Partisan gerrymandering breaks American democracy

Connor Simpkins ’25

Gerrymandering—manipulating the boundaries of an electoral map to influence House elections—is not a new practice, but on the heels of the 2020 census results, it is a hot topic in state legislatures across the country. The census takes place every ten years, and, once the results are in, states begin a process of redistricting to ensure that electoral maps are fairly populated and distributed. 

This is where the trouble begins: the seemingly straightforward process of drawing fair boundary lines becomes a hotly contested partisan battle: a power grab in its purest form. Both parties are guilty of using it, and all citizens are impacted when a democracy shifts from one where voters choose their representatives to one where representatives choose their voters. The number of states with nonpartisan independent commissions is few and the current cycle of redistricting raises concerns across the country about gerrymandering and the risk it causes to democracy. Some states have taken different approaches to how they manage redistricting. In the last ten years several states, including Colorado and Michigan, have passed redistricting reforms, creating independent commissions to oversee the redistricting process. 

In Pennsylvania, the state constitution requires a Legislative Reappointment Commission to redraw the maps every ten years. Still, that commission is made up of a mix of current state representatives or their delegates, which does not remove the issue of political bias. 

Pennsylvanias unusually shaped Congressional districts, drawn by the states 133th Congress, 2014 – Wikimedia Commons

According to FiveThirtyEight, ten states have already completed their map redrawing, with Democrats gaining five seats and Republicans gaining four seats nationally. However, it is unlikely Democrats will hold the lead. State after state, partisan gerrymandering is influencing future congressional maps. In states like North Carolina and Ohio, Republican legislatures have drawn maps that skew in favor of the GOP. In Illinois, the Democratic legislature proposed a map that gave the party a decided advantage. And while multiple lawsuits have already been filed to fight these partisan redistricting efforts, some wonder how effective these legal challenges might be, especially because of a 2019 Supreme Court decision that ruled that gerrymandering cannot be reviewed by federal courts

Regardless of the current redistricting outcome and the many lawsuits that will come, a bigger question remains: how do we find a fair way to reevaluate electoral districts every ten years? Other proposed solutions—as well as independent commissions—include federal legislation that reforms the process nationwide or the use of computer algorithms in a way that removes political bias.

Here in the Haverford community, we are expected to live by an Honor Code that asks us to frame our actions with a set of questions. Applying these same questions to the concept of gerrymandering is revealing:

Does gerrymandering mislead or deceive?

Does gerrymandering give an unfair advantage?

Does gerrymandering deprive another person of his/her right?

Does gerrymandering hurt or disrespect another person?  

Perhaps if our elected offices lived by the Honor Code that every Haverford student is expected to live by, more citizens could trust the redistricting process.

While our current political system may not be honorable, perhaps that is a characteristic American citizens should expect of their representatives. One recent poll reports that only 16 percent of U.S. adults believe their state’s congressional maps would be drawn fairly. 

Perhaps if our elected offices lived by the Honor Code that every Haverford student is expected to live by, more citizens could trust the redistricting process.