As high-profile presidential campaigns drag on, it can be easy to forget that there will be more than one line on the ballot come November. Congressional races cannot be undervalued, and the past few years have demonstrated the power of the legislative branch to grind government to a halt. Nowhere else is the partisan gridlock of a divided government more evident. While there are many factors that contribute to this headache-inducing state of affairs, one major cause is the process known as gerrymandering, in which legislators manipulate district boundaries to favor their own party. A quick Google search of gerrymandered districts reveals the convoluted shapes of our constituencies. As electoral districts begin to look less like even squares and more like Rorschach’s inkblots, the system calls for reform.
Legislators were originally granted the power to redistrict after each census to maintain equal populations, draw boundaries so groups of similar people with common issues could elect a representative that reflected their views. Now, however, our elected officials have begun abusing this power. The fact that they must resort to such manipulative behavior instead of winning with merit is indicative of the sorry state of national politics. Senators and representatives are spending their time in office — positions without term limits — plotting how to preserve power for the next decade rather than actually legislating.
In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Arizona’s independent redistricting commission is constitutional, upholding five more state commissions and permitting other states to follow. Arizona’s commission, made up of two Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent chair, prevents legislators from gerrymandering, which is a major step in the right direction. And luckily, the technology of the 21st century means we now have the means to automate the redistricting process. Using census data, computers can draw equally-populated districts with minimal flaws regardless of constituents’ party affiliations.
Although both parties are guilty of gerrymandering, experts agree that Republicans have benefited more from the process in recent elections. In fact, in the 2014 midterms, more votes were cast overall for Democratic candidates than Republican ones, yet the GOP swept both houses of Congress in an incongruity eerily similar to the messy 2000 presidential election. With Congress’ approval rating at 11 percent, citizens would no doubt welcome reforms to combat immortal incumbents. It will be a slow process, but states must heed Arizona’s precedent and implement newer, fairer methods of redistricting. As the chances of a Trump presidency increase, a bold Congress may be the only way to check the power of the White House. Each decennial census offers an opportunity to perfect our democracy, and giving back true voting power to abandoned citizens should be a priority.
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Email Akshay Prabhushankar at [email protected]