Gerrymandering is the process of manipulating electoral district boundaries to benefit the elected officials of that area and their parties. The name “gerrymander” came about in the early 1800’s when Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts signed into law unfairly redrawn district lines intended to keep Republicans in power. One district the state legislature redrew was compared to a slippery salamander. The Boston Gazette combined his last name, Gerry, to the last seven letters in salamander – hence the word “gerry-mander.”
Essentially, in this process, the party in power tries to redraw district lines in a distorted way in order to gain the advantage over the other party. Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of gerrymandering, but Republicans tend to do it more often and more extremely than their opponents, using the process specifically to suppress the votes of people of color. To learn a little bit more about the process of gerrymandering, watch this Washington Post video.
So, if gerrymandering has plagued our country since at least the early 1800’s, why does it still exist? The Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, but proving illegal redistricting lines in court is almost impossible – especially if the lines are continuous and intact. In sum, whichever party has the majority benefits from it. As long as districts are drawn in their favor, many do not oppose it.
However, the process of redistricting can be a way to combat gerrymandering. Every ten years, the federal government accounts for population change in all districts in the United States. Since some states and districts grow in population size at different rates than others, lines must be redrawn in order for all legislative districts to be at least somewhat fairly represented population-wise. This is where our former (and dearly missed) Attorney General Eric Holder comes into play. He is currently the Chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a Democratic Party initiative dedicated to creating a fair districting strategy.
According to Holder, “the biggest rigged system in America is gerrymandering.” After the 2010 Republican landslide, the GOP was able to gerrymander districts so extremely that it is now almost impossible for Democrats to regain a majority in both state and federal legislatures. This is why Holder has created the NDRC with the goal of “enacting a comprehensive, multi-cycle Democratic redistricting strategy over the next 5 years and beyond” in preparation for the 2021 redistricting process.
The NDRC has three main strategic components: electoral, legal, and ballot initiatives. Within the electoral component, the NDRC will focus on winning critical state elections that will impact redistricting. To support the legal component, the NDRC will support ongoing technology that uses data to redraw important districts lines. Lastly, the NDRC will support ballot initiatives that will invest in campaigns to reform ballots in states that are crucial to the redistricting process. Overall, this committee is dedicated to influencing a positive change in redistricting, creating fairer maps by 2021 and, ultimately, securing an opportunity for Democrats to fairly win back a majority in the federal government.
To learn more about the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, visit their website here.