Letters to the Editor

Time to end gerrymandered districts

The Resistance began following Donald Trump’s inauguration as millions of Republicans, Democrats, the Armed Forces, CEOs, world leaders, actors, sports stars, journalists and others have joined forces to defend a democracy at risk.

Will it be strong enough to stem the anti-American initiatives coming from the White House? Postcards, phone calls, marches, dissent at town halls, and posts on social media have affected decisions in Washington. However, if the intent of the Resistance is to remove the Republican Party from the White House and restore control to the Democrats, activists may be disappointed in 2018 and 2020.

Why the pessimism? The answer is gerrymandering, a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating voting district boundaries. Districts are drawn following the 10-year census, which is intended to take into account shifts in population that might change the number and makeup of geographic entities. This practice is designed to force states to abide by federal laws that require electoral districts to meet two criteria: equal population and race and ethnicity.

Gerrymandering is not limited to one party, but its abuse has been attributed primarily to Republicans who have openly admitted that this practice has made it easier to defeat Democrats. In 2014, electoral district boundaries in eight of the 10 most-gerrymandered states were controlled by Republicans. In the 2016 election in Pennsylvania, Democrats won 100,000 more House votes - but lost 13 out of 18 seats. In North Carolina, Republicans narrowly won House votes but obtained nine out of 13 seats. Most crucially, in Ohio, where district lines were drawn in secret, the GOP won 12 of 16 seats.

American democracy is built on an assumption that the people will choose their politicians, not the other way around. There is no place for gerrymandering in any democratic society. It creates an atmosphere in which competitive elections are rare. In the 2016 election, only eight of 435 representatives were defeated at the polls. It provides disincentives for parties to compromise or cooperate. It encourages major policy changes to be enacted by the dominant party behind closed doors and deprives American citizens of incentives to get out and vote.

Despite the resulting despair, there is hope. Federal courts have initiated actions that have encouraged the Supreme Court to challenge states like North Carolina and Wisconsin and their gerrymandering. Suits are being filed by organizations founded to protect the rights of Americans. Bills are being presented to change the way district lines will be drawn following the 2020 census.

In South Carolina, lines are currently drawn by a legislative committee. To my knowledge, there are three proposals under consideration to change this. Two call for an independent commission. One is comprised of representatives and senators and is not subject to a gubernatorial veto.

If we have any hope of creating a future that promotes meaningful representation for all, we must demand an independent commission and allow no vetoes. The choice is ours: fair and honest elections or discriminatory gerrymandering.

The writer lives in Pawleys Island.