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  • Yasmine Ganemtore

How Gerrymandering Dilutes Your Vote, and What You Can Do About It 

Updated: Feb 22



By: Yasmine Ganemtore, CVP Communications Intern



Redistricting, the act of redrawing district boundaries based on census data every decade, can lead to gerrymandering, a practice where district boundaries are strategically manipulated to significantly influence election outcomes. 


Various factors, such as compactness and population equality, are considered when drawing district maps. In some states, new district maps must be drawn by bipartisan or nonpartisan redistricting commissions, while in others, the majority party in the legislature has the authority to draw the maps. However, in states where legislators are responsible for creating district maps, they may draw lines that work in their favor, leading to maps that do not accurately represent the state's voters. Unfortunately, there is very limited federal oversight of states, often self-interested, redistricting efforts, with the U.S. Supreme Court establishing case law that districts must have equal population and eventually prohibiting racial gerrymandering. 


However, the Court has held on a number of occasions that partisan gerrymandering is a “non-justiciable” question, which means the Justices can’t agree on a standard to decide cases or that they believe it must be left to other branches to resolve. This means that if a state legislature says that they intentionally split up a community of black voters across multiple districts to prevent them from being able to elect their preferred candidate that is an impermissible racial gerrymander. 


However, if the same legislature draws the exact same maps but says they did it intentionally to split up democratic voters that is a partisan gerrymander and at least at the federal level that is not prohibited. Given the intertwined racial history of the political parties and voter suppression it can be hard to disentangle these issues in redistricting and the Roberts Court has spent decades undermining even racial gerrymandering protections under the Voting Rights Act. This state of affairs with very limited U.S. constitutional or federal oversight means that the rules of redistricting, even for U.S. Congressional seats can look vastly different from state to state and have allowed extreme gerrymandering to become entrenched in some states. Unfortunately, there is very limited federal oversight of states, often self-interested, redistricting that dilutes the voices and power of the people.


This current state of affairs is very troubling because the manipulation of electoral districts through gerrymandering can have a profound effect on political representation. It involves strategies such as "cracking" and "packing" voters, which dilute their political power. Communities may be ‘cracked,’ or split up, in order to disperse voters who predominantly support a particular party across multiple districts, diminishing their ability to vote in candidates they feel represent their community as a whole. Conversely, similarly-minded voters may be packed into one district, ensuring their dominance in one election, but diluting their strength in all the surrounding districts. 


These tactics create disparities in representation, often in purple states, or those where voters seem to be split relatively evenly between Republican and Democrat voters. States that engage in aggressive gerrymandering can end up with a political party that holds a supermajority in the state legislature, while the same political party loses statewide elections that don’t depend on one district’s vote. 


Kristin Hansen, the Wisconsin State Coordinator for Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project, said this is the case in her state. "All statewide elections, including the presidential ones, in Wisconsin are highly competitive,” she said. “In recent times, presidential elections were decided by a margin as narrow as 20,000 votes.”  


Despite the competitive nature of some elections, the state legislature has been continuously controlled by one party, “which contradicts the political landscape of Wisconsin,” she added.



CVP Democracy Fellows (from left) Vanessa Ivanov, Kayley Bell, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, and Badgers Vote intern Amanjot Kaur following the signing.

However, a recent Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling deemed the maps unconstitutional due to non-contiguous districts in the case of Clarke v. Wisconsin Elections Commission.  On February 19, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers signed new maps into law, which are expected to usher in a new era of fairness in the state.


In North Carolina, there is a long history of egregious gerrymandering that has worsened over the years. In the most recent round of redistricting after the 2020 Census there were again aggressive attempts to explicitly gerrymandering for partisan gain. Fortunately, the North Carolina Supreme Court found the state legislature's most recent maps unconstitutional under the state constitution and also blocked what would be the country's most convoluted voter ID law as well.  Unfortunately, in 2022, in a completely unprecedented and blatantly partisan outcome a new majority on the Supreme Court agreed to rehear the gerrymandering and voter ID cases just months after they were initially decided and reversed both opinions allowing the state legislature to intentionally engage in partisan gerrymandering and for a highly restrictive and convoluted voter ID law to go into effect. 


North Carolina's voting remains competitive in recent statewide races, but one political party has had the majority in both chambers since redistricting and even achieved a supermajority in the legislature, despite not being able to win the majority of statewide votes in either of the last two Governor’s races. The most recent state legislative maps are drawn to create districts that do not represent the people who live there and to dilute power. The maps were drawn so surgically precise, that they resulted in many uncontested seats, leading to frustration among students who realized that they have lost any sort of voice or power when it comes to voting.


Calls for nonpartisan redistricting committees or commissions have been growing, as fairness in the redistricting process has become a recognized need. Michigan has already implemented an independent redistricting commission, through a citizen-led ballot initiative process, to ensure a more impartial and transparent process and prevent gerrymandering. 

Some Ohioans are trying to implement a similar initiative in their state. Ohio has long been affected by gerrymandering, resulting in non-competitive districts and a lack of accurate representation for many constituents. Alexis Crosby highlights how gerrymandering has resulted in the packing Black voters from two separate cities and counties in Ohio into the same district. This can dilute the voting power of minority communities and impact their representation in the political process.


The Ohio Citizens Not Politicians Campaign is a grassroots movement that seeks to change the state's constitution to establish an independent redistricting board, ensuring fair and representative maps. Despite challenges such as split campuses and communities that are not represented well, Alexis encourages citizens to engage themselves and educate their communities about the court system and the power of casting a ballot. Through the use of technology and mobilizing voters, the Fair Districts Coalition actively submits testimony and community maps to the state house in order to demonstrate how community input and buy-in can create maps that more accurately represent constituents. "There's not a possibility of fair representative districts,” said Crosby, “without taking this task out of the hands of the politicians that may benefit from having unrepresentative maps.”


Gerrymandering also affects resource allocation, depriving certain communities of fair distribution.The resulting distortion of the voting public not only undermines the integrity of democracy but also fosters a sense of disempowerment among voters, potentially leading to lower voter turnout. 


College students are frequently impacted by gerrymandering. District lines can divide campuses, diluting the political voice  of young people and hindering their ability to advocate for their own interests. 


“When gerrymandering is wholly established in a district, a seat is automatically granted to a single party or the other,” Hansen explained. “This creates a situation where a minimal number of seats are competitive, affecting the college student vote."


In Ohio, non-competitive districts have been gerrymandered to pack Black voters into non-contiguous districts, such as Congressional District 11. The deliberate grouping of Black voters in two separate cities and counties, into a single congressional district, leads to inadequate representation as the elected official’s capacity is split between very different population centers and surrounding communities with different needs.  The reverse strategy, cracking, has been used at the state level on campus communities, with a single campus divided between multiple districts , providing elected officials with political power and influence over significant institutions that generate revenue and job opportunities, while diluting those communities ability to select representatives focused on their concerns. 


The campus community has its votes split across multiple districts that generally spiral out into much more rural areas that can dominate the vote and priority setting for those districts’ representatives. For instance, Cleveland State University has been split between Ohio House Districts 10 and 11 for many years, while other universities like Ohio State University have experienced similar division. 


The evolution of technology has both positively and negatively impacted the redistricting process in recent years. According to Hansen, gerrymandering with the help of technology has become increasingly insidious over the last couple of decades. She said used inappropriately these technologies let a political party exploit detailed voter demographic data and advanced software to micro-target specific areas, often dividing and weakening certain groups of voters while consolidating others. 


"They used to draw these maps by hand, whereas now with computer programs, you can literally take a neighborhood and draw a line down the middle of the street, and then create districts with specific demographics in mind," she told me. This consolidation grants disproportionate power to select political groups, enabling representatives to neglect marginalized communities.  


Technology has also become an ally in fighting gerrymandering, empowering communities through mapping tools and virtual forums to provide direct input on district maps. In Ohio, these tools have allowed residents to shape their political landscape and propose fair and representative districts. 


The current system amplifies gerrymandering's impact, as winner-takes-all elections and safe seats make politicians prioritize extreme party members, leading to more polarized politics. Lack of district competitiveness discourages voter participation and harms democracy. Moreover, gerrymandering affects resource allocation, as unrelated data and political proxies like race or education are considered, depriving certain communities of fair resource distribution. The resulting distortion of the voting public not only undermines the integrity of democracy but also fosters a sense of disempowerment among voters, potentially leading to lower voter turnout. 


Gerrymandering can silence our voices and dilute our influence as voters, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many ways to fight against gerrymandering and advocate for fair maps. By familiarizing ourselves with our local district maps and the redistricting process, we can challenge the current system. 


Fair redistricting is vital for equitable representation in our democracy. We have the opportunity to advocate for fair redistricting and hold our elected officials accountable.


How to get involved:


  • Get involved with grassroots movements like the Ohio Fair Districts Coalition to advocate for fair redistricting in Ohio and raise awareness about gerrymandering.

  • Join the Fair Maps Coalition in Wisconsin, a nonpartisan organization fighting gerrymandering. Volunteer to introduce referendums for fair maps on local ballots and support resolutions in counties.

  • Live in another state? You can find training, resources, and materials for redistricting efforts from across the country at the redistricting hub Charge.

  • Want to know more? Take a deeper dive into the history of gerrymandering with FiveThirtyEight's reporting The Gerrymandering Project.



 



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