Gerrymandering is a concept that many are not aware of, despite the fact that it has a huge impact on the results of our elections. Its origins lie in the early 1800s when the politician Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry redrew the map of a senatorial district in a way that dispersed the voters of the rival Federalist Party. As a result, it became incredibly difficult for the Federalists to win enough votes to succeed in the various districts, and far easier for the Democratic-Republican party to dominate. This practice of dividing up electoral districts in an attempt from one party to dominate another is still prevalent today and affects our election results. As we sit cozily by the fireplace during election season as the votes come in, we can’t help but wonder if Gerrymandering might be affecting the outcome. Let’s take a closer look.
Gerrymandering and the US Constitution
The practice of gerrymandering and skewing party representation is a contradiction to fundamental democratic principles. The ability to vote for a preferred candidate may still be there, but if district lines are drawn in such a way that deliberately disadvantages one group of voters, their voices may not be heard. In a democracy, voters should have clear choices with every vote, and voters should not be disadvantaged by external influencing factors.
Not only does gerrymandering betray the basic principles of free and fair democratic elections, but it also goes against the United States Constitution. The Fifteenth Amendment explicitly states that the votes of the citizens of the United States should not be denied or abridged. By shifting the geographic lines of districts in order to highlight and spotlight certain electoral candidates over others, the right to vote in a free, unbiased way is compromised. Therefore, gerrymandering directly violates the United States Constitution.
What are the Negative Impacts of Gerrymandering?
Gridlock in Congress
One of the key negative impacts of gerrymandering on election results is it often results in gridlock in Congress – this is because Congressional seats are not changing hands as frequently as they should. This is due to the fact that electoral districts have been gerrymandered to favor a particular candidate. Gridlock in Congress can be damaging to United States Democracy, as it is more difficult to pass policies into law.
Disenfranchisement and Disengagement Among Voters
This is one of the most impactful negative consequences of gerrymandering – when gerrymandering takes place, people who would be voting for the political party that has been negatively impacted feel as though their votes are being wasted, as the benefiting party is made almost certain to win. This leads to people disengaging with politics altogether as they feel as though their voice no longer matters and will no longer make an impact on election outcomes. This also means that election outcomes no longer accurately represent the views of the whole nation, because more people are abstaining from voting due to this disengagement and disenfranchisement. As a result, the policies and politicians that are voted in do not actually reflect the will of the people, creating issues in how democratic the processes are.
Polarization of the Electorate
These issues often lead to the polarization of the electorate. This is where the members of the two main political parties become more and more alienated from each other, no longer recognizing any similarities that they share, but instead focussing on their differences. This is because gerrymandering creates friction between the different political parties. When one party redraws the electoral map in a way that will benefit them, the other party becomes angered by their new disadvantage. The two parties then often begin arguing and disputing the new electoral borders, even potentially launching hate campaigns against each other. This widening of the political divide in the United States makes it harder for decisions to be made, as the parties are driven further apart and find it harder to compromise with one another.
Tarnishing of the Reputation of Parties
Gerrymandering also tarnishes the reputation of the political parties involved – it is a type of political deceit and an attempt to knowingly undemocratically sway the outcome of elections. This makes the electorate less likely to trust the parties in charge. Distrust in political parties can be another contributing factor to voter disengagement, as the public no longer feels that there is a party that they can trust to represent them and their views because both parties have committed an offense in gerrymandering.
Restricts Political Challenges
Gerrymandering often leads to certain political figures being in positions of power for extended periods of time, as the electoral districts are drawn in a way that results in one party being more dominant, and more likely to win elections. This means that there are few new or innovative challenges to the status quo. Politics is likely to simply stay the same, with power changing hands in very few cases, or when the electoral map is redrawn again.
How do These Negatively Affect Election Outcomes?
All of these different factors accumulate to have a negative impact on election results. Voter disenfranchisement and the tarnishing of the reputation of parties both lead to fewer people voting true to their feelings, wants, and needs, or they can even lead to fewer people voting at all. This means that election outcomes no longer accurately reflect the feelings of the public, and the representatives elected may not truly represent their area. Additionally, gerrymandering creates stagnation in political change, both in the Congressional and Senatorial bodies and also in each individual electoral district. Political challenges are likely to fail, as election outcomes are partially dictated by the gerrymandered electoral districts.
Overall, Gerrymandering is a practice that is particularly harmful to United States democracy and election outcomes. It is against the United States Constitution, and for good reason. The electoral outcomes are skewed by the drawing of electoral boundaries to suit certain political parties and by the resulting disenfranchisement and disengagement of voters, who feel as though their votes no longer count, as political challenge stagnates. The reputations of participating political parties are tarnished leading to a lack of trust in whoever wins an election. Gerrymandering in the United States is a harmful practice that should be eradicated.