Gerrymandering in Williamson County: How Does It Affect Elections?

Gerrymandering is a process that has been used for centuries to manipulate the outcome of elections. It involves redrawing the boundaries of electoral districts in order to give one political party an advantage over another. In Tennessee, redistricting happens every ten years, and it is easy for ordinary citizens to overlook it. However, understanding redistricting helps Tennesseans stay informed about their own representatives and about whether a change is likely to take place in their district.

Redistricting is the name given to the drawing of new boundaries of Congress, the state legislature, and even the city councils after each U. S. census. According to Sims v.

Supreme Court of Justice, two historic United States Supreme Court cases of the civil rights movement, the populations of the districts, both in the state legislature and in Congress, should be roughly the same. If district boundaries weren't redrawn with population changes, there would be a massive representative imbalance. For a long time in Tennessee, that was the case. For most of the 20th century, until the 1960s, Tennessee used the same state legislative map, while the state added 1.5 million people to the population. It was not until Baker v.

Carr, which promoted the use of judicial review to force fair legislative representation, that Tennesseans lived in districts that made more sense for their time period. While the new maps of the 1960s rectified the immediate problems of disproportionate representation, they continued to use electoral manipulation. Electoral manipulation is the term for redistributing districts in a way that benefits a single political group or party. The name derives from a plan that originated in the United States. While some states have striven to wrest direct control of redistricting away from politicians, Tennessee is not included in that group. The General Assembly is still drawing up the new maps and approving them; the only control of its power is the governor, who must enact the bill for it to enter into force.

Specifically, the maps will be created in the Senate Judiciary Committee, currently chaired by Senator Mike Bell, Republican of Riceville, and the House of Representatives Select Committee on Redistricting. Congressional distribution data, the figures that determine how many congressional seats each state retains, was released on April 26th and Tennessee maintained its nine districts. Currently, the Census Bureau estimates that it will be able to publish demographic data by census block in mid-or late August; these are the data from which all redistrict maps are created, so most of the work cannot begin without this data. Any delay, especially one that could last another month or more after the traditional deadline, will mainly harm those who oppose incumbents, both in primary and general elections. Each day between when new maps become official and submission deadline applicants can decide to run for public office or be courted by one of parties to do so. It's difficult to beat incumbents in any election cycle so an already tight and increasingly reduced redistricting schedule doesn't benefit any contender. Unlike other states that provide clear criteria for what legislature may consider when drafting proposal, Tennessee only requires that state legislative maps divide as few counties as reasonably possible and that an attempt be made to preserve political subdivisions whenever possible. None of these rules apply to congressional maps nor are they strictly enforced as demonstrated by Moore v.

Tennessee, which challenged state Senate map on grounds that map from General Assembly's Black Caucus divided fewer counties than official map. Chancellery Court Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle ruled in favor of state and Senate map was confirmed. State Supreme Court recently overturned map in 1983 so it's not common. The previous participation of courts raises question of how judicial challenge would develop now taking into account recent changes made in state judiciary. The new Court of Special Appeals recently enacted by Governor Lee would function like another state appeals court.

The new court has original jurisdiction over issues of distribution and redistricting. If three-judge panel decides any redistricting plan needs to be rectified court must first give General Assembly at least 15 days to try correct its own errors. Only after these 15 days have elapsed without substitute for General Assembly can court create interim plan that will be used in next elections. This interim plan is required by law to be “minimum change” plan or one that rectifies underlying problems with as few changes as possible. Junaid Odubeko, associate professor of electoral law at Vanderbilt University School of Law and Bradley Arant Boult Cummings partner says responsiveness of any court whether state or federal to redistricting challenge will depend on reasons for lawsuit which judges are handling case and whether prosecution goes against entire plan or only against specific party. It's too early to know if Tennessee process will be as litigious as other states have been in recent years. The Voting Rights Act stipulates majority and minority seats are protected by federal government so they are not dismantled without good reason; unfortunately for several communities several these districts are very depopulated. In House of Representatives there are 14 minority-majority districts and five are underpopulated by 5% or more most these districts are in Memphis three more in Nashville one in Chattanooga and one more in rural western Tennessee. Four most unpopulated districts are in Memphis but district Madison and Hardeman Counties has lowest population.

For state senate there are only four minority-majority districts and half them are more than 5% underpopulated three them are in Memphis including two severely depopulated Nashville holds only senate seat with minority majority that is overpopulated.

Janis Veino
Janis Veino

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