By Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-22) and Liza McClenaghan, State Chair, Common Cause Florida
“The fact is, gerrymandering has become a national scandal.”
That was true when President Ronald Reagan said it in a 1987 speech to the Republican Governors Club. And now, 30 years later, the electoral map drawing process in America is even more shameful as craven political operatives use computers to generate partisan political results.
Today’s electoral mapmaking tactics have denied voters competitive elections and produced safe seats and extreme candidates and office holders who have refused to compromise. Gerrymandering continues to foster a paralyzed and dysfunctional Congress that can’t tackle the big problems facing America.
This morning, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case, Gill v. Whitford, to determine whether hyper-partisan gerrymandering by the Wisconsin legislature violated the U.S. Constitution.
Gerrymandering is the practice of politicians drawing their own district lines to enable an easier re-election. The court will be weighing whether those who drew the maps in Wisconsin baked such an extreme partisan advantage that voters’ preferences wouldn’t matter. This is a blatant conflict of interest that must end.
Gerrymandering undermines the American values of democracy ― of government by the people, not the politicians. High-tech gerrymandering enables partisan politicians to rig the process by cherrypicking their voters. The modern tactics are so advanced that elections are often decided behind closed doors by sitting elected officials. In this case, the Supreme Court must say no to gerrymandering so that voters can choose their elected officials instead of the other way around.
Gill v. Whitford could have a significant impact in Florida. In spite of the fact that Florida is a “purple state”—with narrow advantages in both registered party affiliation and presidential outcomes in recent elections—U.S. House races do not reflect that competitiveness. For instance, last year only two out of 27 seats were decided by less than 10 percentage points.
In our state, residents have been demanding fairness in the redistricting process for years. In 2010, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved constitutional amendments to reduce partisan advantages in the redistricting process and strengthen the connection between voters and their representatives. The amendments laid out principles that districts in Florida must be compact and contiguous, and they cannot be drawn with the intent to favor or disfavor a political party.
Unfortunately, even after Floridians spoke out loudly, the state legislature continued to draw partisan maps that were rejected by the courts. Floridians must continue to hold their legislators accountable for delivering district maps without the need for court orders.
Gerrymandering often leads to partisan gridlock by drawing artificially uncompetitive districts that empower the fringes of both parties. Doing so reduces the incentive to build consensus among members of opposing parties. As a result, government often cannot develop comprehensive solutions to help improve the lives of everyday Floridians.
Toward the end of President Reagan’s 1987 speech, he stated: “And that’s all we’re asking for: an end to the antidemocratic and un-American practice of gerrymandering…” We hope President Reagan’s words will ring loudly and clearly in the court. The Supreme Court has the opportunity to end this national scandal once and for all.
Congressman Ted Deutch (D-FL-22) signed an amicus brief with a bipartisan group of 34 Republican and Democratic Members of Congress urging the Supreme Court to end hyper-partisan gerrymandering in the Gill v. Whitford case.
Liza McClenaghan is the board chair of Common Cause Florida, which continues to fight for redistricting reform.