Gerrymandered congressional districts silence voters' voices

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

You’re probably feeling good after voting yesterday — engaging in the political process and finally getting to support the issues and candidates that matter to you. Too bad that in the long run, you vote doesn’t really matter.

Don’t take this the wrong way. Our democracy depends upon the people’s vote. But throughout our nation’s history, the power of this vote has been usurped by political and economic elites. Today, the people are left with the scraps of their former voting power.

The limited value of voting exists at both the local and national levels. At the local level, a largely ignored and troublingly effective means of this
is gerrymandering. 

The practice reshapes district lines to capture a voting base that favors the party in power, with the intent of heavily protecting incumbents in their local elections. The problem is that once this occurs, it becomes almost impossible for someone from an opposing party to challenge these incumbents. If one happens to be a Democrat in a heavily Republican district, your vote will never be heard until Congress decides to redistrict again. Patrick O’Connor, writer for the Wall Street Journal, wrote about this minimal competitiveness that results from gerrymandering.

“Of 435 districts in the Republican-controlled House, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates only 90 as competitive,” O’Connor said. “The number of competitive districts [is] at its lowest since Cook first started the partisanship rating in the 1998 election cycle.”

In national elections, the Electoral College has taken the power away from the people since the beginning of American democracy. With the existence of the Electoral College, the voter doesn’t have a direct vote in the presidential election. Each state has a specific number of electors that is proportional to congressional representatives and congressmen. 

However, the issue isn’t in the indirectness of voting, but rather the Electoral College as a winner-takes-all system. This means electors only go to the candidate the wins the majority vote — however small the margin may be. In Texas, where the red-blue split is a 54–46 percent difference, all electoral votes would go to a Republican candidate. To the Electoral College, 46 percent of voters in Texas just do not matter. Mike Edwards and Danny Oppenheimer, writers for the Huffington Post, argued for the elimination of this
unrepresentative system.

“The primary impact of the Electoral College is to give citizens of some states more influence over the presidential election than citizens of other states,” Edwards and Oppenheimer said. “If you happen to live in a [non-swing state] — as do roughly 79% of Americans … — then you are pretty much out of luck. Your vote doesn’t matter.”

Although the power of voting has been diluted into less than it should be, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote. However, what it does mean is Americans have to take back their power and put election reform on the top of the political agenda. The American people need to make it clear to politicians that if America is to resemble any form of democracy, the next set of policies must get rid of wthe practices that undermine the process itself.

Choudhury is an economics freshman from Dallas. Choudhury is a senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @MubarratC.