This year has been challenging for every side of the political aisle. On the left, I’ve heard a lot of negative sentiments over the Electoral College and its weight compared to the popular vote. On the right, I’ve heard doubts softened with a reassurance that Congress will serve as an effective check and/or balance to an unpredictable President-Elect.
Somewhere in the middle, I’ve heard a lot of complacency, mostly in the form of half-hearted acceptance that this is life now and we should more or less return to ignoring politics altogether for another four years.
I sympathize with all to an extent, but it’s important to note that we have a major political issue to consider that we can’t afford to table until the next presidential election. Redistricting reform addresses popular vote concerns, reinforces the need and ability for Congress to check the executive office, and can be addressed NOW.
Gerrymandering is not a “sexy” political issue. You probably won’t see lengthy Facebook posts supporting redistricting reform or “checking in” somewhere to make your feelings known, a la the Dakota Pipeline. While there are opportunities to contribute to advocacy groups (related: please check out OneVirginia2021), they are few and far between. Gerrymandering doesn’t have a public, visible “victim” like other highly politicized issues.
Gerrymandering is more akin to flossing. You should care about it. It would make your life a lot better in the long run if you did.
But not enough of us do care… we don’t really want to hang out with anyone that does care… and somewhere along the line, we all pay for ignoring it.
There’s good reason for the apathy. It’s hard to explain the nitty gritty in an easy-to-digest way, and that makes it easy to categorize gerrymandering firmly in the Boring Category. But it’s important. Gerrymandering is the process by which incumbent politicians essentially select their voters, thus making it easier to ensure their re-election. This happens every ten years, right after the census. In 2010, Democrats lost hard in the midterm elections, and as a result in 2011 we were given some heavily gerrymandered districts that favored Republicans. It happens both ways, of course, but this is the current state of affairs in Virginia. We haven’t elected a Republican to a statewide office in seven years here, but the House of Delegates is controlled by Republicans by a very healthy margin.
(Despite my glaring liberal bias: Gerrymandering is NOT a partisan issue. There are people on every side of the aisle who make democracy more complicated than it should be for selfish reasons.)
I understand resentment about the popular vote being overlooked, but we have a chance to ensure that every voice is heard by addressing redistricting reform. Gerrymandering doesn’t even offer consolation in the form of Electoral representation; you lose out entirely. Last May, a Supreme Court ruling mandated the redrawing of Congressional District 3, which had previously run all the way up to Richmond. The previous boundaries were a result of racial gerrymandering, which allowed legislators to pack the district with as many African-American voters as they could. The district was already a majority-minority district, but by packing everyone into CD-3, they diluted the influence of the African-American voters both within and outside of that district.
Relying on the checks and balances system of the legislative branch also gets a lot shakier when you consider the power that gerrymandering gives incumbent legislators. Already a favored group, incumbents essentially hand-pick their voters, sometimes even cutting individual homes from neighborhoods in order to remove a challenge to their re-election. This is bad for every side. For a Democrat like me, it means looking forward to watching Scott Taylor shrug his shoulders every time Trump does something reckless without any real fear of repercussions. But I don’t relish it anymore when I watch my own needs get overlooked because I can’t hold the representatives I want accountable for following through – they don’t need to listen to their constituents when it’s not necessary to stay in office.
On a smaller scale, redistricting can make your life a lot more convenient. Gerrymandering often results in split precincts, which mean people from multiple districts end up voting in the same polling place. This makes it difficult to educate voters, particularly in cases like the Granby Elementary polling place. Precincts are a few thousand voters, and at Granby, 29 of them vote in the 2nd Congressional District for no real reason other than that’s how their boundaries are drawn. Some precincts are split up to FOUR different ways, and that’s unnecessarily confusing and complicated for voters and poll workers.
Finally, redistricting reform is one of the most important reasons to stay engaged now that the national election is over. We can’t do anything about the presidential election, and we can’t do much about already-gerrymandered districts until after the 2020 census, but you can make it a priority issue today. Virginia is electing a new governor in 2017. That governor is going to be in office when it comes time to redraw district boundaries. We need to fight to make sure our districts are compact, contiguous, and preserve communities of interest.
Support redistricting reform, hold our candidates accountable, and make sure that when you vote, your vote is as powerful as it’s supposed to be.
OneVirginia2021 is holding a screening of the documentary “GerryRigged” at Virginia Wesleyan tonight. For more info, click here.