Does My Vote Matter?

Albert Gu ‘19

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Among the political whirlwind of controversy storming the American media, one issue has remained largely hidden from the limelight — political gerrymandering, a threat to America’s democratic political process. In a string of landmark judicial rulings, the Justice Department has adopted a stance against gerrymandered maps with the latest ruling striking down Pennsylvania’s GOP-drawn congressional map for impeding ‘free and equal’ elections [1].

Gerrymandering is by no means a new phenomenon. In fact, it has plagued American politics for more than two centuries, dating all the way back to 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry drew senate district lines so disproportionately that one district resembled a salamander – hence the word gerrymandering. So, how exactly does gerrymandering work and how is it undemocratic?

An essential component of American democracy, gerrymandering stems from the government’s apportionment or reorganization of congressional districts every 10 years. Each decade, the Central Statistics Office conducts a national census which, in addition to other statistics, determines the population of each congressional district. Using this information, state legislatures draw congressional district lines with the goal of creating districts of similar population. However, state legislatures frequently have partisan agendas in redistricting, leading to extreme party bias. This predisposition for certain parties reduces the influence of certain voters and infringes on their right to fair elections.

Imagine a state comprised of 60% Republicans voters and 40% Democrats voters with five congressional seats available. Depending on how its districts are drawn, the state could have either 5 Republican and 0 Democrat representatives, or 2 Republican and 3 Democrat representatives, an uncharacteristically large swing in representation. These drastically different results are both achievable using the exact same votes, an indication of the extent to which redistricting can unfairly alter congressional representation.

Since many consider Pennsylvania a swing state (Republicans and Democrats have roughly the same amount of support in Pennsylvania), gerrymandering exists as a potent force, often determining the outcome of extremely competitive elections. For reference, in the 2016 election, President Trump won Pennsylvania by a margin 68,236 votes out of more than five million votes, less than 1% of the vote [2]. Even the extremely recent special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th congressional district was a nail biter. The Democratic candidate, Connor Lamb, won by just under 700 votes, just 0.2% of voters [3].

While both parties have similar influence in Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 12 out of 18 of the state’s seats in Congress as a result of their gerrymandered map. Under the newly drawn map, statisticians suggest that Democrats could gain at least 2 seats in the upcoming midterm elections, reducing the representation discrepancy between both parties [4]. Due to the predicted competitiveness of the 2018 midterm elections, Pennsylvania’s redrawn congressional map could seriously influence which party has a majority in Congress, altering the political climate on a national scale. Only through eliminating gerrymandering can America maintain its global position as a role model for democracy.

[1]http://www.philly.com/philly/news/pennsylvania/pa-supreme-court-releases-gerrymandering-opinion-2011-map-violates-free-and-equal-elections-20180207.html

[2]https://www.politico.com/2016-election/results/map/president/pennsylvania/

[3]https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/03/13/us/elections/results-pennsylvania-house-special-election.html?mtrref=www.google.com&gwh=836683D30978240902B04EA821A4FD7F&gwt=pay

[4]https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/02/19/upshot/pennsylvania-new-house-districts-gerrymandering.html

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Does My Vote Matter?