By Emma Kaden
In the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers determined “the House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States…”
Prior to the establishment of the U.S. Constitution, John Adams expressed that legislative bodies “should be in miniature, an exact portrait of the people at large. … Great care should be taken to effect [sic] this, and to prevent unfair, partial, and corrupt elections.”
It seems as though the Founding Fathers intended for the People to choose their representatives, yet that is often not the case. Superficially, American voters directly impact the election of representatives, but much more is going on behind the scenes.
In the past, political figures have made many attempts to change the way Americans vote, but none were as devious as gerrymandering. The term comes from when Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts redrew the state map to benefit his party in 1812. One of the redrawn districts resembled a salamander, thus the name Gerry-mandering (later gerrymandering) was born.
Every ten years, congressional districts for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures are redrawn to accommodate population changes. This process, called redistricting, has been exploited to benefit political parties, and take the power away from the people.
When redistricting, it is usually known that each district must be one continuous shape and, very generally speaking, compact, and have the same number of constituents. If a redistricted state does not follow these conditions, lawsuits are likely to follow. These requirements, though, are not very specific, and it is easy to draw districts that favor one political party over another, inherently rendering the votes of one or more political parties’ members useless.
If you happen to live in a district where your party is not in the majority due to gerrymandering, the odds are already stacked against you—your vote won’t make much of a difference, if any. The Founding Fathers would be rolling in their graves if they knew how modern politicians are cheating the system to benefit themselves and others in their party, rather than American citizens.
The next redistricting will take place after the 2020 census—that means there are only two years before gerrymandering will rear its ugly head once more. What can the states do to stop it? Arizona, California, Idaho, and Washington have already set up independent commissions to draw district lines, taking the power away from politicians.
Another idea is to have multi-seat districts, rather than winner-takes-all districts. This would enable all voters to have a bigger impact in elections, and would allow for more competitive elections.
No matter which suggestion is most effective, it is paramount that Americans contact their representatives and explain the importance of abolishing gerrymandering once and for all. Our Founding Fathers wished to “form a more perfect union.” Let’s honor their legacy and return the power to the people by eliminating gerrymandering and rebuilding a system in which “We the People” determine who we elect.