Have you ever heard the term “gerrymandering”? What does it mean? Basically, each state is divided into legislative districts. Each district sends a representative to the House of Representatives. Ideally, the percentage of representatives of each party (Democrat, Republican, or other) should correspond with the percentage of Republican and Democratic voters in the state. Therefore, if a state with five districts is 60 percentDemocratic and 40 percent Republican, it should ideally be represented by three Democrats and two Republicans, right?
This term refers to the practice of drawing the districts so that one political party has a distinct and unfair advantage over the other. In 2012 in Pennsylvania, for example, Democrats won 51 percent of the popular House vote (slightly over half). But they only won 5 out of 18 available House seats (fewer than one-third). This is because the Republican legislature drew the district lines in such a way that the Democratic majority was divided up and lost its advantage. In other states, Democratic legislatures have done the same thing to Republicans.
Several states across the nation, however, are fighting back right now to end the illegal and unconstitutional practice of gerrymandering. Two such states in the news right now are Texas and North Carolina.
This summer, a federal court heard a case dealing with whether or not the state of Texas had intentionally discriminated against minorities when drawing its district lines. In 2011, Texas drew a congressional district map, which the same federal court found to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. So that map was never used, and instead, the court drew a temporary map in 2012. Texas has since made that temporary map permanent. However, two of the districts on the 2011 map that were found to be illegal remained on the 2012 (and now permanent) map, which is what has caused this year’s lawsuit.
If the court finds the current map to be illegal and redraws it, up to six Republican seats may be up for grabs by Democrats. This has an implication on a national scale as well; nationally, Democrats only need 24 more seats total to retake a majority in the House.
A similar situation is occurring in North Carolina, where the 2011 district map was found to be illegal because of gerrymandering based on race. A new map was drawn. However, the courts have since found nine of the state’s fifty Senate districts, and nineteen of its House districts, to be unconstitutional. According to the judges, the gerrymandered district lines weaken the influence of African American voters. The court has ordered that new maps be drawn and delivered to the court by September 1.
Currently, North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature has blocked Democratic Governor Ray Cooper’s agenda and overridden his vetoes. But all of that will change if the new map opens up new districts to Democratic control. Also, if Democrats win three more House seats or six Senate seats, they will be able to end the Republicans’ veto-proof majority in the state.