All the way back in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill into law that redistricted his state’s congressional seats so much, it would be almost impossible for a member of Gerry’s party to not win their election.
One of the districts drawn back then looked a lot like a salamander, and from there, the term “gerrymander” — to draw political lines to favor one group — was born.
Gerrymandering has plagued the political process almost from the beginning of our democracy. Lawmakers typically possess the power to draw the voting bases from which they are elected. That means packing voters into districts the minority would’ve won anyway, and ensuring that when all the votes are counted, the majority doing the redistricting is still the majority.
The U.S. Supreme Court has been called in several times in recent years to settle gerrymandering battles in various states. Almost every time, the court only became involved when such redistricting had racial overtones.
But this week’s decision not to block redistricting in Pennsylvania — which could move as many as three congressional seats over to the Democrats — could finally be a step in the right direction for not only eliminating racial bias in gerrymandering, but political bias as well.
Too many districts throughout the country look like they were drawn by people without a steady hand, and it’s difficult to say districting is fair if elected leaders don’t really represent — politically and racially — the populations they serve.
Even New York suffers that problem, although a constitutional amendment requiring an independent redistricting commission that takes effect in 2020 is designed to curb it.
But New York can’t stand alone. In order to truly ensure our leaders reflect the people they represent, gerrymandering must be eliminated nationwide. Whether it’s through independent commissions or some other means, stacking the deck to support any party spits in the face of our Founding Fathers, who declared their “immortal declaration” that “all men were created equal.”
And they should be represented equally, too.