When it comes to gerrymandering, look no further than Austin, Texas to truly understand the undermining efforts of the incumbent Republican Party. A stronghold for the liberal base of the state carved into six districts during the 2011 redistricting (1). Six districts that appear to be no more than mere jigsaw puzzle pieces that have been melted into disarray, leaving an open path for Republican re-elections in the past decade. By literally “cracking” the former area into these sections, conservatives have been able to mitigate the influence of the largely Democratic population. Essentially the city has been split such that the greater chunk of it has been consumed by the five surrounding Republican districts, leaving only one liberal district; a clear misrepresentation of the city, like many others across the state and the nation. This is but a vignette of how these serpent-shaped pieces on the map have poisoned our democratic institutions, resulting in a decline in voter turnout and a quashing of minority voices.
Of course, gerrymandering is an issue that seems to stem with great pride from the two-party system that prevails in our country. In the U.S., mapmaking is deliberated by the congressional and state legislatures to be finalized by the governor. If a party were to control all three of these bodies, that would essentially give them the reins to perform any redistricting actions without significant resistance. However, in Texas, that is the case, with the Republican party ruling all three entities. This has resulted in backlash from the opposing party and nulled voter action. Due to the actions of the party, several demographics and their voices have been ignored, because the natural majorities of the manipulated districts are capable of invalidating the votes of these peoples (2). This has served to suffice litigation from Democrats against conservative government officials in charge of “one of the most gerrymandered states in the union” (3). Texas is considered the fifth most gerrymandered state in the country according to a 2017 analysis by Azavea, conducted on a basis of efficiency gap and seat advantage (both variables are quantitatively representative measures of the advantage posed by the party in charge of redistricting due to the nature of the map drawn) (4). Nonetheless, it is important to remember that despite the current state of politics in the state, nearly thirty years ago Texas underwent the same issue of partisan gerrymandering under the Democratic party, although to a considerably lesser degree (5). It still stands that the current state of gerrymandering under the Republican has damaged the attempts of several minorities to attain their needs and desires.
Texas politicians have seen their fair share of repercussions. Since 2010, the border state has massively increased in its Hispanic, African-American, and other populations, resulting in a greater number of issues embedded in the Texan making themselves more apparent. The population growth even warranted politicians to draw four more congressional districts. Yet, in 2011, certain districts in all three levels of the state legislature - state Senate, state House, and Congress - were all lacking accordance with the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution or Article 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, or both, according to a three-judge federal district court. In 2013, minor changes were made at each level and the complaint was discharged. However, on August 15, 2017, with regards to the congressional districting of 2011, several more claims had arisen, and the court declared that there was “racially discriminatory intent and effects that it previously found in the 2011 plans carry over into the 2013 plans...The Legislature in 2013 intentionally furthered and continued the existing discrimination in the plans.” It has also been obvious that despite being encouraged by the federal courts to take remedial steps with regards to their construed mapmaking, Republicans have chosen to take advantage of illegitimate possibilities to continue their inappropriate practices (6).
Moreover, the process of gerrymandering has been proved to take consequential tolls on the participatory behavior of our democracy. According to research conducted by Professors Danny Hykes of Syracuse University and Seth C. McKee of the University of South Florida, there is more to gerrymandering that only the math can reveal. For the past three decades, roughly one-fifth of all incumbent House members across the nation have had their districts redrawn (7). This not only has resulted in a dramatic nullification of subsequent financial and labor resources for campaign efforts but also it has left these populations with new and unfamiliar representatives. This practice has severed the ties between representatives and citizens, negatively affecting the participation rates across the nation, let alone the state. Texas gerrymandering has and, if unhindered, will continue to leave people hopeless for personally intended change. It is important to realize that redistricting has such far-reaching implications that affect the lives of individuals to the extent of dematerializing our institutions.
But that begs the question, what can we do? How can we fix this pressing societal issue? First of all, from the standpoint of a citizen in a democracy, it is key that we vote. But more than just us, it is essential that all eligible individuals are registered to vote across the state and nation. Achieving a holistic representation of the population is key. However, administratively, Texas can follow suit to the likes of other states such as California, Arizona, and Idaho by implementing an independent redistricting commission. Furthermore, the state legislature must enforce bi-partisan or nonpartisan balance on the commission while also encouraging voter-determined maps that are apportioned to the minorities prevalent in all communities (8). While these progressive procedures might take time to institute, we can take critical actions to appease the ordeals that are being forced upon us. It is up to us to determine what is best for us. Not politicians. Texans deserve better.
- Texas Democratic primary 2018: how Republican gerrymandering could backfire
- Who actually does the gerrymandering?
- Is Texas one of the nation's most gerrymandered states, as Beto O'Rourke said?
- The Most Gerrymandered States Ranked by Efficiency Gap and Seat Advantage
- Party control of Texas state government
- Redistricting Case Summaries | 2010-Present
- The Participatory Effects of Redistricting
- How to Fix Gerrymandering
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