Courtesy of Victoria Pickering via Flickr under CC BY NC-ND 2.0

As the once-in-a-decade redistricting process draws closer and closer to finalizing, it’s becoming clear that Democrats may have learned a valuable lesson — play dirty. Despite having far higher public support than Republicans, this is not reflected by the slim 51% advantage that Democrats have in the House of Representatives. This is an effect of legal gerrymandering on the part of Republicans in an effort to make up for having less voters. If Democrats are unable to remove gerrymandering as a practice, they must learn to use it to their advantage. 

Gerrymandering is the process of redrawing district lines to to overrepresent the votes of a particular group of people and underrepresent the votes of another. While this might seem like a complicated concept to visualize, it’s actually pretty simple if you picture a grid of 50 squares, arranged five columns by 10 rows. The left two rows are composed of voters from one political party, while the right three rows are from the opposing party. Given a task of drawing five equally-populated districts, you will find that drawing them horizontally creates five districts that will always vote for the second party. However, drawing them vertically, counting each column as a district, will result in fair representation. There are also many websites that show gerrymandering visualizations, and even do-it-yourself games.

Republicans have applied this practice to overcome their actual voter disadvantage in recent redistricting cycles. According to a recent study, Republican-led gerrymandering has led to a 9.1% points gain in Congress within the last two decades. This is deeply troubling because the House of Representatives is supposed to be the more representative wing of Congress, with the Senate representing states’ rights. Even in the current redistricting battle, Republicans are pushing this tactic aggressively. In a particularly egregious instance, the Alabama supreme court had to reject a proposed republican map that essentially drew district lines that would put the state’s 25% Black population in control of just one of seven districts.  

Democrat-led efforts to outlaw gerrymandering have historically gained little traction from Republican politicians. While this is ultimately the best solution to make the House truly representative of voters, Democrats need to realize that they need to simultaneously gerrymander for their own gain in the meantime. In the past, Democrats have tepidly argued for redistricting reform, and asserted that they have the moral upper hand. This doesn’t seem to sway voters though, and a common misconception is that both Democrats and Republican gerrymander to a comparable degree. This aversion to gerrymandering basically assures an unearned advantage to Republicans, with little to no reward.  If democratic legislators were equally competent at gerrymandering as republican legislators, it would effectively erase any discrepancies created by the practice.

Engaging in gerrymandering is the only way to bridge the artificial lead that Republican legislators have created. Democratic legislators have seemingly realized this reality during the current redistricting cycle and have actually managed to push through state maps that raised the number of “blue districts” by 11, while Republican districts have only increased by three.  Engaging in the gerrymandering fight, rather than running away from it, seems to be the only way to uphold basic principles of democracy in the House of Representatives.