandering is finally getting some of the attention it deserves. We cannot be a true democracy if our elections suppress minority opinions. If we are not heard at the ballot boxes of this country, we need use other means to make our voices heard. Here’s a handy way to find your Representative. https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
Even though my vote might not count the way I think it should, it still matters.
*The total membership of the House of Representatives stands at 441. Non-voting members include representatives from the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories of Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. A non-voting Resident Commissioner, serving a four-year term, represents the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.
-—stay curious! (and be heard)