We completed the U.S. Census forms this spring. The results will be used by the federal government to decide how to spend taxpayer money; states will use the Census data to redraw electoral district boundaries starting next year.
The way states redraw boundaries can affect who runs for office, who wins, or who stays in office without serious opposition. The boundaries that get created next year will last a decade, until after the next Census occurs.
Candidates for Congress or state Legislatures can run for office on a relatively level playing field, or compete in a district where the results are essentially pre-determined because of gerrymandering, a grassroots national group fighting the rigging of district boundaries contends.
Katie Vicsik, the Florida State Director for All On The Line, took time out from her organizing activities to do an email interview. She represents one group that is fighting gerrymandering across the country.
Question: Many readers have heard about gerrymandering. Some may have even heard of excessive gerrymandering. Can you define these terms? And give concrete examples of each?
Vicsik: To put it simply, gerrymandering is cheating. Any amount of gerrymandering is cheating, from one district in a state, to excessively gerrymandering an entire state.
After the 2020 Census, states will begin to draw their lines. If we do not get it right when maps are drawn in 2021, we will have to wait another 10 years to fix partisan gerrymandering, and see progress on the issues we care about most.
Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing those lines in a way that benefits one political party over the other, or drawing lines that intentionally favor or disfavors an elected official. A gerrymandered state means the district lines are drawn to enable one party to win fewer votes statewide, but still control more seats in government.
Currently, there are far too many district maps that have been deliberately manipulated to favor a political party. States have to redistrict; they certainly do not have to gerrymander.
Question: Why is it important to confront gerrymandering and excessive gerrymandering?
Vicsik: Politicians who represent a gerrymandered seat will most likely cater to the extremes of their party and special interests over the people they are supposed to represent and protect. Because of this, gerrymandering will lead to the gridlock and hyper-partisanship that so many Americans have grown tired of.
Gerrymandering touches so many issues that Americans care about. It creates a structural barrier that prevents progress on all of the important issues facing our country: climate change, gun violence prevention, health care, reproductive rights, immigration reform. For example, a majority of Americans support common sense gun violence prevention solutions, yet it is hard to make progress due to gerrymandering.
Question: How does gerrymandering hurt a segment of the U.S. population? What segments of citizens are hurt most?
Vicsik: Gerrymandering is often most detrimental to communities who have historically been marginalized by either packing similar voters into a single district or splitting them into many districts to dilute their influence, or pick the representative of their choice.
Communities of color get hit the hardest by gerrymandering. Politicians often intentionally use data on race to draw district lines in a way that significantly diminishes minority voting power.
Question: Tell me about All On the Line. What is it? How long has it existed? Who formed it?
Vicsik: All On The Line is a campaign of the National Redistricting Action Fund (NRAF), an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), which is chaired by Eric H. Holder, Jr., the 82nd Attorney General of the United States.
All On The Line is a grassroots campaign. We want to encourage participation in the redistricting process and make the upcoming redistricting the most people-powered and transparent in history. We have to defend our democratic ideals and increase grassroots engagement in the next few years in order to restore fairness to our democracy and ensure every American has an equal say in our government.
We want to raise awareness about the harmful impact gerrymandering has on our broken political system.
Question: Where is All On The Line Doing Its Work?
Vicsik: All On The Line understands that the fight for fair maps is happening all over the country. However, the campaign has identified a number of key target states where we can have an impact on the upcoming redistricting process in 2021-2022. You can learn more about our target states, here: www.allontheline.org
Question: How can people find out about the All On the Line online course? What will volunteers learn if they take the course? What will they be able to do once they complete it?
Vicsik: All On The Line offers a virtual Redistricting U training. Redistricting U is the next step in empowering this movement in the fight for fair maps. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to map manipulation, so at Redistricting U, we are empowering volunteers to be leaders in this fight and providing them with the knowledge, skills, and tools to impact redistricting. Each training will be customized to the state and local level. We start with the basics like the history and landscape of gerrymandering, and what the process looks like. Then we’ll dive into building a state-specific game plan to take action on redistricting. You can find opportunities to get involved at https://www.mobilize.us/allontheline/ .
Question: All On the Line offers a solution to the gerrymandering problem. What other ways exist to make our electoral system more representative of the one person-one vote concept our country holds dear? Are so-called nonpartisan statewide commissions to redraw boundaries one way to go? What states have these commissions? How do they work?
Vicsik: Independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions help make politicians more responsive to their constituents and more likely to seek common-sense solutions that the majority of Americans support.
These commissions are very important to ensuring a fair and transparent process. Commission states may have different processes, but what they have in common is they take the power away from politicians and give it to the people, where it belongs.
Another example is implementing strict standards for the redistricting process, like Florida has tried to do when it passed the Fair Districts amendments.
Question: Is there anything else I didn’t give you a chance to say?
Vicsik: All On The Line is working hard to advocate for a fair and transparent redistricting process across the country. We are taking a state by state approach to advocate for fair maps, and we need supporters on the ground to make sure their voices are heard in the redistricting process so we can achieve fair maps, and put an end to map manipulation. You can sign up to say you stand with us, here: www.allontheline.org