With the November midterm elections looming and the announcement of more and more Democrats’ deciding not to run for reelection, I have grave concerns about the balance of power in Congress and, quite frankly, our democracy. The Republican Party has steadfastly become the party of “no,” obstructing Democratic attempts at legislation in order to make Joe Biden a president with little to no victories, no matter how good they might have been for the American people, regardless of party affiliation. Even with the threat of a Republican-controlled Congress come this November, what keeps me up are the extreme gerrymandering efforts of Republican governors and state legislatures across the country.
I am most concerned about the partisan gerrymandering attempts by Republican governors and Republican-led statehouses in key states like Ohio, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Florida. The Ohio Redistricting Committee, for example, has failed to pass its newly redrawn maps on time, possibly placing it in contempt of court down the line. Tennessee is engaging in blatant racial gerrymandering to maximize and expand Republican strongholds. And Wisconsin, an important swing state in recent presidential elections, has adopted the “least changes”approach and will essentially use a map similar to the one drawn in 2011, when Republicans controlled the state. This “new” map skews more Republican than the state as a whole. Most disturbing are the gerrymandering attempts by Florida Governor Rick DeSantis, who is running for reelection in late 2022, positioning himself as a 2024 presidential nominee or, at the very least, the man who will carry the water for Donald Trump in the event he runs for the presidency again (barring any federal court cases preventing him from doing so).
This is not to say Democrats are angels when it comes to gerrymandering attempts. But Democrats control fewer states and have fewer options to try to gain power compared to their Republican counterparts, who control the majority of statehouses and governorships. But what really makes Republican gerrymandering so sinister is the party’s aggressive interest in decreasing partisan balance and the number of competitive districts, packing racial and ethnic groups into single districts, and drawing oddly shaped districts across an entire state (see North Carolina).
As a refresher, gerrymandering is most successful when one of two processes occur. Either a party packs their opponents’ supporters into one district, or it takes a relatively strong district of their opponent’s and cracks it—dispersing opponents’ voters into several surrounding districts, thus diluting their power. I made a video about it, in case you want to visually see the power of gerrymandering.
District lines are being redrawn in each state, and states have either gained or lost congressional seats. Florida recently gained an additional congressional seat after the decennial Census was conducted in 2020. Since the number of congressional seats was locked in at 435 in 1911, population gain or loss in a state will dictate whether that state gains or loses seats after each decennial Census is conducted. What complicates this allocation of seats is the reliance on individuals, documented and undocumented, to fill out the Census forms. If we may recall, the 2020 Census was conducted at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, when many people were focused on a lot more than filling out the form. In addition, the Trump administration’s politicization of the Census and its desire to know the citizenship status of those filling out the document further suppressed participation by those who feared their information would be used against them. While the citizenship question was not placed on the Census, the fear surrounding it may have further decreased the participation of several marginalized groups.
The power to redraw political lines and solidify a political district voting map for a decade is something that should concern anyone who cares about the longevity of our democracy. What makes the gerrymandering attempts by DeSantis in Florida so dangerous to democracy and the future of voting are severalfold.
Florida, for example, had 27 districts with roughly 10 solid or significant Democratic districts, 15 solid or significant Republican districts, and two districts that were too close to call. DeSantis’s plan proposes that the lines be redrawn for the 28 districts in Florida so that eight will now be considered strong or significant for Democrats, 16 for the Republicans, and four toss-ups. Mathematically drawing lines to decrease your opponents’ political power is the definition of partisan gerrymandering, and since African Americans disproportionately support the Democratic Party at all levels, DeSantis’s attempts are a clear case of racial gerrymandering as well, considering that the heavily African American areas surrounding Jacksonville and Tallahassee will essentially become Republican-led strongholds.
Take District 5, for example, which covers Jacksonville and extends westward across the state to Tallahassee and is represented by Al Lawson, a Democrat. In the 2020 election, Biden won that district by almost 27 percent. Under DeSantis’s proposed map, newly drawn districts surrounding both Jacksonville and Tallahassee will become Republican strongholds with probabilities of strong Republican representation in Congress. Redrawing the districts according to DeSantis’s proposal would essentially dilute the African American vote and eliminate Democratic representation across the entire northern part of the state. In each of the two major cities, African Americans represent a little over 30 percent of the population and are overwhelmingly registered with the Democratic Party. DeSantis’s new maps would stifle the voices of Democratic voters at the congressional level.
So why should we care? The future of our voting rights depends on our ability to participate in free and fair elections. If districts are consistently drawn to disadvantage Democrats, not only will the voting calculus forever tip in favor of Republicans, but voter apathy will continue to permeate our electoral processes. The dangers of Republican authoritarianism are real and present and as clear as the lines drawn in districts from Illinois to North Carolina.