Panelists discuss effects of partisan gerrymandering on free, fair elections


Graphic by Colin Lynch

A map of Illinois’ Fourth Congressional District. Members of a Sunday panel discussed the issue of gerrymandering and how it affects elections in Chicago and across the country.

Emily Chaiet, Reporter

The current problem with gerrymandering — the manipulation of district boundaries to favor a political party in an election — is the worst it has been in modern history, said Ruth Greenwood of the Campaign Legal Center during a panel on campus Sunday.

“Parties have found new ways to manipulate the lines to their advantage,” Greenwood said. “People in power don’t want to give up their power so it’s really tough to make change.”

Greenwood is representing the affected voters in the Wisconsin and North Carolina gerrymandering cases pending before the Supreme Court. She sat on a panel to discuss gerrymandering’s effect on upcoming elections, along with Alden Loury, director of research and evaluation at the Chicago Metropolitan Planning Council; Andy Kang, legal director at Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago; and Clinton Anderson, a 2016 Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin State Assembly.

The panel, which focused on problems with gerrymandering and how these problems will affect upcoming elections, was moderated by Illinois political reform activist Cynthia Canary and Cliff Kelley, a WVON talk radio host and political commentator. The event, held in Lutkin Hall, was co-sponsored by the Democratic Party of Evanston and Northwestern College Democrats.

“(The issue with gerrymandering is) everyone’s future, but it’s especially going to impact students as they go forward because these decisions are probably not going to be implemented until the next four years,” Democratic Party of Evanston board president Ginny Darakjian said. “Everyone needs to know about it as soon as possible and participate in preparing appropriate redistricting plans.”

The panelists discussed a current Supreme Court case, in which Wisconsin Democrats challenged legislature redistricting drawn by the state’s Republican leaders. While the Supreme Court has said gerrymandering is illegal, they are not sure how alleged cases can be proven, Greenwood said.

Anderson said that politicians use “packing” and “cracking” tactics to keep their party in power. In Wisconsin, Democrats are “packed” into districts in order to increase Republican power in Congress, whereas “cracking” is used when heavily Democratic populations are included in districts with a Republican majority in order to dilute Democratic voting power.

“Wisconsin used to be the beacon of clean government, but right now … it is definitely not the case,” Anderson said. “I’m almost jealous of the Illinois government at this point.”

However, Kang said gerrymandering has also affected voters in Illinois, as places like Chinatown in Chicago struggle to achieve racial equality in elections due to gerrymandering. He added that it is easier for Republicans to gerrymander in Illinois because Democratic voters are concentrated in Chicago.

College Democrats co-president Alex Neumann said he was excited to attend a political panel that brought gerrymandering issues into the spotlight. He said he was interested to learn about the likelihood that court cases like Greenwood’s will pass.

“Most of us are Democrats or Republicans first before we are gerrymandering advocates,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “People tend to focus on broader kinds of more partisan things like Trump or electing candidates, and so gerrymandering is probably the issue that people don’t think of as much, but is probably impacting all of those the most.”

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Twitter: @emilychaiet