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How to Prevent The Death of Democracy
ONC Editorial

May 30, 2023

This Op-Ed discusses the practice of partisan gerrymandering within American politics. (The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author, whose information can be found below.)

Both Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were and are fierce critics of partisan gerrymandering—a practice used to gain more political power by manipulating congressional district boundaries. Ronald Reagan called gerrymandering an “antidemocratic and un-American process”, and Barack Obama urged legislators to “end the practice of drawing congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters.” 

I encourage you to recognize the irony in these two quotes. Reagan admonished the practice mere months after the Republican Party gerrymandered their way into power, and Barack Obama called for reform to the redistricting process years after he secured an Illinois Senate seat with the help of district manipulation. Republicans and Democrats simultaneously critique and utilize partisan gerrymandering.   

By manipulating district lines, politicians from any party can ensure that the district they draw in is a safe seat for their party; this decimates voters’ democratic power, cripples electoral competitiveness and fosters deadly extremism.

If one party is guaranteed to win, then the only competition for a candidate will come from the ideological extreme of their party. A candidate in a gerrymandered district will reject bipartisanship, become less accountable to their constituents and skew further to the extreme to prevent intra-party challengers from arising.

Since most congressional districts are composed of an eclectic mix of conservative, moderate and liberal voters, an ideologically extreme candidate cannot properly represent their constituents.

Let’s use the modern Republican Party as an example. In 2010, Republican strategists developed an ingenious plan—known as REDMAP—to gerrymander state and federal districts. They capitalized on decreased Democratic midterm turnout to secure seats at state and federal levels across the country.

In 2010, Republicans gained 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats and dozens of state legislative seats and governorships across the country. Then, they used this momentum to manipulate the districts and guarantee safe seats for the next decade.

This plan was so calculated that even after a decade, the Democratic Party reeled from its sobering effects. Although Democrats have recovered at the federal level, Democrats at the state level continue to fight helplessly against gerrymandered maps.

In 2018, Ohio Republicans won 50.3% of the statewide votes but secured 63% of the statewide seats. Due to their supermajority status, Ohio Republicans have gerrymandered the state’s districts during the recent round of redistricting. The wide gap between the percentage of votes received and the percentage of seats secured demonstrates the need for drastic reform.

A proposed solution to partisan gerrymandering is the adoption of Independent Redistricting Commissions. Independent Redistricting Commissions would redraw district maps with no regard for partisan implications. At the federal level, congressional maps drawn by Independent Redistricting Commissions make up 78% of the 40 most competitive House districts.

Electoral competition is necessary to reduce the effects of increased political extremism, so Independent Redistricting Commissions could be a vital tool for bridging the divide that threatens civility and democracy.

To see all sources consulted/reviewed/interviewed for the purposes of writing this article and/or to learn more about this article's author, click here.

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