In his final State Of The Union Speech, President Obama sought to close the final chapter of his historic presidency with many policy urges. In a second term that has come to define a progressive legacy not seen since LBJ, the President laid out an agenda that included many new (and renewed) calls for reforms within American social policy.
Among the most interesting – and seemingly unprecedented – was a bold declaration longing for lawmakers and the public “to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around.”
Gerrymandering, of course, has long been used as a tool to consolidate voter bases and segregate different ethnic, economic, and racial demographics within American society along party lines. As his speech came to a close, the Washington Post immediately released a scathingly detailed infographic on what America would look like if we made redistricting a thing of the past, juxtaposed against our current congressional district makeup. Unsurprisingly, it does not bode well for GOP electorates.
In most states, state legislatures draw the district boundaries that determine how many delegates the state sends to the U.S. Congress, as well as the general partisan make-up of that delegation. State legislatures are partisan beasts, and if one party is in control of the process they can draw boundaries to give themselves a numeric advantage over their opponents in Congress.This process is called gerrymandering.
Some state legislatures are more brazen about the process than others. Maryland’s districts, drawn by Democrats, are one particularly egregious example. North Carolina’s, drawn by Republicans, are another. Advocates of reform have proposed various solutions to the problem over the years. In some states, redistricting is put in the hands of an independent commission. In others, lengthy court battles are playing out to draw the districts more fairly.
But a fundamental problem with district-drawing still remains: as long as humans are drawing the lines, there’s a danger of bias and self-interest to creep into the process. There is another way, however: we could simply let computers do the drawing for us.
As easy as this is to squarely and solely blame on the GOP, the distilled reality is that ALL congressional and legislative politicians – of any party – have either directly engaged in this practice, or otherwise supported its perpetuity by not fighting harder to END this practice.
So President Obama is correct in urging not only Congress to end this process, but the American voters to make this one of their issues when going to the polls. The results of America post-redistricting could mean enormous benefits towards the advancement of interracial solidarity, cultural diversity, and economic prosperity.
So the question remains: Will we, the voters, demand more from our representatives on both sides of the aisle?