The American experiment began with a revolution. At its core was fair representation, the idea that individuals should be able to exercise control over their government. The Declaration of Independence expresses this idea, with Thomas Jefferson writing, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed-That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.” Since the nation’s founding, equal representation has served as a crucial catalyst for social progress. The 15th Amendment that granted African American men the right to vote was based on this fundamental principle, and the 19th Amendment granting suffrage to women followed under the same premise. The idea that all individuals deserved fair representation, regardless of race and gender, later spurred the civil rights movement, and continues to influence modern political reform across the nation.
In spite of its decisive role in establishing fairness and equality in America, fair representation has recently faced ruthless attacks led by state legislatures. Today’s is an era in which parties, rather than people, pick and choose which votes have more meaning; where elected officials draw partisan lines that prevent voters from doing precisely what the founding fathers intended: altering a destructive government. It is an era in which representatives derive their powers not from the consent of the governed, but from the consent of the dominant political party. It is an era in which, as Karl Rove put it, “He who controls redistricting can control Congress.”
Wisconsin’s 2012 election substantiates Rove’s assertion. Despite winning the majority of the popular vote for candidates for the state assembly, Democrats took just 39 percent of the seats. Though 60 percent of Wisconsin voters sought to abolish the Republican-led legislature by voting in Democratic representatives, that same legislature made such a move impossible two years earlier through extreme political gerrymandering. In doing so, these lawmakers violated not only voter rights in Wisconsin, but the core tenet upon which democratic government rests: equal representation.
In the last 25 years, gerrymandering has become a pervasive national issue by limiting the voting rights of minority groups. Through gerrymandering, the party in control of redistricting attempts to silence the voices of opposing political groups by drawing district lines that either contain or spread thin the minority vote. In doing so, politicians create noncompetitive districts that ensure their party’s success in the following elections. This disenfranchises political minorities, discouraging political activity and creating legislatures that do not accurately reflect public opinion.
Full Article: Fine Lines: Partisan Gerrymandering and the Two Party State.