Meet Gerrymandered America

The recent uproar over the Virginia legislature’s attempt to gerrymander their presidential vote is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the institutionalized shenanigans Republicans are using to maintain an artificial hold on power.

As has been widely reported, if the swing states controlled by Republican legislatures had allocated their electoral college votes based on congressional district, Mitt Romney would have won the election while losing the popular vote by 4 million. This preposterous bastardization of the already bastardized Electoral College could not be a more obviously racist method for producing an electoral majority.

Patrick Henry kicked off the gerrymanderization of congress, but its history really began as the tool of the post-Reconstruction South, where legislatures used it (among other methods) to disenfranchise their black populations. It wasn’t until a Supreme Court case in 1962 that anyone stood up and said congressional districts had to have equal populations, or “one man, one vote.” Still today’s mostly-white party has gone to fantastic lengths to gerrymander black, Hispanic, and university towns (where the young and liberal reside) into irrelevance.

The only reason the Republicans retained their control of the House despite losing the total vote count by over a million votes was the insane gerrymandering of states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Michigan. Even though Democrats have done similar things to Illinois and Maryland, the end result is, as Emily Bazelon pointed out for Slate, that “Democrats control the line drawing for 44 congressional seats and 885 state legislative seats, while Republicans control the line drawing for 210 congressional seats and 2,498 state legislative seats.”

The nature of the U.S. Senate is already pure malapportionment, handing massive influence to senators from states like North Dakota and Alaska with populations smaller than the twenty most populous cities. The House of Representatives and the congressional districts they represent, however, has long been the chemistry lab for white, rural legislatures to concoct absurd formulas and strategies to marginalize minority voters. When a Democratic House and a Republican Senate renewed the Voting Rights Act in 1982, they strengthened the rules for majority-minority districts. The result—ever since 1992 when the rules went into effect—has been to pack blacks and Hispanics into tight, safe districts while crafting huge Republican majorities for the rest of a state’s districts.

Finally, we come to the least mentioned but most egregious story of disenfranchisement in America: Washington D.C. The District has roughly 600,700 residents, and about 63% of those are black, Hispanic or Asian. That’s more people than Wyoming, yet their representation amounts to one congressional delegate who cannot vote. Without question they should have not just a voting representative but two senators, who would almost certainly end up being Democrats for the foreseeable future, which is why the Republican Party has worked so hard to keep the residents of that city disenfranchised.

Taking all this into the aggregate, it’s impossible not to conclude that state Republican legislatures and the national party have colluded to produce a tampered model for elections that guarantees their party representation disproportionate to their actual vote totals. People talk about changing the partisan nature of Washington, but the two most important reforms for our moribund electoral instituation would be impartial districting on every level and non-party primaries that won't produce the most extreme candidates every time. Also, we could do something really crazy like actually electing a president with a popular majority.