Democrats May Need to Embrace Gerrymandering to Abolish It

Texas might be the best example of these imbalances at the moment. State lawmakers just wrapped up the state’s first redistricting process without federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in roughly a half-century. Texas gained two seats in the most recent election, with the state’s growing Hispanic community accounting for nearly all of its population growth over the past decade. But those demographic changes will be conspicuously absent from the state’s new maps: According to The Texas Tribune, state GOP lawmakers reduced the number of House districts in which eligible Hispanic voters are the majority from eight to seven, and the number of House districts in which eligible Black voters are the majority from one to zero. The GOP’s grip on Texas’s House seats will grow over the next decade even as the state itself trends in the opposite direction.

So, what is the alternative? Democrats and their allies should shift their focus towards passing a federal law that mandates proportional representation for House seats. This could be accomplished a few different ways. The Fair Representation Act, a bill reintroduced by Virginia Representative Don Beyer in June, would mandate multi-member districts in large states and statewide at-large districts for small states. I’ve also written about how the existing single-member district system could be supplemented with a Bundestag-like mechanism to ensure each party’s seat distribution reflects the overall statewide results.

It is a tragic paradox that the push for anti-gerrymandering reforms at the state level may have made the House even less representative of the nation over the past decade. The time, energy, and resources that would be used to campaign for future redistricting commissions would accordingly be better used to rally support for proportional representation. Additionally, Democrats should also take the opportunity to wipe out as many GOP-friendly seats in the blue states as possible, using the same hardball redistricting tactics that were pioneered by Republicans over the past decade.

For many years, some of the firmest opposition to proportional representation—or, at least, to abandoning single-member districts—came from members of the Congressional Black Caucus. After a 1982 Supreme Court ruling on vote dilution and legislative seats, many Southern states packed Black voters into majority-minority congressional districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act. That shift created a series of ultra-safe Democratic seats that increased Black representation in Congress. But as The Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman recently noted,  it also gave GOP state legislatures “a convenient, if cynical, legal rationale to keep Democratic votes bottled up in remaining hyper-packed Black seats.” Those broader consequences, he reported, have led some CBC members to rethink whether majority-minority districts truly lead to greater representation.

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