Partisan gerrymandering is a scourge of American democracy. When legislators carve up districts along political lines to preserve their party’s legislative dominance, they burden freedom of expression and diminish representational rights. They also produce distorted maps that defy both geography and logic. Inclined to protest this undemocratic grotesquerie but worried about missing a workout? Pack your running shoes and head to Asheville, North Carolina, on Nov. 4 for the inaugural Gerrymander 5k.
The fun run/walk, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Asheville–Buncombe County, will take place along an especially sinuous segment of the border between Congressional Districts 10 and 11. Asheville is a progressive city, but both districts are currently held by Republicans thanks to gerrymandering. The GOP-dominated legislature essentially divided Asheville in two, lumping some of its residents in CD 10 and the rest in CD 11. Both districts also include many rural conservatives, whose votes outweigh those from progressive Asheville. This practice, known as “cracking,” dilutes Democratic votes to ensure that a Democratic city cannot elect a Democratic representative.
Although there’s a long American tradition of gerrymandering, increasingly sophisticated technology has allowed legislators to microtarget neighborhoods, blocks, and even individual houses. November’s fun run will highlight several bizarre nooks in the serpentine district line. Alana Pierce, board president of the League of Women Voters of Asheville–Buncombe County, told me the event is designed to illustrate how gerrymandering “has split our community so we are no longer fairly represented.”
Since the GOP-dominated North Carolina legislature redrew districts following the 2010 election, the League of Women Voters has brought five lawsuits alleging unlawful gerrymanders. The U.S. Supreme Court has found that both federal congressional districts and state legislative districts were illegally drawn along racial lines. A federal court will soon decide whether a 2016 tweak to state districts constituted an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. At the time, Republicans openly acknowledged that they were drawing maps to give an advantage to GOP candidates.
Although the League of Women Voters generally leans left, it opposes partisan gerrymanders that favor Democrats as well. In 2014, its Maryland branch held a “Gerrymandering Meander” along Maryland’s third congressional district, which Democrats drew to favor their party. A federal judge described the district’s shape as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”