Gerrymandering and U(K)
The daily news cycle is dominated by Brexit and the rising political tensions that come with the eventual exit, but it often overshadows more procedural policies like the ongoing rebounding. The rebounding will help ease the country into having 600 members of Parliament, rather than the 650 there is now. However, the boundary changes are beginning to spur talks of attempted gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a major issue in the US, with several high profile court cases, including one out of North Carolina, causing talks of a Supreme Court ruling.
The term “gerrymander” came from the former Massachusetts governor, Elbridge Gerry, in 1812, after he facilitated the redrawing of a Massachusetts congressional district to aid the Republican controlled legislature. Gerrymandering came into use mainly after the US Civil War as a way for white populations to disenfranchise minorities. While other tactics of the Jim Crow Era have been largely eradicated, gerrymandering persists. Both parties have, until recently, thought of gerrymandering as the spoils of an election victory.
North Carolina, the same state that recently fell under fire for the “bathroom bill” that targets transgender people, is currently in a standoff over its 12th congressional district, which some describe as the most gerrymandered district in the US.
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor described the district as having “an uncomfortable resemblance to political apartheid”. On January 8th, a federal judge struck down an attempted redistricting as unconstitutional. The Republicans control 10 out of the 13 North Carolinian seats, while receiving only 54% of the votes. The Democrats, however, are also guilty of gerrymandering. In Maryland, Democrats control 9 of the 10 congressional seats when they average about 65% of the vote. The Maryland court case is expected to go to the Supreme Court some time this year.
The current conflict over voting boundaries in the United Kingdom, while less publicised, also features attempted gerrymandering. The rebounding aims to counteract the slight advantage that the Labour party possesses, while ensuring that the constituencies are of equal population. The Labour party, in 1997, won 43.3% of the vote and received 63.6% of the seats in parliament. Similarly, the Tories, in 1987, won 43.4% of the votes and only controlled 57.8% of seats in parliament. In order to do this they are using the last electoral registration to make the divisions. When switching to the new system of individual registration hundreds of thousands of people, typically younger and from minority backgrounds, were deleted from the register. It also doesn’t account for the nearly two million people who registered to vote after the referendum on European Union membership. This could cause the data to skew in favor of the Conservatives when apportioning the new constituencies. The rebounding would likely give the Tories a comfortable working majority in Parliament.
The UK rebounding is due to conclude in September 2018 when a bill will be put before Parliament to vote on, after being reviewed by an independent third party. On the other side of the Atlantic, the North Carolina and Maryland cases are in the process of being heard by the Supreme Court, which is likely to hand down a decision in March 2018.
Gerrymandering is a nuanced and persisting problem in both countries, affecting people regardless of political affiliations, and the likelihood of it being eradicated in the near future is slim. There are steps that can be taken to combat its effects, such as holding voter registration drives and getting more people to the polls on Election Day.
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