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How redraws determine gains or losses in America

Constituency in America has been changing over the centuries. Republicans, in particular, are adept at manipulating change to benefit their own party. This will be addressed in the mid-term elections in November. That is why American democracy is broken.

Maral Noshad Sharif

W127th Street in Olathe, Kansas, is as boring as its name suggests. Long stretches of asphalt with lawns on either side, abandoned parking lots, fences, and the occasional house. But on this ordinary road, in this ordinary neighborhood, Stacey Noel (50) sees why American democracy is broken.

“This is one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in Kansas,” said Noel, who is an active member of the Kansas Fair Maps Coalition. The organization wants to make districting fairer across the state so that no group is excluded from the electoral process. “Many of the residents here are black or Latino.” 80 percent That’s exceptional for Kansas, where the population is white. “You can see that in their representation.”

Each US state is divided into districts, each of which elects a state and national representative. Olathe falls under what is known as the ‘Third District’. In the previous election, the district was the only one in all of Kansas to send a Democrat to the House of Representatives: Sharice Davids.

“But now, Republicans have made it almost impossible for a Democrat to win here,” Noel says. She shows her around with wild hand gestures. “It’s pretty much impossible to elect a candidate who stands up for their rights.” The reason: gerrymandering.

Film RV

Population census

The House of Representatives has 435 seats, with each constituency providing one representative and having approximately the same number of people. As the population of the districts is subject to change, the boundaries are revised after every decennial census. The party in power in a state at the time usually leads the process, which usually degenerates into an electoral land grab.

Elections to the House of Representatives are held in November. The outcome will determine whether or not President Joe Biden can carry out his plans. Therefore, the border struggle of the districts is going on across the country.

Gerrymandering is a portmanteau of the name Kerry, the governor that began in 1812, and custom districts sometimes take after the snake forms of the word “salamander.” Otherwise, Democrats in red states will be swept by Republicans, leaving Democrats unable to win a majority in any district. They look at which street belongs to which party, based on factors like race and income.

Gerrymandering has been going on for more than two centuries, but over the years the process has become increasingly precise — and, critics say, more damaging. With software, this is now easier than ever.

Republicans in particular have shown little reluctance in recent decades. The result is maps with elongated districts meandering through all kinds of neighborhoods in various cities and towns. In the 2014 midterm elections, Republicans won 52 percent of the vote nationwide, while gerrymandering won 57 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives. They were able to defeat many of Barack Obama’s plans in Congress.

Legally disputed

“Gerrymandering is part of the American electoral system,” said Eric McGee, who studies changes in the system at the Public Policy Institute of California. “Ultimately, within a district, there will always be a winner and a loser, but if the cards are redrawn in favor of one party, voters may feel that one vote is more valuable than another. They get the feeling that their votes have no influence and feel left out of the political game.”

Hence, the new cards can be legally challenged by citizens. The judge has the last word. If gerrymandering favors one party, it should not favor a demographic group, known as “racial gerrymandering.” Suppressing the voices of certain groups is prohibited. The problem is that ‘racial gerrymandering’ can easily disguise itself as ‘party gerrymandering’ because African-American neighborhoods are also predominantly Democratic neighborhoods.

“More cards were rejected by judges this year than ever before, and it wasn’t just Republican cards,” McGee says. Also, many Democrats won’t shy away from the tactics Republicans have mastered. Democrats currently hold a narrow majority in the House of Representatives. If they lose seats in November, Joe Biden will end up in the same boat as Obama: a paralyzed president who can’t get any legislation through Congress.

“So many Democratic states have gerrymandered this year that it’s been a decade,” McGee said. Most notable, he says, is New York.

Stacey Noel (l.) points out how her constituency's boundaries have been altered.

Stacey Noel (l.) points out how her constituency’s boundaries have been altered. “Now the Democratic residents of W127th Street are represented by a rural Republican woman.”Image by Christopher Smith for De Volkskrant

In New York City, Democrats combined Republican Staten Island with the left-leaning borough of Brooklyn. The map shows just how significant it is: Staten Island is, in fact, an island that has been grafted onto a physically unincorporated area. This way, Nicole Malliotakis, the only Republican congresswoman representing New York City, is unlikely to be re-elected. But a judge in New York blocked that.

“The court finds evidence that this map was drawn with political bias,” said Republican Judge Patrick McAllister. The new map was drawn to give Republican candidates a chance to win. In Kansas, located in the heartland of the United States, the exact opposite happened.

Color box

There, Stacey Noel and her organization decided to challenge the new map of Kansas drawn by Republicans. The judge agreed with them and ruled that the new card actually excluded minorities. But then the case ended up in the Kansas Supreme Court. He accepted the new card. As a result, Democrats may lose their only congressional seat from Kansas in November.

Noel knows how Democrats running in Kansas feel. In 2020, he was a candidate for the local state senate. “Stacey Noll will fight for all of us” is her campaign slogan, “Let’s Move Kansas Forward!” She rolls up her sleeves and heads to the parking garage. She returns with a map like outstretched arms. “I wanted to represent this district,” he says, pointing to a colored box.

She already knew it would be difficult. Noel ultimately received 20,550 votes, but his opponent, Republican Beverly Gossage, received 1,900 votes. All the Democratic candidates in Noel’s district lost, he says on a bench in front of a row of roadside shops. The effect of gerrymandering.

“Now the Democratic residents of W127th Street are represented by a rural Republican woman.” After her loss, Noelle “cried for three days,” she says, even though she knew she had almost no chance.

Hairstylist Darren Dillard hasn't voted in years.  Image by Christopher Smith for De Volkskrant

Hairstylist Darren Dillard hasn’t voted in years.Image by Christopher Smith for De Volkskrant

The hairdresser is returning from her lunch break and stops to hear her talking about her candidacy. Does he know who Stacey Noel is? A polished Darren Dillard (45) looked at the map and shook his head. “I honestly haven’t voted in Kansas in years,” he says, “because black voters are used as voting cattle here, but we don’t get anything in return.”

In addition to Kansas, the cards have been drawn in favor of the Republican Party this year in Wisconsin and Ohio. Meanwhile, the call for a non-partisan system is growing across the country. And many states have their maps redrawn by an independent commission to see that it is done fairly. This year there were 11, including California, Colorado and Michigan.

When Dillard asks how hard it was for her to choose Noel, he is shocked. “Now I regret not voting as a black man,” he told Noel. He says the only way to change the system is for people not to give up hope and vote even if they think it’s pointless. I would have won if I got 1,901 more votes.

November election

Before Republicans and Democrats compete against each other for as many seats as possible in the House of Representatives on Nov. 8, party members must first decide internally which Democrats or Republicans are best suited for. That’s happening during primaries across much of the country this summer. In Massachusetts, it happens on Tuesday. Next week, primaries will be held in Delaware, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Because of the diversity of tastes within the Republican and Democratic parties, those primaries are also very exciting. Several Donald Trump-backed candidates, some on the far right, have defeated moderate Republicans this summer. In the Democratic Party, even in a left-leaning state like New York, more moderate candidates have defeated progressive Democrats in many places.

According to recent polls by Politics Democrats look set to lose their majority in the House of Representatives in November. But the The Wall Street Journal Last week the Democrats held a narrow lead of a few percentage points. As abortion rights have been repealed in many states, many independent voters are leaning more toward Democrats than Republicans. Either way, the election will be very exciting because if the Democrats lose, it will be difficult for President Joe Biden to carry out his plans for the next two years.

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