Sample Political Science Paper on Gerrymandering

Introduction

In America, the concept of gerrymandering is used to mean the exercise of setting up electoral boundaries with the objective of favoring certain political interests within legislative jurisdictions. This practice usually gives birth to districts with winding or convoluted boundaries rather than with areas which are compact. Gerrymandering occurs in each individual state in America after every ten years following a census. It divides geographical areas with each district within a state that have the same number of electorates. Contemporary issues,  involvement of the legislature, Supreme Court, executive, media, and society’s perception of gerrymandering makes it clear that the practice of redistricting individual states for political purposes is the main cause of polarization and divisions within the American political system.

The Happenings

Gerrymandering has always been considered as a political tool which is controlled by the governor and state legislators to advance their own political interests. A party that is able to control the governor’s office and the state’s legislative bodies has a strong position in redistricting the boundaries to its own advantage and to the disadvantage of its political opponent (Callidas 1413). The primary objective of redistricting by political parties in the demarcation process is to gain control of a state’s congressional and legislation representation including the maintenance of that control for a long time that can withstand fluid political changes in a state’s population. Even though gerrymandering is sometimes considered as unconstitutional, it has helped most elections to become representative since it does not necessarily increase political polarization and does not work to the advantage of the incumbent. Furthermore, it is also able to recreate districts by taking advantage of the power of racial minorities to support certain nominees who are also minorities which help dilute the minority vote.

Contemporary Issues

In contemporary America, the issue of gerrymandering is clearly highlighted in the lead-up to the 2012 elections when the Republican Party introduced a program known as the Redistributing Majority Project (REDMAP).  It was a program that was intended to acknowledge that a party that was in control of a particular state’s legislature should have the power to set their legislative and congressional boundaries premised on the United States census of 2012 (Callidas 1415). This initiative was to ensure that the party had control of that state for the next ten years until the next census. This type of program made the Republican Party to have significant gains from the elections of 2012 that spread across several states. Most of the district maps during this period were dominated by the Republican advantage that was a creation of partisan gerrymandering. However, it created several legal implications from voters and parties in the courts and Supreme Court level. Many Democrats considered gerrymandering as a major hindrance that they came across during the US Mid-Term elections of 2018.

Legislature, Supreme Court and Executive Involvement

Since the Twentieth Century federal courts in America have been of the opinion that extreme cases of gerrymandering are unconstitutional. However, these courts have been struggling on how to define types of gerrymandering and the standards that should be applied in determining which types of redistrict maps should be regarded as unconstitutional. However, in the late 1990s the US Supreme Court determined that racial gerrymandering was an infringement of constitutional rights. In this respect, it upheld decisions which touched on redistricting based on racial considerations. Even with this decision, the Supreme Court has still struggled in defining partisan gerrymandering and as to when it occurs (Callidas 1417). In this regard it made an ultimate decision that partisan gerrymandering is a political question that cannot be justified and therefore, cannot be dealt with by the federal court system. This means in essence that the judicial system is powerless when it comes to partisan gerrymandering that is practiced by political parties. However, it has clearly made a distinction between racial and partisan gerrymandering. It has criminalized racial gerrymandering and, therefore, protected the rights of minority groups.

The Supreme Court, therefore, left the issue of gerrymandering to Congress and the states for them to come up with solutions of preventing partisan gerrymandering. Some states have been able to create redistricting commissions which are independent with the objective of reducing political influence in the process. On the political front, the Republican Party in both Carolina districts and Pennsylvania was found guilty, by both Supreme Courts, of committing partisan gerrymandering that was not in line with the constitution (Callidas 1417). The Pennsylvania map was later reconfigured to create congressional delegations that were evenly split. This act gave the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania to have more congressional representation which helped the party to later flip the House of Representatives. On the other hand, there was no reconfiguration in North Carolina, a matter that gave the Republican Party an edge during the mid-term elections of 2018. The lack of action by the North Carolina Court system helped a skewed representation to take effect. However, it should be noted that several states in America find partisan gerrymandering as unacceptable by the passage of legislation through ballot measures which require the institution  of non-partisan commissions in anticipation for the 2020 gerrymandering cycle.

The Media

The media has great impact on the issue of gerrymandering since it influences the perceptions of voters with respect to partisanship. Media information is usually partial when it comes to political issues. The media has become a great impediment to democratic decision making by virtue of perpetuating its own ideologies to its readers. Most voters are greatly influenced by the media be it print, electronic or social media (University of Pennsylvania). People form opinions which influence their ideological inclination through their interactions with their social networks and the media. It is in this regard that gerrymandering is either perpetuated or discouraged by the type of media in which one interacts with.

American Society’s Perception

The American society including lawmakers and voters from all political affiliations are in agreement against an end to extreme partisan gerrymandering. This general agreement was initially highlighted in 2018 when a large number of voters passed several crucial anti-gerrymandering reforms in states such as Michigan, Colorado, and Utah. However, bipartisan opposition to this practice is deep-rooted.

On the other hand, public opinion in the last few years indicates that the American people are of the same opinion as that of their elected leaders. Opinion polls that were conducted in 2017 and 2019 indicated that over 70% of voters from both political divides agree that the Supreme Court should place restrictions on gerrymandering (University of Pennsylvania). The poll that was conducted in 2019 also revealed that over 55% of voters in America with partisan inclinations view the practice in a bad light due to its divisive attributes (Brennan Center for Justice).  In 2018, the opinion polls were complemented by legislative and citizen action where five states in the US passed redistricting reforms. Three of those reforms were adopted by citizens through the ballot. All the reforms were bipartisan in nature that constituted over 60% of Republican (University of Pennsylvania). These facts indicate a unified view over the issue of gerrymandering.

Do Political Parties Agree on the Issue?

For many years politicians from both parties have been on record condemning partisan gerrymandering by focusing on its fundamental anti-democratic tendencies. This agreement is evidenced through their concerted action of 2017 with the involvement of the Supreme court (Brennan Center for Justice). Leading Democrats and Republicans joined together and called on the Supreme Court to ban extreme partisan gerrymandering. A case in point is when Senators Sheldon Whitehouse and John McCain filed a petition supporting democratic voters in opposing the Wisconsin’s map. They regarded partisan gerrymandering as an instrument that was used for political interests to distort democracy. In the same manner, many state and federal legislators from both parties are also on record of filing petitions that condemned the constitutional violations caused by the redistricting system.

Gerrymandering in other Countries

The practice of gerrymandering is not only found in the US but other countries as well. The most prominent country that has exhibited this practice is Pakistan. In this country, legislative districts are drawn to disenfranchise others and entrench the political elites. In Pakistan it is common for a few privileged voters to elect the Chief Minister. And in another district, tens of thousands of voters are not able to elect a single representative in the same assembly (Hussain). Those tens of thousands of voters are members of a certain ethnic minority group which is the most persecuted in that part of the world. In Pakistan, gerrymandering is also used by the ruling elite to consolidate and maintain their position in society.

Impact on Government Legitimacy

            Gerrymandering has an impact on a government’s legitimacy in that it does not represent the popular will of the people. It is a major contributor to wasted votes which ware not used in electing a candidate. This because the vote was either found to have surpassed the minimum threshold that is needed for victory or the candidate that was voted for lost (Mann). The shifting of geographical boundaries, the incumbent party clusters opposition voters in a few districts that they will win already thus wasting these votes. In this regard, the emerging government lacks any legitimacy because it does not represent the will of the people.

Opinion

In my opinion gerrymandering should be treated as an anti-democratic practice that needs to be eliminated from any political structure of a government.  It is a practice that is intentionally used by the ruling elite to either disenfranchise voters or to perpetuate the interests of a ruling class. It is divisive in nature and creates a polarization effect in society. In this regard, the best way of handling the issue is its elimination and replacement with appropriate democratic structures which are based on equity and respect for the constitutional rights of all members of the society. However, it needs the reformation of political parties and how citizens in a country are governed and how they choose their representatives. B y reforming the electoral system, the concept of fairness and equity should be embraced so as to eliminate aspects of gerrymandering which breed inequality and unhealthy political competition.

 

Gerrymandering in the US is a practice that not only has a polarizing effect on the society but also causes divisions and segregation of minority groups.  The concept of gerrymandering has pervaded the political landscape of America because of political interests of the dominant parties. It has been used as a means of consolidating and maintaining power so as to control both the legislative and congressional representation. This practice has become difficult to abolish because of a lack of appropriate laws to define it. However, the American people have seen its negative effects are always in the process of limiting its influence in the American society through various legislations and popular actions. The media has also played a part in perpetuating this practice by influencing the perception of the citizenry with regard to this practice. However, this practice has a significant impact on the legitimacy of any government. This is because it has the effect of disenfranchising a certain group of people and, therefore, lacks the mandate of the people. It is in this regard, that a majority of the American people from all walks of life are taking up action in an effort to reduce its impact on the society.

 

Works Cited

Brennan Center for Justice “Americans Are United Against Partisan Gerrymandering.” Brennan Center for Justice. 2019

Calidas, Douglass . “Hindsight Is 20/20: Revisiting the Reapportionment Cases to Gain

Perspective on Partisan Gerrymanders”. Duke Law Journal57 (5): 1413–1447. 2008.

Hussain Sajjad. It’s Not Just the U.S. with a Gerrymandering Problem — Look at Pakistan.

Institute for Policy Studies. 2018

Mann Thomas. We Must Address Gerrymandering. Time Magazine. 2016.

University of Pennsylvania. Information gerrymandering’ poses a threat to democratic decision

making.2019.