In the past couple of months, Americans have been discussing legislative actions at the Federal and State level pertaining to voting rights. Voting rights have been a contentious political topic—in the news, on social media, and in classrooms. Gerrymandering is at the center of these debates.
Gerrymandering is the process of redefining the boundaries of congressional districts to benefit one political party. Both parties practice gerrymandering in many states, but it is currently creating controversy in New York. The New York Independent Redistricting Commission is a bipartisan commission in charge of redistricting in New York. However, the Commission was unable to come to an agreement for the redistricting maps. Therefore, the State Assembly and Senate, with an overwhelming Democratic majority, took over the process. The State’s legislation passed a highly partisan plan on February 2nd, and it was signed into law by Governor Hochul on February 3rd. Only one day after the bill was signed, New York State was sued by a group of Republican voters who claimed gerrymandering.
The redistricting bill was based on the 2020 Census, which indicates a change in population in many districts across New York. Fivethirtyeight, a political analysis company, indicates that, under the new redistricting plan, Democrats would gain three seats and Republicans would lose three seats. Additionally, two new highly competitive districts were created, which also lean towards Democrats.
Fivethirtyeight is leading ‘The Gerrymandering Project’ to combat partisan gerrymandering. The project focuses on advocating for the creation of competitive districts. Fivethirtyeight notes the difficulty of creating fair districts, especially in New York, “because of the weakness of New York’s new bipartisan redistricting commission.” David Wasserman of Fivethirtyeight writes “Gerrymandering is a really easy practice to condemn and a really complex problem to solve. And just as there are no permanent majorities in American politics, there may never be such a thing as a perfect map.”
Many politicians have expressed contempt for the redistricting plan. Andy Goodell (R), Minority leader Pro Tempore of the New York State Assembly, shared his concerns with The Knight News. “On the Congressional map, the 10th District is obviously gerrymandered, starting in the southern Bronx, meandering on a very narrow path to the northwest, then the southwest, then to the north, then to the northeast, before expanding again. This district clearly violates the Constitutional requirement that districts be as compact as possible.” He also expressed concern regarding the 3rd district since “… [this] district [which] stretches across Long Island, up into Westchester County, and over to the Connecticut border” is likely to skew Democratic.
Some scholars have supported the new redistricting bill. QC political science professor Dr. Michael Krasner contends that “Republicans have become the party of extremism” and the gerrymandering is a necessary Democratic countermeasure, considering that, “in the overall context of our national politics, this plan protects democracy and therefore doesn’t need a solution. It is a solution.” To Krasner, “the effect of the Democrats’ gerrymandering in New York is to balance the Republicans’ gerrymandering in other states”.
Krasner’s colleague, fellow QC political science professor Dr. Alexander Reichl, contests this view. Reichl observes that gerrymandering has become a common approach in many state legislatures because “the stakes are just too high and gerrymandering is just too easy.” According to Reichl, “…extreme gerrymandering will only make matters worse.” Dr. Reichl believes that political legislation should not be used to determine who wins the majority in an election. Rather politicians should have to appeal to voters because “Democracy thrives on competition” and competition leads to meaningful actions. In his view, the vulnerability or fear of losing an election should not be the primary means of a redistricting bill. “As hard as it is to concede any ground in today’s hyper-partisan era, it is ultimately more important to promote democracy than partisan advantage.”
It remains to be seen whether the mapmakers will be allowed to proceed with their plans.