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Gerrymandering in America: Where Politicians Choose Their Voters

Gerrymandering in America: Where Politicians Choose Their Voters

As of: December 28, 2023 3:27 am

In some parts of the country, who gets elected in the United States depends more on voter preference than on the design of electoral districts. In some places they are shaped by politicians – with consequences for large sections of the population.

As US elections approach, Americans watch election ads on television. However, not everywhere: in the southern US state of Mississippi, expensive advertising is not worth it. Because government has always gone Republican for decades. This is despite the fact that Mississippi has a higher proportion of its population made up of African Americans than any other state. Traditionally, many African Americans have tended to vote Democratic. However, the party has little influence here in the south.

And that's because of the electoral system, says Andre Wagner, director of the Mississippi Democratic Party: “If African-Americans are 40 percent of the population, and we have four representatives in the House of Representatives, in my opinion two of them should be African-American or Democrats. But basically “all African-Americans in District 2 Because of this, their influence is greatly reduced, and there is only one Democratic representative.”

What Wagner describes here is a system that has repeatedly drawn heavy criticism and lawsuits: something called gerrymandering. And it works like this: the party with the majority shifts constituencies in its favor – for example, all neighborhoods with a majority of African Americans are packed into one constituency. All other constituencies will be white dominated.

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A Republican victory was almost assured

That means blocks are sometimes a completely messy patchwork, says Bobby Harrison. The journalist has worked as a political reporter in Mississippi for almost 30 years: “We have many neighborhoods, for example, where one side of the street is in one election district and the opposite side is in another election district. In the Hinds County region, this was a problem in the last election “some ballots were missing because they were delivered to the wrong polling place. “

A Republican victory in state elections in the state is also almost assured. Because of the majority vote system, one vote more than the Democrats in a constituency is enough to elect a representative.

“Republicans have majorities in both houses of our state legislature, so they can block any new legislation from being debated,” Wagner describes the consequences. “This despite the fact that we Democrats got 48 percent of the vote in the election. So at least we can start a parliamentary debate.”

Hinds County Elector Monica Taylor speaks to the Board of Elections about structural issues with the voting system.

Aftermath of partition

Jarvis Dortch says the electoral system ensures that many African Americans in particular don't even cast their ballots. He is president of the civil rights group ACLU of Mississippi.

“Politicians shouldn't elect their voters, voters should elect their political representatives,” says Dortch. “But the hot temper surrounding the issue of whites and blacks makes it easier for politicians to pick the right neighborhoods, which ensures they don't lose elections.”

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A civil rights representative says black voter suppression has a long tradition, particularly in the American South. Mississippi was one of the epicenters of slavery in the United States—and the effects continue to this day: Election campaigns are usually not about content, but about fear, says Jarvis Dortch. You have to protect “your people” against “others”: “When politicians get elected because they rely only on the majority of white voters, they ignore the problems of black voters because they don't need their votes.” That shouldn't be the case.

A mask worn by civil rights activist Carol Blackmon read “Black Votes Count!” It is written that He campaigns against the structural disadvantages of black voters in Mississippi.

Cases against gerrymandering

Civil rights activists have repeatedly brought gerrymandering to court — with varying degrees of success. They lost in the US Supreme Court. But in individual states, courts have stopped unfairly apportioning electoral districts and set limits for both major parties.

“Both sides are doing it, Republicans in conservative states and Democrats in liberal states,” asserts political reporter Bobby Harrison. “If we had more fairly apportioned electoral districts, I think we'd have more politicians who could strive for the middle and get more done, instead of the extremists who make everything so complicated.”

Individual states, such as Arizona, have changed their rules: There, a politically balanced commission now draws new election districts. In many states, politicians are still allowed to choose their constituents.

Arne Bartram, ARD Washington, tagesschau, December 27, 2023 1:16 pm