One of the most fundamental aspects of a democracy is that citizens vote for their leaders rather than politicians selecting their voters through partisan redistricting (gerrymandering). Today the US Supreme Court heard a case that could end this practice forever. Let’s hope the justices vote in favor of free, fair, and accountable democracy.
Photo credit: FreeFairandAccountable.org
#FFADemocracy was at the Supreme Court yesterday, October 3, 2017, to join the crowd supporting an end to gerrymandering. At issue was whether the 2011 redistricting in Wisconsin was too partisan, in this case in favor of the Republican Party. The stakes are high. If the justices vote yes, partisan redistricting will no longer be allowed in the US. Conversely, as Paul Smith, the attorney arguing against Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps, told the Court, if the justices allow partisan gerrymandering to continue, then “the country is going to lose faith in democracy.”
Republicans and Democrats alike were there today urging the justices to end partisan gerrymandering. We met Linda Honold, former chair of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin and part of the team that brought the original complaint to the US District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. She recounted how it has taken this case 4 years to rise to the US Supreme Court, and the intensive preparation that had to be done along the way to ensure they could bring a solid case. A big part of the this was finding objective tests for partisan bias. One example is the efficiency gap which detects wasted votes. It is not perfect, but is perhaps the first objective test that can be easily and readily deployed: others are more complicated. Redistricting reform had bi-partisan support in Wisconsin. Former State Senator Dale Schultz and Former Member of Congress Tom Petri, both Republicans, spoke throughout the state advocating for change. The Wisconsin team also recognized the national implications of their effort and reached out to other states such as Maryland (where the gerrymandering favored Democrats) to discuss the issue.
We briefly interviewed Congressmen Alan Lowenthal (D) of California who, together with Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania, introduced a bipartisan House of Representatives resolution on April 26, 2017, calling on the House to commit to the removal of political gerrymandering from congressional redistricting. Congressman Lowenthal indicated that a precedent for all congressional districts around the country will have been set if the Wisconsin plaintiffs win.
It was also a delight to hear movie star and former Republican California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger call on the Supreme Court to “terminate” the practice of gerrymandering.
It is hard to know how the justices will rule on this issue but one thing is certain: anything that leads to more political competition will be welcome. As noted in our August 14, 2017 blog, too many states, and too many districts within those states are currently noncompetitive. More than a few districts don’t even provide voters with a choice: no-one wants to waste time and money running as an opposition candidate, knowing they are doomed to lose. Americans deserve better. Let’s hope the Supreme Court justices lend a hand.
Want to Learn More?
This website tracks the process of state and federal redistricting around the country, including litigation.
Look for the gerrymandering video and podcast in our Elements of Democracy page.
Want to Take Action?
Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. They have a well organized campaign against gerrymandering. Learn more from their website and consider contributing to their effort.
The Public Mapping Project makes it possible for the citizens to draw the boundaries of their communities and to generate redistricting plans for their state and localities — through their web-browsers. This could change the balance of power between citizens and politicians.