Gerrymandering & Voter Suppression
Gerrymandering / Congressional Redistricting
Manipulating congressional districts through gerrymandering has become a pervasive problem in the United States since its utilization by Elbridge Gerry in 1812. The point of gerrymandering is to cram “all of [your opponents’] supporters into a small number of districts. This method allows the legislature to spread its own supporters over a larger number of districts” (Ingraham, 2014b).
The graph above shows data on 8 states’ gerrymander index scores. It is clear that these data, in general, indicate that states are becoming more gerrymandered over time.
North Carolina and Maryland are regarded as the most gerrymandered states in the United States. North Carolina’s 12th district is one of the worst in the nation, stretching over 77 miles from Winston-Salem to Charlotte in a snake-like pattern. (below)
There are certainly regional and demographic factors at play in the more recent gerrymandering efforts, such as those that we saw in 2010. Republicans gained a majority of House seats and state legislatures that year, and as a result were in charge of districting after the 2010 census. Redistricting’s original intent (after the census every 10 years) was to provide fair representation for people in different states as their populations increased or decreased, but it has largely become a political tool dominated by whomever controls the state’s legislature.
From the graph below, you can see that the South, and the East Coast in general, is becoming more gerrymandered than the rest of the United States. The darker reds represent states that are more gerrymandered on the index score, and the lighter colored states represent those that are less gerrymandered.
Gerrymandering the Electoral College?
Republican victories and the subsequent Congressional districts established by Republicans in 2010 gave the party momentum to propose legislation regarding alterations to the electoral college. Their goal is to set up a congressional district system in their respective states, which would ultimately determine the outcome of the Presidential election through dividing electors amongst state districts.
Nebraska and Maine already have a congressional district system in place, and Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia are all considering legislation (Henderson & Haines, 2013). Systems such as this in Ohio and Virginia, key swing states during the 2012 Presidential election, would have indicated a victory for Mitt Romney (Berman, 2012). But such law, if implemented, would also change presidential campaign strategies, and would generate and eliminate different battle-grounds.
Voter Suppression Laws 2014
Similar to gerrymandering, voter suppression laws are a way for political parties to gain an advantage through manipulation. The 2014 midterms witnessed minority populations in the South, and other parts of the country being targeted by such legislation. A major issue at hand were voter ID laws. Many states introduced newly established ones this cycle. 11 states had new voter ID laws, which excludes states where these laws will be implemented in future elections-such as NC.
21 states featured new voting laws more generally which included elimination of same day registration, elimination of out-of-precinct voting, limitation of early voting days, and longer wait times for criminals to regain their voting rights.
Research indicates that affected states “tend to have large black and Hispanic voter populations” (The Economist 2014). As an example, 1/3 of North Carolina’s African American voters utilized same day registration in 2012, a privilege which was eliminated in the state this cycle. The portion of the Voting Rights Act which was struck down by the Supreme Court in a 2013 decision may be to blame for some of the problems in the South. Southern states are largely dominated by Republicans, and are no longer required to receive federal approval before changing legislation.