Majority of Americans express dissatisfaction with democracy, and gerrymanderers race to the bottom

Majority of Americans express dissatisfaction with democracy, and gerrymanderers race to the bottom
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Partisan political polarization is more entrenched, and the pillars of American democracy are less secure than they have been since the Civil War: 51 percent of Americans think it somewhat or very likely that within the next few years an election will be overturned because politicians are unhappy their party did not win; 31 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Republicans are not confident that elections reflect the will of the people; 78 percent of Republicans believe that Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden: Democrats' spending plan is 'a bigger darn deal' than Obamacare Biden says he's open to altering, eliminating filibuster to advance voting rights Biden: Comment that DOJ should prosecute those who defy subpoenas 'not appropriate' MORE did not legitimately get enough votes to become president, and 59 percent of Americans (50 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of independents, and 74 percent of Republicans) are completely or somewhat dissatisfied with democracy.

Despite an absence of evidence of widespread voter fraud, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming and Montana have restricted voter access since the election of 2020 by curtailing drop box usage, reducing the time to request and submit mail-in ballots, imposing new I.D. requirements, shortening early in-person voting, limiting the ability of third parties to return ballots, banning drive-through voting, and adding criminal penalties for individuals who assist voters.

With the release of demographic data by the U.S. Census Bureau on Aug. 12, 2021, gerrymandering is taking center stage in the race to the bottom.


With the use of sophisticated computer software, state legislatures (which are authorized to set electoral district boundaries every ten years) are now far more able to determine the outcomes in local, state, and national races before a single vote is cast. Gerrymanderers use two methods. “Cracking” splits voters with certain racial, ethnic, socio-economic characteristics into multiple, often oddly shaped, districts to dilute their electoral power. “Packing” jams specified groups into as few districts as possible, so that while they can elect a small number of preferred candidates, their political impact is weakened everywhere else.

In the blue state of Pennsylvania, for example, gerrymandering has given Republicans a virtual lock on 13 of the 18 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Wisconsin, Democrats won a majority of votes statewide in 2018, but captured only 36 of 99 seats in the state assembly. Until 2019, when a state appeals court decreed that partisan redistricting violated the constitution, North Carolina’s congressional delegation consisted of 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats, even though the Democrats won almost 50 percent of the statewide vote. Overall, gerrymandering has given Republicans in each election cycle a net gain of 16 or 17 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

This year the gerrymandering beat goes on. In September, the Texas state senate began drawing new electoral maps. The senate now has 13 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The boundaries of the two districts represented by GOP state senators which narrowly supported Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential are now likely to provide them with comfortable majorities. Although African Americans and Latinos concentrated in urban and suburban areas account for almost 95 percent of the population growth in Texas during the last decade, the Republican Senate is poised to increase the number of districts that delivered majorities for Donald TrumpDonald TrumpHarris stumps for McAuliffe in Virginia On The Money — Sussing out what Sinema wants Hillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — The Facebook Oversight Board is not pleased MORE from 16 to 19. The Texas legislature then will turn to the state’s Congressional districts.

With supermajorities in the New York State assembly and senate, Democrats seem determined to reduce the impact of gerrymandering in the Republican states by setting boundaries that will oust as many as five New York GOP members of the U.S. House of Representatives. A likely target is first-term Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, whose seat is anchored in Staten Island, but whose district in 2022 may include liberal neighborhoods of Brooklyn. Democrats could also force incumbent Republicans Rep. Claudia Tenney and Rep. Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikLawmakers pay tribute to Colin Powell Lawmakers laud diversity gains in Congress Majority of Americans express dissatisfaction with democracy, and gerrymanderers race to the bottom MORE, a rising star who replaced Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn Cheney'You're a joke': Greene clashes with Cheney, Raskin on House floor The 9 Republicans who voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress Cheney reveals GOP's Banks claimed he was Jan. 6 panel's ranking member MORE (R-Colo.) as the GOP’s top-ranking Republican woman in the House, into the same congressional district.

Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican presidents have emerged as gerrymandering enablers-in-chief. In a 5-4 vote in the landmark case of Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the court struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had prohibited southern states with a history of voter suppression from implementing changes affecting elections unless they received notification from the U.S. Attorney General or the D.C. U.S. District Court that the proposed policy did not discriminate against “protected minorities.” In every decade between 1965 and 2013, it’s worth noting, Texas was admonished for attempting to violate Section 5.

In Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), the five conservative justices at the time ruled that federal courts lacked jurisdiction to ban gerrymandering for partisan political advantage in North Carolina, a decision that opened the door for states to defend racially discriminatory redistricting on the grounds that they actually intended to target the opposing political party.

While the Supreme Court has declined to check gerrymandering, U.S. Senate Republicans have given gerrymanderers a free pass by filibustering the For The People Act, passed by the House and which bars use of gerrymandering in congressional districts and enhances the ability of voters to mount court challenges. The Senate, which exempted Supreme Court nominees from the filibuster, ought to remove it as well for voting rights issues, which, after all, are the foundation of our increasingly fragile democracy.

The clock is ticking. Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinBiden: Negotiating assault weapons ban more difficult than infrastructure, reconciliation deal Biden says expanding Medicare to include hearing, dental and vision a 'reach' Biden says paid leave proposal reduced from 12 to 4 weeks MORE (D-W.Va.), are you listening?

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of "Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century."