Redistricting and Voting Rights: Examining the Impact of Changes in Representation
Redistricting involves redrawing congressional and state legislative district borders to account for demographic shifts. It’s essential to get it right, as it helps ensure a fair allocation of voting power for all citizens.
But when politicians use this process to manipulate the outcome of elections, it’s called gerrymandering. Critics call it a pernicious and undemocratic practice that undermines democracy.
After the decennial census, states must redraw their districts’ borders every ten years to reflect demographic changes. According to experts like NAACPLDF.org, this procedure, known as redistricting, generates congressional districts, state legislatures, and local councils.
The federal government conducts a population count to establish the number of people in each state and to determine how many seats each state could send to Congress. This data helps states redraw their maps to match internal population shifts typically triggered by births and deaths.
It is critical to remember that states must ensure that expanding communities of color are fairly represented in their districts under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act while constructing these maps. That means looking at voting patterns and other demographic data to ensure that racial gerrymandering does not result in the disenfranchisement of voters of color.
It often happens when a state or locality draws district lines that dilute the power of a racial or ethnic minority group. In such cases, voters of color are relegated to a minor role in elections and can have a hard time influencing the policies their representatives pursue.
One such case occurred in the Gulf Coast city of Mobile, Alabama, where voting rights advocates achieved a breakthrough when the city council adopted a redistricting plan that could give voters a chance to elect a majority Black city council for the first time. However, a city mayor’s plan to annex primarily white districts west of the city could attract 26,000 new inhabitants, undoing progress and weakening the voting power of Black people.
States redraw their electoral districts every ten years–lines on maps that can have serious real-world consequences. If these maps are drawn reasonably, then voters can elect representatives who reflect the overall views of the population. But if the lines are manipulated through partisan gerrymandering, the legislature will be untethered from the popular will.
Drawing electoral district borders in a way that benefits the political party in charge of creating the maps is known as partisan gerrymandering. It can amplify one party’s power over another by packing and cracking voters into smaller and larger legislative districts, giving that party a few overwhelming wins while leaving others vulnerable.
In addition, partisan gerrymandering can target minority populations to benefit the party that controls the maps. It is a form of intentional discrimination.
The Constitution prohibits government efforts to treat people worse because of their race or ethnicity, which applies to redistricting. During this process, politicians often employ several unethical strategies to gerrymander districts.
Partisan gerrymandering has been an important topic in American politics for many decades, but it has recently gotten much attention from the Supreme Court. It was partly because the courts needed to develop a robust disciplinary framework for studying this issue and because redistricting itself had never been analyzed using more sophisticated empirical tools.
Political polarization is the ideological extremes moving farther from the center regarding political views and policy. It has risen significantly in the United States over the past 40 years, more than in Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Germany.
Changes in the Democratic and Republican parties’ leadership and the emergence of partisan cable television are frequently blamed for it. But it may also have a more fundamental cause: technology.
A revolution in communications, through direct mail, cable TV, and the Internet, has allowed ideological soul mates to find each other, organize pool resources, and proselytize, making them more likely to become politically active. It has also facilitated the emergence of a new generation of political moderates.
It has resulted in a growing separation between the two main parties, both organizationally and in government. In recent decades, the number of conservative Democrats has surpassed that of liberal Republicans, creating an ideological gap between them (Figure).
While some scholars argue that this has been a positive political change, others believe it contributes to society’s polarization. It is because gerrymandering can be used to redraw district lines so that they are favorable to one party or another or to protect or harm specific demographic groups.
Gerrymandering can exacerbate partisan divides and impede electoral process fairness, so it should be regulated. It can be done by requiring district maps to be transparent so that the public can see who is drawing the boundaries and have confidence that they are not being rigged in favor of one party.
The Constitution guarantees that every citizen can vote, and states can’t deny or limit that privilege for any reason. But in the South, various voter suppression measures were used during racial segregation to keep African Americans from registering and voting. These included poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, whites-only primaries, and other racially discriminatory practices.
The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to protect from these unfair tactics. It requires states and localities with a history of racially discriminatory redistricting to receive federal approval before changing their election laws.
Under the law, federal registrars and monitors can be dispatched to the jurisdictions covered by the Act to ensure that discriminatory policies don’t occur. In addition, the Act required states with previous discriminatory policies to submit their redistricting plans to the Justice Department for preclearance before enacting them.
As the population in the country has become more diverse and multiracial, redistricting laws need to be updated to reflect this. When they were written in the 1960s, many people of color lived in a more segregated world, concentrated in primarily white cities and suburbs.
This trend has reversed recently as communities of color have moved away from cities and into broader, more multicultural, melting-pot suburbs. It has resulted in a surge in the number of voters, but it has also resulted in greater political polarization. That has led to more partisan gerrymandering and has made the country less fair in elections.
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