How can you tell if you live in a gerrymandered district and just what does “gerrymandering” mean, anyway? Well, it’s a long word with an even longer history. Basically, gerrymandering happens when politicians manipulate voting maps to keep themselves or their parties in office at the expense of your interests. Without a doubt, it can lead to some situations that are even more complex than the word used to describe it.
So, how can you tell if your district was drawn for the benefit of politicians and not to ensure a fair, transparent, and democratic process where YOUR vote counts?
Well, you may have been gerrymandered if...
...Your district looks like it was drawn by Picasso or resembles an inkblot more than a map.
These are usually the easy ones to spot. If your district looks more like an abstract painting or an inkblot, this can be a sign of “cracking” or “packing.” Cracking occurs when politicians crack, or split apart, their opponents’ voters across districts to minimize their threat. Packing occurs when politicians group their opponents’ voters into a few districts, giving their opponents a huge majority in those select districts. This allows their opponents to win only a select few districts, without gaining a majority in the overall election.
The ink blot test doesn’t always work -- sometimes districts can be drawn in similar ways for a really important reason, like adhering to the federal Voting Rights Act. The VRA ensures that minority voters cannot be unfairly packed or cracked in ways that reduce their chances of electing representatives that represent their communities. But the vast majority of the time, a contorted-looking district is a warning sign that gerrymandering has occurred.
...Your district has changed and you feel like you can no longer make your voice heard.
This is what happens when you get cracked. Let’s say you’re in the Purple party, and you voted for the Purple candidate the past few elections. You and other Purple supporters get “cracked” away from your neighbors and put into a district with a majority of Yellow party supporters. This leaves you feeling like you can’t do anything to make things better in your district.
The Yellow representative in your district doesn’t need to listen to your voice or your concerns because they know that all their Yellow supporters will re-elect them year after year. Your Purple voice gets lost in the majority of Yellow voices in your district, leaving you feeling hopeless and disenfranchised. Sometimes, you feel like you shouldn’t even bother voting, because the Yellow candidate always wins!
...Your district boundaries don’t seem to make any sense.
On the flip side,if you’re a Yellow supporter in the Purple-Yellow scenario above, you might feel good about living in a primarily Yellow district. But, you start to get confused when you realize that most of the Yellow supporters in your district don’t even belong to the same school district or live in the same city. You, and your Yellow supporting friends, have been “packed” together into a Yellow echo-chamber. Everyone shares the same ideas and generally agrees with each other, and you start to feel like you don’t need to be involved.
...Your representative just skipped a town hall to go golfing with a lobbyist.
The most insidious thing about politicians manipulating voting maps to keep themselves in office is that it turns democracy on its head. As taxpayers and voters, our politicians are supposed to work for us. But, when districts have been drawn to avoid competition and to ensure that one party’s candidate wins, our representatives don’t really need to worry about winning us over. They’re virtually guaranteed to get re-elected simply because of their party affiliation..
This frees them up to hang out with their lobbyist friends and to cater to the needs of their wealthy donors. Even if we belong to the advantaged party, we’re not getting good representation because our elected official knows that reelection is in the bag, whether she listens to us or not.
...You feel like you don’t need to vote because the candidate that won the primary is going to win the election anyway.
When one party has manipulated the system to ensure they hold the majority in specific districts, the election itself becomes a mere formality. Whoever wins that party’s primary is going to be elected, because they have cracked or packed their opponent’s voters to give them an advantage. If you’ve ever felt like the result in November was a foregone conclusion, you probably weren’t wrong. But our votes are not meaningless and they should count. We expect our voices to be heard on election day.
When politicians draw the voting maps, they are essentially choosing their voters. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. As Michigan’s constitution states, “All political power is inherent in the people.” We, the voters, should choose our politicians, not the other way around. We deserve fair elections and a transparent process for determining our districts. If you agree, here are some of the ways you can help:
Get educated // learn more about gerrymandering and how you can defeat it! Stay up to date on campaign updates and news by signing up for our newsletter here. Let us know if you want to receive campaign updates, educational or informative news, information about upcoming events, or all three!
Volunteer // help us spread the word and gather petition signatures! We are recruiting a field team of petition circulators that will help us spread the word and collect signatures this summer. If you are interested in being a part of this vital part of the process, please click here.
Donate // the politicians and special interests who benefit from the current system will spend millions defending and protecting their unfair advantage. We have to fight back, and that will include advertising and putting together hundreds of local events across Michigan to educate voters on their rights. Donate to Voters Not Politicians here.