All votes are equal. Some are just more equal than others.
It all depends on how voting districts are drawn. And that's how some politicians get elected, no matter how people vote. Who gets elected has consequences as can be seen by the attack on the Capitol and its aftermath.
How do you make sure your vote counts? And influence who gets elected? It all starts with redistricting which draws a voting district boundary. Most states allow for public input to the process. This blog includes free resources on redistricting and how you can easily draw maps for your district to take to events for the public to provide input into redistricting.
Redistricting impacts who gets elected
Former wrestling coach, Jim Jordan(R) represents Ohio's Fourth Congressional District. Let's look at his district.
"... the duck-shaped district that stretches across parts of 14 counties and five media markets and would take nearly three hours to drive end to end. The outlines of Ohio’s Fourth Congressional District have left Mr. Jordan, like scores of other congressional and state lawmakers, accountable only to his party’s electorate in Republican primaries. That phenomenon encouraged the Republican Party’s fealty to President Trump as he pushed his baseless claims of election fraud. That unwavering loyalty was evident on Jan. 6, when Mr. Jordan and 138 other House Republicans voted against certifying Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the winner of the presidential election. Their decision, just hours after a violent mob had stormed the Capitol, has repelled many of the party’s corporate benefactors, exposed a fissure with the Senate Republican leadership and tarred an element of the party as insurrectionists." - NY Times
How fairly drawn is your congressional district?
See the shape of your congressional district with this free map. Share the map with this link "https://arcg.is/1S5PSy0"
or embed it in a website with this line of code: < iframe width="300" height="200" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen src="https://arcg.is/1S5PSy0">
Why does the shape of a district matter? Congressional districts are supposed to represent the people who live there so voters can elect who represents them. Politicians have corrupted the process by drawing district boundaries where they get to choose who can vote. They do this by drawing districts which only include their supporters. This leads to more partisanship because politicians like Jim Jordan know that they only have to keep their supporters happy to get re-elected. There are no political consequences for him to represent all the voters in his district who may not agree with his actions.
How did redistricting become a scheme to grab power?
"Thomas Hofeller was a Republican Party operative, known as the master of the modern gerrymander. Perhaps one of the clearest and ugliest gerrymanders in North Carolina—or in the entire nation—is the congressional-district line that cuts in half the nation’s largest historically black college, North Carolina A&T State University, in Greensboro. The district line divided this majority minority campus—and the city—so precisely that it all but guarantees it will be represented in Congress by two Republicans for years to come. North Carolina Republicans have long denied that this line, between the state’s Sixth and Thirteenth Congressional Districts, was intentionally drawn to dilute black voting power, which would be a violation of the constitutional prohibition against racial gerrymandering.
Hofeller also appears to have intensively researched the impact of the state’s voter-I.D. laws. In 2013, Republicans passed one of the strictest voter-I.D. laws in the country, which rejected forms of identification typically used by students, government employees, and racial minorities. It also cut the number of early-voting days by a week and put an end to same-day voter registration during that period. Hofeller created spreadsheets listing the voters, college students, and racial minorities who lacked driver’s licenses. He appears to have gathered much of this information after the state N.A.A.C.P. challenged North Carolina’s stringent voter I.D. law." - New Yorker
Read about Mr. Hofeller's schemes to suppress the voter through gerrymandering and harsh voter ID laws. This Republican redistricting playbook is publicly available from the National Conference of State Legislators. It has also been featured in the book "Ratf**ked" by David Daleythat discusses efforts by some Republican political operatives, including Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie and Chris Jankowski, to exploit redistricting processes to gain greater control of the American Congress, under a project called REDMAP.
How should district boundaries be drawn?
"A combination of national, state, and local rules guide the redistricting process. While the federal requirements apply universally, state and local governments can establish additional constraints and priorities. The rules are complicated and sometimes quite vague! Here is a short explainer from DistrictR."
What you can do to demand fair redistricting
Districts should be drawn with several guidelines including:
"Communities of interest - Groups with a significant shared interest should be kept together in order to boost their voice in government. This one is especially squishy and can be defined i n state statutes, case law, and post-facto by governments. For instance, courts have affirmed that socio-economic status, education level, religion, and health factors can define a community that would be relevant to redistricting.
Compact - The districts should be reasonably shaped. Whatever that means!Language varies on this one, but for the most part it’s a matter of the eyeball test. At least 37 states reference this principle." - DistrictR
Start by looking for signs of gerrymandering which can usually be seen as odd shapes in a district boundary using the Congressional district map. Look at Ohio-4 boundary around Grafton. What are these jagged edges for?
Provide public input to the redistricting process
To research why district boundaries were drawn around Grafton, Ohio we used the DistrictR a free, public web tool for districting and community identification, from the MGGG Redistricting Lab. These are the steps involved:
- Use this URL (https://districtr.org/)
- Choose draw a map and pick Ohio
- Choose Draw Community and pick Build District by Block
- Create a Community for your project. I created one labeled "Black"
- Choose Data Layers where the app provides information by blocks, precincts and districts
- Choose Black Population and then click on Show Population
- This shows where Black voters are concentrated in Ohio.
- Choose Grafton to zoom in on that area.
- You can see the results by Shaded Region or by Circles
- The difference is important. A large, grey circle means there are many voters but with few Black voters.
- A small, but darker circle means there are fewer voters but more of them are Black.
- A large black circle means there is a large number of Black voters.
- It becomes that certain areas around Grafton have been intentionally left out of District 4.
- You can save and print the map you created with the SHARE button.
- Here is a link to the map used in this demo (https://districtr.org/)
Providing public input to redistricting
"As the public has become increasingly attentive to the redistricting process, states have begun to incorporate opportunities for public input into their redistricting laws. Although roles for citizen engagement in redistricting are more prevalent and often more robust in states that have vested their redistricting authority in independent commissions, such commissions are in no way crucial for making the process more open to the public. Click on any state in this map for specific information on how to provide your input." - NCSL
DistrictR - is a free, public web tool for districting and community identification, from the MGGG Redistricting Lab at Tufts University.
All About Redistricting - Professor Justin Levitt‘s guide to drawing electoral district lines: a one-stop shop for information about statewide redistricting.
A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting - Brennan Center
Seven Things To Know About Redistricting - Brennan Center
Redistricting rules - Excerpted from Political Geometry, forthcoming
Redistricting rules by state - A combination of national, state, and local rules guide the redistricting process. While the federal requirements apply universally, state and local governments can establish additional constraints and priorities.
Map of Congressional districts
Takeaway: Learn how to draw fair redistricting maps. Be prepared to provide public input. Make sure your vote matters.
Image credits: NPR, Nur Photo
Quote: "All animals are equal. Some are more equal than others." - George Orwell in Animal Farm
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Mia Lewis with Common Cause for telling me about DistrictR and Greyson Harris, a mapping expert who helped train me on how to use the app.