This secret form of voter suppression might be the civil rights issue of our time

Michael Harriot, The Root | 4/12/2017, 1 p.m.
When federal judge Nelva Gonzales struck down Texas’ discriminatory voter-identification law on Monday, voting rights advocates applauded the ruling as ...
iStock

But how do they know where to draw the lines?

Well, like most political issues, race and economics play a major role. They use demographics information, historical patterns and voting data, but isolating poor and minority neighborhoods is a key part of gerrymandering.

Isn’t this illegal?

Yes ... well ... kinda, but not really. You know America—a complex duality of racism and equivocation. Basically, the Supreme Court allows politicians to use race to draw districts as long as race isn’t the “predominant” factor and the mapmakers don’t have the “intent” to discriminate—even if the results are racist. The same ruling (Shaw v. Hunt) affirms that legislators can have blatantly partisan reasons for redistricting, but they must be subtle when it comes to race. They can use all kinds of tricks to get the results they want.

But if the population doesn’t change, how can gerrymandering change the results of an election?

Math. Tricks. Imagine a town with 50 precincts. A good gerrymanderer can decide whomever he wants to win beforehand and engineer the results. This chart explains it clearly.

Wow! That’s nefarious, but does that rise to the level of election rigging?

Yeah, you’re right. Maybe that sounds a little hyperbolic—until you realize that:

According to Pew Research, 48 percent of registered voters identify as Democrat, while only 44 percent call themselves Republican, yet 80 percent of the country lives in a state whose government is under partial or total Republican rule (legislature and governorship).

In the 2016 election, Democrats got more votes in the Senate but lost seats.

Trump lost the popular vote by 3 million but won the Electoral College.

The Golden State Warriors blew a 3-1 lead.

OK, maybe that last fact is irrelevant, but the rest are true only because gerrymandered districts have predetermined the outcome of every election. That is—by definition—rigged.

How is gerrymandering equivalent to voter suppression, though?

In 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, it had nothing to do with voter-ID laws, closed polling places, shorter registration hours, purged voter rolls or any of the other tricks conservatives constantly keep up their sleeves.

Shelby County v. Holder was about a gerrymandered district in Calera, Ala., that purposely eliminated the town’s only black City Council member. The Supreme Court ruling released all of the states with a history of voter discrimination from having to get their maps’ boundaries checked by the Justice Department—or preclearance—before drawing new maps. Every state that passed voter-identification bills, shut down early voting and limited absentee ballots used the gutting of the Voting Rights Act to do so. Gerrymandering is always the first step toward voter suppression.

How can this be stopped?

Some people advocate for a national popular vote for presidential elections. Others say the solution is to have nonpartisan commissions draw all district borders according to a set of fair criteria.

Perhaps the best hope we have of ending gerrymandering is the three upcoming cases the Supreme Court will hear this year. In two of them, the high court will consider whether states can use racial criteria in gerrymandering, but the third case—Whitford v. Gill—will determine if states can draw voting maps for purely partisan reasons.