It would not be too great a stretch to assert that the American public favors fair elections not predetermined by rigged devices such as gerrymandering. After all, fairness is a virtually genetic value pursued, if not perfectly practiced, in most every endeavor from sports to commerce.
Since the time of Elbridge Gerry, however, the blood sport of politics has often been conducted as a zero-sum game, with the losers being all the constituent bystanders. Despite the layers of praise heaped upon the Founding Fathers and ideals to which they are said to have aspired, they quietly harbored a distrust of the popular vote as the basis of governance, of choosing elected officers. The original concept for the Electoral College remains to the present one of those structural impediments to the popular vote as a choice mechanism for national leadership. And, although US senators are now popularly elected (17th Amendment, 1913) within their states, less populous states remain, on a per-capita basis, with greater sway in both Congress and the Electoral College.
Historically, gerrymandering has most affected political party balance in local and state elections for the lower chamber of Congress. There is some promising news that decades of efforts to diminish political party influence over congressional districting and redistricting is succeeding, enhancing the impact of one person-one vote, and competition between political parties. A recent New York Times report (March 11, 2022) concluded that state and court efforts to proscribe House gerrymandering has reduced Republican-tilted districts from 228 to perhaps “fewer than the 218 seats needed for a majority.” The final prognosis, however, will rest upon the outcome of disputes in several states where redistricting maps remain in question.
In Florida, which gained a seat due to the 2020 census, the GOP governor and legislature are locked in a battle over an acceptable map for the Sunshine State. The matter is the subject of lawsuits filed by competing interests. In New Hampshire, the Republican governor has announced he will veto a map prepared by the legislature which, he asserts, unfairly packs and cracks both state districts. The governor argues for more equitable political party distribution to create competitive contests.
The Democratic governor of Louisiana vetoed a map drawn by the legislature on the basis that it violated the Voting Rights Act. A 2/3 vote of the legislature is required to override the veto and that may not be achievable. A deadlock between the two will likely result in court intervention. In Missouri, internecine disputes among Republicans in the state’s Senate ground to a halt its attempts to finalize a redistricting map for the Show Me State. Concurrently, a Judicial Redistricting Commission issued a plan for the state’s senate districts after a citizen commission could not reach a consensus.
Pending the outcomes of the four states where House maps remain in contention, the November midterms are expected to be close and a test of the decades-long efforts to diminish political party dominance in the drawing of congressional maps.
Map challenges in North Carolina and Pennsylvania by Republicans were turned back this month by SCOTUS. Pending the outcomes of the four states where House maps remain in contention, the November midterms are expected to be close and a test of the decades-long efforts to diminish political party dominance in the drawing of congressional maps. Citizen or so-called nonpartisan commissions have not been the complete solution. The intervention of courts appears to have produced more equitable results than those of either commissions or legislatures.
As The Times report noted, the Republican structural advantage in gerrymandered districts was prominent in the 2016 presidential election where the victor garnered 240 to the loser’s 195 House districts. The Constitutional census primarily affects the House of Representatives but does not address the Senate and Electoral College distortion. A view of the political party constituency of the US Senate provides some insight i into the imbalance:
a = Millions
While the number of elected senators is very evenly divided, the aggregate populations are markedly distorted with respect to the republican principle of representative governance in the “world’s most deliberative body.” That distortion of some 48 million residents also feeds an imbalance in the Electoral College on behalf of less populous states, not to mention votes on Senate legislation.
Rationalizing or diminishing this structural inequity, similar to efforts to dilute gerrymandering, is the next challenge to advancing enhanced democracy in the United States.
Rationalizing or diminishing this structural inequity, similar to efforts to dilute gerrymandering, is the next challenge to advancing enhanced democracy in the United States. The road to the November midterms may offer encouragement as both voters and elected officials become convinced that politics is not a zero-sum contest but one wherein the people to be represented are entitled to express their wishes and not be chosen by politicians.
US voters have witnessed two presidential elections (2000 and 2016) in which the popular vote result was overcome by the peculiar mechanics of the Electoral College. The Founding Fathers would not likely be disappointed that the United States achieved a “more perfect union” that was different from the one they envisioned but one that ensured domestic tranquility and universally established electoral justice.
Voters are keen to appreciate one person, one vote. Politicians and parties are invested in choosing voters to win elections and remain in power. Sooner or later, that clash must be resolved.