Every 10 years, congressional districts are redrawn following the U.S. Census. These districts determine who gets elected to provide a voice for constituents. The concept is fairly simple: districts are redrawn to accommodate growing populations within every state. Changing boundaries ensures equal population to representative ratios. The party in control of the state legislature has the power to draw the boundaries. However, a concept called gerrymandering taints this process.
Coined in 1812 and named after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, Gerrymandering is the process of dividing districts in such a way that one party holds a distinct advantage over the other.
Legislators use this method to protect incumbents and ensure a party’s win by compacting opposing voters into one district or spreading them out to dilute their votes, often leaving many counties without an impactful voice in the state government.
The minority party in the legislature seems to be the one most upset about redistricting difficulties, and they often direct their disapproval toward the opposite party, even though it isn’t the fault of one party or another. Since the conception of the Constitution, state legislators from both sides of the aisle have abused the power of redistricting, making this method familiar and habitual. The system is flawed, not the majority party. While some citizens actively try to fix what was broken in the 1800s, others believe that not much can be done to repair the system.
Steven Voss, associate professor and publicity director of political science at UK, shared his beliefs about what can and should be done about gerrymandering in Kentucky.
“Some states have experimented with non-partisan commissions and turned drawing of districts over to them. I am pessimistic about how much of a difference those make,” Voss said. “There is no such thing as a politically neutral map.”
Many people agree that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to appoint a group to create politically neutral districts.
The League of Women Voters of Lexington is one group adamant about being involved in government policy. At a panel they hosted last week, member Susan Weston presented valuable information concerning the injustice of gerrymandering in Kentucky. She explained that the process of redistricting happens too quickly and secretively for the public to be enmeshed. She believes “democratic engagement,” letting the general public participate somehow, is the answer. State Rep. James Kay (D), also present at the panel, agrees that public involvement is important.
“If the people get behind this issue, then the politicians have to get behind it,” Kay commented. He and State Sen. Albert Robinson (R), who was also present at the panel, both proposed bills concerning redistricting that were not heard in committee.
As a young voter, gerrymandering and its effects are extremely prevalent. It is vital that college students understand the structure of government and its impact on their lives. Gerrymandering is wrong. It isn’t likely that much can be done about this infringement of democracy immediately, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discuss it. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t express our opinions to government officials. That doesn’t mean we can’t spread awareness. Hopefully, with the help of time, the discussions, opinions and knowledge will bring about change.
Even though disagreements exist about what can be done, the most important message to take away is to enact the hand of democracy. Take the advice of Senator Robinson, who said, “Get involved. Be involved. Stay involved.”
To learn more about the League of Women Voters of Lexington, visit their Facebook page.
Email [email protected]