Gerrymandering influences 2021 Nebraska redistricting

ElizabethMonzu

No, really? Who is Gerry and why is he mandering? 

Editorial Cartoon by Elleiana Green

Gerrymandering, a tale as old as the United States, started when Patrick Henry tried to take his rival James Madison’s seat away in Virginia’s first congressional election by making an irregular district for voting.

However, according to Britannica, the real term came in 1812 when Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts defined new state senatorial districts, giving unequal representation to the Democratic-Republicans. The Boston Gazette newspaper made a cartoon on the situation in which the highly irregular district looked like a salamander and so the term gerrymandering was born.

Gerrymandering has gotten more partisan and complex over the years, but it is still the same idea of redrawing the electoral districts of states in which it gives one party an unfair advantage over the other. For example, Nebraska has three districts and every ten years after the census, the lines are redrawn to account for population. Even though gerrymandering is a problem, redistricting is necessary because people move and places change, so they have to make sure each district is represented properly and equally on account of population. House of Representatives speak for a certain population within within the districts. 

People are supposed to choose the representatives, but politicians are instead choosing who they want to vote for them. 

Senior Malerie Birkel learned more about gerrymandering in her government class. “It ensures that some voices are louder than others and leads to voter efficacy and alienation. It tells people that their vote doesn’t count and can lead to a lower voter turnout rate,” Birkel said.  Like many others, Birkel believes this is a partisan issue, both parties gerrymander.

“Although partisan gerrymandering is legal, there are some major rules,” Mrs. Roger, government and politics teacher, said. “Each district needs to be nearly the same in population, and they need to be compact and continuous. What this means is you can’t have Omaha and add another bubble for Lincoln. The districts have to be connected to each other.”

Because partisan gerrymandering is legal, there are many states that have very irregular districts. They go neighborhood by neighborhood, carving people out based on how they registered for voting. “To have the districts be nonpartisan, they would either have to be drawn by a nonpartisan judicial committee, like in Iowa, or drawn by a computer,” Roger said. “If computers drew the districts in this country, they would look a lot different.”

Each state has different rules about how their redistricting is done, and Nebraska’s are redrawn by state legislators. Nebraska’s lines were redrawn this year because of the 2020 census. The Nebraska State Legislature approved the new map on Sept. 30, but it won’t take effect until 2022 for the midterm elections.

The redistricting was a bit different this year and tensions were high. Nebraska’s state legislature is controlled by Republicans, and in the 2020 presidential election Nebraska’s second district “went blue,” and gave a vote to President elect Joe Biden. Nebraska and Maine are the only two states who split up their electoral votes by district. 

Because of this, in the redistricting, Republicans had a proposal on how to split up the districts so the second district wouldn’t go blue again. According to WOWT, Republicans cut Douglas County in half and added Saunders and Sarpy counties, which are Republican strongholds, while leaving much of Democratic North Omaha out. The Republican’s proposal was blatant gerrymandering, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Nebraska said, but they weren’t the only ones to do it.

The Democrats also had a proposal, one in which that would benefit the second district in turning blue once again. Their plan was to decrease Douglas County by removing parts of Western Republican areas and add Offutt Air Force Base and Bellevue. Bellevue is highly Democratic because they have a large Latinx community that historically votes Democratic.

Both of these propositions sought to help their own party, but ultimately both parties decided on a compromise. They kept Douglas County whole — to benefit the Democrats — and they added Saunders and part of Sarpy counties — to benefit the Republicans. “It was good to see that both parties were eventually able to come to a compromise that seems as fair as it can realistically be,” Birkel said. Like many others, Birkkel believes this compromise illustrates that not everything has to be on party lines and that there are other alternatives to gerrymandering.

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The Network is the student newspaper of Marian High School, Nebraska's only Class A College-Preparatory School for young women.

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