OPINION

Partisan gerrymandering adds to political polarization. Kansans needs redistricting map that reflects the state.

Grant M. Armstrong
Special to The Capital-Journal
Grant Armstrong

The crucial thing to underscore about politics is that all is done with a political purpose in mind. Gerrymandering is a political device.

It should be little surprise to most Kansans that their state is one of the most Republican. According to a Gallup poll conducted earlier this year, there are approximately 12% more Republicans than Democrats.

This should not mean, however, that Republican legislators should run roughshod over the Democratic minority; neither does it mean that states controlled by Democrats should do the same to Republican minorities. This, however, is the result when partisan gerrymandering is permitted.

The term gerrymandering dates back to the early 19th century. Stated simply, gerrymandering involves redrawing legislative districts to benefit the majority party at the expense of the minority party. Ideally, redrawing legislative districts should give voters an equal voice, and not amplify one group while minifying another.

This, of course, does not imply that Democrats should have equal representation in a state where Republicans have a considerable majority. It does mean, however, that the minority party and their voters shouldn't be marginalized.

While racial gerrymandering has long been forbidden, a divided U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Rucho v. Common Cause, ruled that federal courts “have no license” to regulate partisan gerrymandering.

A federal issue this is not, but based on another Supreme Court case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, states are free to adopt independent redistricting commissions, bipartisan redistricting commissions, or create a hybrid system, which is becoming increasingly common.

There is no reasonable justification for continuing to permit partisan gerrymandering. The only real reason is to consolidate and cement the power of the majority party, a situation that could create a supermajority in both chambers of the state legislature. Such a situation diminishes the likelihood of bipartisan compromise.

We know, therefore, that partisan gerrymandering is unequivocally political. Susan Wagle, the former Kansas State Senate president, admitted to manipulating the redistricting process to help Republican State Sen. Renee Erickson attain more Republican-friendly voters in her district.

This is why it is curious and amusing not only to hear politicians in the majority party defend partisan gerrymandering but to criticize the minority party of playing politics. All things done in politics are inherently political, yet each political party almost always acts as if the opposing party is the only one playing political games.

For example, a few weeks ago, Kansas Republicans Rick Wilson and Chris Croft lamented criticism by Kansas Democrats of the redistricting process. However, holding a marathon of meetings in a short period of time — and often when many citizens are at work — is further evidence there is little desire among elected Kansas Republican leaders to use redistricting to produce true representation in the state, lending credence to Democratic criticism of the process.

Both parties across the country are guilty of using redistricting to play politics. The No. 1  goal of elected officials is to get re-elected. Once in office, incumbents are difficult to defeat.

If Kansas decides to modify the redistricting process, it will produce a legislative map more reflective of the state. Until that moment comes, we can expect a lopsided one-party system that historically does not produce the best results for the people.

Grant M. Armstrong has a Ph.D in political science from the University of Mississippi and teaches at the university level in Topeka.