Gerrymandering: An Indispensable Tool of American “Democracy”

A hypothetical example of gerrymandering.

In recent months the practice of “gerrymandering” has drawn the attention of the mainstream media, as dozens of counties and states – many (but not all) currently led by Republican legislatures and officials – work to redraw election maps to the benefit of their party.

Gerrymandering occurs every ten years when state legislatures redraw election maps to exclude or include certain populations to make a legislative seat either more secure, or, alternatively, to suddenly make electoral races in that district or region more competitive. The practice is real, it works to undermine the value of people’s votes, and in our current moment, it is very likely that the reactionary Republican Party is using these and other anti-democratic practices to put a stranglehold on what little democracy we have. As one investigative journalist recently put it, “They are rigging the next decade of elections. Elections results are basically going to be predetermined for many races at the state and federal level…because of the maps that are being passed right now.”

But while we should be very concerned about this threat to democracy from the far right, we should also remind ourselves that gerrymandering has existed in the United States for at least two hundred years. And throughout that long period, both parties have used it regularly to make sure that certain state legislative seats and Congressional seats remain tightly in the hands of their party. One look at Maryland’s Third Congressional District, known as the “Praying Mantis” and home to Democratic Congressperson John Sarbanes, makes crystal clear how partisan legislators have gone to ridiculous lengths to ensure power for their party.

Gerrymandering, redistricting, voter suppression laws, and the replacement of election officials to suit their needs are all part of the game played by Democrats and Republicans in their tussles for political power. They are tools in the toolbox of both parties, used to win small advantages for themselves over the other. But they both have benefited over the years, using these tricks to successfully monopolize political power for the capitalist class who they both represent.

Gerrymandering itself isn’t the problem. The real problem is the system that allows money and power to shape and dominate our “democracy” for the benefit of the top 1%.