In all that seems to divide us today, there are still a few core values that Americans share across the political spectrum. Among these are democracy and fairness.
We firmly believe that the collective will of equal citizens should be reflected in public decisions, without unfair privileges or disadvantages. Whether our favorite candidate wins or loses, we want our vote to count and we want assurance that the system is not rigged in favor of one side or the other. Just like in sports and board games, when the rules favor one team or player over others, we know something is wrong with the game.
When it comes to the US election, something is wrong with the game.
Across the country, constituencies from Congress to state at the local level are being redesigned. This realignment process typically occurs once every ten years to ensure that each district continues to represent an equal number of people. It aims to maintain the fairness of our electoral system.
Yet in many parts of the country many cards are being drawn now that almost guarantee which party will win – all before votes have been cast and even before many candidates have declared their intention to run for office. elections. This is a process known as gerrymandering: drawing the boundaries of the district to promote a particular outcome.
It’s not just a problem for Democrats or Republicans (the two parties have engaged in this tactic, albeit in different places). It is a problem for all American citizens. Regardless of our political leanings, most of us want – and we all deserve – our vote to make a meaningful contribution to the outcome. Yet when our constituencies are gerrymandered, it is rare that our vote contributes significantly, whether we are voting for the favored or the disadvantaged party.
Gerrymandering is not only used in battlefield states. Tennessee is a state in the red, but based on voting patterns Republicans are expected to hold 64% of the seats in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Instead, the GOP holds 74%, about nine more seats than expected.
Here’s a bird’s eye view to illustrate this point: States like Wisconsin, Ohio, and North Carolina are particularly purple states. Recent election cycles have seen tight results in the presidential and governorate races and tight or alternate results in the US Senate races. Yet nearly two-thirds of the congressional seats in North Carolina and Wisconsin and three-quarters in Ohio are held by Republicans. Likewise, unbalanced results are observed in their state houses. These are signs of very gerrymandered cards, cards that do not reflect the true will of the voters.
And this problem persists even in states that are not considered battlegrounds. There is no doubt that Tennessee is falling into the red. About 60% of Tennessee’s vote went to the Republican candidate in the last three presidential elections, as well as in the last governor’s race. Our current US senators, both Republicans, won with 55% and 62% in the last two elections.
We see similar results statewide for Congress and the Tennessee General Assembly, but with very lopsided results:
- In every Congressional election over the past decade, 59-62% of the overall vote went to Republican candidates. Given that Tennessee has nine seats in Congress, one would expect five or six of the seats to be held by Republicans; in fact, it has always been seven.
- In the State House for the last two elections, about 64% of the overall vote went to Republican candidates. Yet Republicans hold 74% of the seats in the House. That’s about nine more seats than one would expect based on overall voter preferences.
- On the Senate side, Republican candidates have won 53-69% of the vote in competitive races over the past decade, but currently hold more than 80% of the seats. That’s a misalignment of five to seven out of 33 seats. Given that only half of the Senate seats are on the ballot in each cycle, we might think of it this way: If the distribution of votes by party in the 2018 and 2020 elections were correctly reflected in the results, the current ratio 4.5 Republicans for each Democrat would be closer to 2: 1 or even 1.5: 1.
In short, Tennessee’s electoral map currently benefits Republicans far beyond what voters as a whole want. A fair card would still provide a Republican majority, in line with the collective will of the voters, but not that imbalanced super majority that we currently have.
The General Assembly is redrawing the electoral maps, a process expected to be finalized in January. We are about to have the opportunity, once a decade, to either ensure truly fair elections or to rig the system to the advantage of one side over the other. I hope that most of my fellow citizens – regardless of party preference – would prefer the former and call the latter what it is: unjust and un-American. Our lawmakers need to know that we want a fair vote with fair results. We deserve electoral cards free from partisanship or any form of gerrymandering.