Nash Trumbly reporter
The 2020 and 2022 elections saw our country, and our democratic institutions, tested like never before. It wasn’t just the candidates’ qualifications that were tested, but the legitimacy of the vote in its entirety. In 2020, former President Donald Trump became the first in modern American history to deny the results of his own loss, culminating in a group of his supporters mounting an insurrection on our nation’s capital on January 6, 2021. Today, polls show that more than 60 percent of Republican voters believe that the election was stolen. Deteriorating trust in our democratic institutions will have dire consequences for our future and while nearly every major source has spent time debunking myths about election fraud, election inequality continues to fester not through fraud, but through a practice called gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering, named after former United States Vice President Elbridge Gerry, is the process of manipulating how district boundaries are drawn to favor a political party or class of people. Typically, this is done by either isolating those of a particular party to one voting district to limit their political sway, or by diluting their votes by including them in districts that heavily favor the opposing party. This tool has been used by both sides of the political spectrum for over 200 years to change existing maps to maintain power. In states like Kansas where partisan state legislatures are responsible for drawing political districts, gerrymandering runs rampant.
In the 2018 election, the Republican nominee for Kansas 2nd congressional district, which encompasses most of eastern Kansas outside of Kansas City, was Steve Watkins. And while Watkins won his election, it was only by a margin of 0.8 percent. This close race exposed a political liability for Kansas Republicans, so after the 2020 census, when the state legislature was allowed to redraw congressional districts, it became a priority to redraw the districts in a way that would benefit them going forward. The legislature eventually passed a new map; one that would split the 2nd district’s Democratic strongholds of Wyandotte and Douglas Counties, diluting democratic voter influence by moving half of them into district 1, a Republican bastion that encompasses northwestern Kansas.
While this map was challenged by Kansas’ democratic Governor Laura Kelly and Judge Bill Klapper, it was ultimately deemed constitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court this June and went into effect for the 2022 midterm election. District 2 delivered a massive republican victory by a margin of more than 15 percent, crushing any hopes of growing democratic leadership in the state and proving that gerrymandering remains the most effective strategy for manipulating elections.
When you put partisan politicians in charge of drawing districts that not only decide the fate of their own reelections, but also sway the political balance of national election as a whole, you condone perfectly legal political corruption. These practices not only suppress and dilute American votes, but they disproportionately effect minorities, spelling disaster for the integrity of our elections. Both of our nation’s political parties employ these tactics – it’s not a partisan issue. And yet instead of having civilized debates about this, we are consumed with conspiracy theories that distract us from seeking out reforms and feed a continual state of denial. All voter from all parties should be asking themselves this: How do we, as a society, embrace reality, and address the things actually rigging our elections.