Gerrymandering Explained

Common Cause's Redistricting Manager Sorts Out the Fight for Fair Districts

Written by Keshia Morris, and Tiger Li on November 3, 2017


Common Cause Redistricting Manager Dan Vicuña joined Sarasota (FL) Community Radio on Oct. 27 to chat about gerrymandering, explain the legal challenges facing partisan redistricting, and discuss the future of the fight for fair representation.

You can listen to the full interview here. Just scroll through the archive list and click on the “Surreal News” program for Friday, Oct. 27.

Vicuña explained that advances in technology and vote tracking have allowed legislators to manipulate political districts to unprecedented levels.

These techniques led to the current situation in North Carolina, where despite receiving only slightly more than 50 percent of the popular vote, Republican congressional candidates won 10 out of 13 seats

Vicuña described how “packing” and “cracking” by mapmakers harms minorities’ ability to have their voices heard. “Packing" occurs when district lines are drawn to link minority communities into one or just a few districts; “cracking” involves splitting those communities so that minority voters are so outnumbered they are unable to elect their candidates of  choice.

Vicuña said states can easily find a balance between fair districts and tenants of the Voting Rights Act that require minority representation to ensure that everyone can equally participate in our democracy.

In some instances, lawmakers have used the Voting Rights Act as an excuse to pack African-American voters into districts where their numbers are far more concentrated than necessary to provide equitable representation.

Packing ensures that minorities influence the vote in fewer districts than if legislative boundaries were drawn fairly. This ultimately harms black and brown voters’ ability to influence multiple districts at a time, ultimately stripping these communities of their political representation.

Vicuña pointed to past examples of districts being struck down in court for racial gerrymandering. Those cases show that, “there’s absolutely no problem between reconciling the rights of minority voters and ensuring partisan fairness,” he said.

To stop this blatant disregard for fair representation and the constitutional right to free association, Common Cause challenged a plan drafted by Robert Rucho, chairman of the North Carolina Senate Redistricting Committee, in court.

The case Common Cause v. Rucho was heard last month by a three-judge panel in federal court. The results may be announced before the end of the year.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court heard Gill v. Whitford, a similar gerrymandering case. Vicuña was hopeful about the proceedings, and explained that several of the justices displayed an understanding of the effects of political gerrymandering on the core of our democracy.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor drove home the point, asking the defendants, “Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?”

Erin Murphy, attorney for the Wisconsin legislature, had the unenviable task of defending the indefensible in response to Justice Sotomayor’s question. Unsurprisingly, she could not.

Gerrymandering is an assault on our democracy, and whatever the outcome of the Gill v. Whitford, Common Cause is attacking gerrymandering at all levels. In addition to our lawsuit in North Carolina, Common Cause and partners have taken the redistricting process out of the hands of legislators through the implementation of citizen-led redistricting commissions in six states.

Common Cause is working to pass similar measures in Minnesota, Ohio, Indiana and other states. But this is not the only way to stop the gerrymandering; state constitutions can be changed to make gerrymandering illegal, lawmakers can  create advisory commissions to advise the legislature on redistricting practices, and redistricting committees can be stocked with equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. 

Our state organizations are pushing for reforms around the country. If you would like to join our efforts, please visit commoncause.org/redistricting.

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Office: Common Cause National, Common Cause North Carolina

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Redistricting, Common Cause v. Rucho

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