Gerrymandering and its Effect on Fair Representation

Posted by Author Lane Baldwin on February 22, 2017

In their recent report, the Campaign Legal Center documents the effect that gerrymandering can have on election results. Gerrymandering occurs when legislators define the boundaries of legislative districts in a way that misrepresents the desires of the constituents while also creating an unfair advantage for incumbents or a political party. There are two methods in which gerrymandering is practiced. One method is through “packing,” in which the voters of one party are concentrated into a single district and easily secure the majority vote within that district. However, other districts, absent of that district’s voters, may elect more representatives from other parties, who then secure an election and then outnumber the representative of the first district, creating disproportionate representation of the constituents of that state. The other method is called, “cracking,” which divides the constituents of a district into separate districts, grouping them with larger voting blocs of opposing parties.

Both of these present an inaccurate representation of the constituents’ voting choices and creates an unfair advantage for the political parties that define the boundaries when redistricting.

One method to counter or prevent partisan gerrymandering, advocated by the Campaign Legal Center, is independent redistricting. Under this process, district boundaries would not be determined by partisan legislators, but by independent commissioners with no loyalties to any political party or politician, nor any direct interest in the outcome. Many reformers and commentators, including the Campaign Legal Center, hope to use independent redistricting commissions to achieve an electoral system that is competitive, less-polarized and more representative of constituent’s preferences.

FairVote encourages these efforts. In an newly released series of reports, however, we argue that experience in states that already use independent redistricting commissions shows that reforming redistricting practices alone is not enough.

In order to achieve fair representation, more significant structural change concerning the electoral process is imperative. The current system of electing Congress in single-winner districts using winner-take-all rules allows for noncompetitive elections, highly-polarized legislators, and outcomes that are unrepresentative of the voter preferences. To answer these drawbacks, FairVote proposes ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts. In this system, voters rank candidates and multiple candidates representatives win election within each district. Multiple winners would allow for equal representation for all voters. According to this model, the majority of voters will be able to elect a majority of representatives for that district, while the minority will also earn representation, in proportion to their votes. This proposal, far from convoluting the electoral process, will maximize the votes that elect representatives, allowing for more thorough and accurate representation of the voting masses.  

Photo Courtesy of John-Mark Kuznietsov

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