Should Democrats gerrymander? No — it's bad politics, and there's a better way

Washington, August 7, 2019
Tags: Equality

Last month the U.S. Supreme Court handed state legislators a blank check to gerrymander themselves whatever partisan advantage they might like during the 2021 redistricting cycle. After living under the thumb of brutal Republican gerrymanders for the last decade, some Democrats sound ready and eager to cash in where they can.

“I don’t see how there’s any other options,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, the last remaining Kentucky Democrat whose seat would be a certain target of GOP mapmakers. He told the Daily Beast that because Republicans will do whatever they can, he “wouldn’t blame any state Democratic legislature for taking full advantage of it.” Sen. Chris Van Hollen, the Maryland Democrat who once chaired the party’s congressional campaign committee, applied the language of nuclear war to mapmaking, declaring that he doesn’t believe in “unilateral disarmament.”

Yarmuth and Van Hollen can talk as tough as they’d like, but the numbers aren’t on their side. Reality is tougher: Democrats have next to nothing to gain from enacting extreme gerrymanders of their own. They have much to lose: After spending much of this decade campaigning against GOP gerrymanders and working to expand voting rights, Democrats shouldn’t abandon their claims to the nonpartisan high ground. 

Congress could simply pass the Fair Representation Act, as proposed by Rep. Don Beyer, a Virginia Democrat. Beyer would replace our winner-takes-all system with a fairer system that would allow every vote to matter and everyone to win their fair share of seats. It calls for ranked-choice voting to elect House members, combined with moderately larger districts of three, four or five representatives along the lines of ones used widely in state and local elections. Larger districts, drawn by independent commissions, would be nearly impossible to gerrymander. The lines would simply matter less. A more proportional system would open the door to centrists, independents, minority representation, even third parties. These two reforms, taken together, would not only dramatically transform our politics, but ensure that all sides win only the seats they deserve in every single state.

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