Should the United States Rethink Its Redistricting Policies?

The Atlantic examines the process to redraw our political boundaries every 10 years.

August 2, 2017 5:00 am

The creation of new congressional districts, or the loss of an old one, affects more than you might think. The United States must be carved in 435 sovereign units, and it originally started to keep our democracy’s electoral scales balanced.

However, a new piece in The Atlantic discusses how redistricting today has become “the most insidious practice in American politics.” The piece says that redistricting is a way for our elected leaders to figure out where they can maintain political power, while avoiding demographic realities.

Redistricting had existed before Congress did. In 1788, just after Virginia voted to ratify the Constitution and join the Union, Patrick Henry persuaded his state’s legislature to design the 5th Congressional District in a way that forced James Madison, Henry’s political enemy, to run against James Monroe, a formidable opponent.

Madison did win and went on to do great things, including authoring America’s Bill of Rights and becoming the nation’s fourth president. However, his second vice president was Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Gerry was the governor of Massachusetts, and he had presided over a redrawing of the state map. The redrawing was “so blatant in its partisan manipulations that the curiously tailored shape of one Boston-area district resembled a salamander.” And thus, the term gerrymander — the contorting of districts beyond all reason except political gain — was born.

The Constitutional reasoning behind redistricting was to maintain proper apportionment of elected representatives. For much of the 20th century, many states did not bother with their district boundaries at all. But even states not adding or losing congressional representatives need new district maps that represent the population shifts because residents must be equally represented no matter where they live.

However, people do their part to maximize the returns of their party’s electoral bounty, as The Atlantic notes. One such person is Tom Hofeller, formally the Republican’s official redistricting director, now just the Republican National Committee’s paid consultant. At 69, his quest is to “destroy Democrats.” Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census is complete, he packs his bag and goes to draw new maps.

The Atlantic piece questions whether America needs to reform our redistricting practices, and if so, how. You can read the full piece for yourself and decide.

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