When Gov. Elbridge Gerry reformed Massachusetts’ Congressional districts in 1812, he had no idea his shifty political tactics and its salamander shape would endure centuries of American politics.
Gerrymandering, or the redrawing of electoral districts to favor a certain political party, has been a common practice and a cause of controversy before it was even named. Now, Wisconsin finds itself in the spotlight of a Supreme Court case that could seriously challenge the practice of gerrymandering for the first time in modern American history.
Throughout the month of October, Supreme Court Justices have been listening to arguments in order to form a ruling on Gill v. Whitford, whose story starts in 2010. For the first time in forty years, Wisconsin had elected a Republican majority in the state assembly and senate, and a Republican governor.
In July of 2011, the party introduced a redistricting plan that would likely cause Republicans to maintain a majority under any rational voting scenario. The plan passed in the senate and assembly and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed it into law in August 2011.
UW political scientists discuss problematic effects of gerrymanderingThe Madison Institute held a lecture Thursday to discuss the implications and effect of gerrymandering in the Whitford v. Gill Read…
The issue at hand is whether or not the plan systematically mitigates the strength of Democratic voters throughout the state of Wisconsin. The outlook for the plan does not look good, as portrayed by recent election results. For instance, in 2012, the election following the passage of the redistricting plan, Republicans held 60 out of 99 possible seats in the State Assembly, even though Wisconsin Democrats won 147,000 more votes in the race for State Assembly seats.
Gerrymandering is an issue and sadly, its reach may hurt more than just political parties. Throughout history, certain demographics have favored particular parties. Pew Research Center asserts that almost for the last forty years, a majority of women tend to vote Democratic and women in government are three times as likely to be a member of the Democratic Party.
Since the redistricting plan in question allegedly diminishes the amount of Democratic representation, this partisan gerrymandering diminishes the number of women represented in the Wisconsin State government. This may have a negative effect on how women’s issues are handled.
Other states have seen negative effects of gerrymandering and its tendency to target female politicians, like in the case of Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis. In 2011, Republican leaders redrew Davis’ congressional district. Thousands of African Americans and Latinx who voted for Davis in the previous election were moved to predominantly conservative districts.
Point Counterpoint: Supreme Court gerrymandering case sparks productive conversation57% of Americans believe that their vote doesn’t really count in the elections. As disheartening as this number is, this Read…
Davis then sued the state under the Voter Rights Act before the election won and was reelected. This has also happened in Ohio, where it was calculated that women representatives are more likely to have their districts redrawn than men. In Virginia, over sixty percent of women representatives had their districts redrawn to favor Republican males.
Although Gill v. Whitford is pending review, it is apparent that the recent redrawing of Wisconsin’s congressional districts favors the Republican party and by extension, under-represents female constituents. Gerrymandering is unconstitutional, regardless of the time or place it occurs. If the Court favors the plaintiff, it would be the first time specific standards would be put in place to distinguish redistricting and gerrymandering.
All in all, lead plaintiff and University of Wisconsin law professor William Whitford puts it best. “In a democracy citizens are supposed to choose their legislators. In Wisconsin, legislators have chosen their voters.” Regardless of one’s gender or party loyalty, the decision of Gill v. Whitford will have a legacy lasting as long, if not longer, than that of the problem, it is solving.
Abigail Steinberg ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.