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What is gerrymandering to the Black man and woman in the state of Michigan? Some say it’s presently an unfair method in which the majority comes out on top, again.
Gerrymandering, which allows politicians to draw up maps to cast favor or manipulate to one political party — or for election results they want — has been around for decades and is nothing new. The term is named after Gov. Elbridge Gerry — eighth governor of Massachusetts – who in 1810, redrew districts in Massachusetts to boost his own party. The phrase was also added to Webster’s Dictionary in 1864, according to Smithsonian.com.
Gerrymandering is typically faulted for the American political system’s present-day divisiveness. The reasoning is that incumbents typically are more extreme if their districts are gerrymandered because when they’re guaranteed to win the general election they’ll focus on appealing to the more extreme members of their base in order to prevent a primary challenge.
As many know, the U.S. House of Representatives elects just one member from each district. With this system in place it possibly can make it difficult for Black people (among other minority groups) to gain representation.
Previously, many in the United States have made this an intentional result to create maps to make sure whites would win every district. That’s a process known as racial gerrymandering, according to a VOX article.
The federal government discussed this in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which made it illegal to draw districts that “intentionally dilute the voting power of a protected minority” according to the article to ensure “they aren’t unnaturally designed to disenfranchise minority voters.”
Rick Blocker, chairman of the 14th Congressional District, is “sick and tired of being tired” when it comes to racialized gerrymandering and Black people being typically left out of the equation.
“I think we have to push hard to get the number of Black people in each district up,” Blocker said.
Blocker said that having majority-minority districts (an electoral district, like the United States congressional district) around the country helped level out the playing field where the majority of the constituents in the district are racial or ethnic minorities.
“I hope it doesn’t go backward — we can’t allow it,” Blocker said of redistricting.
Also, according to the VOX article, on the flip side, racially based gerrymandering could benefit minority groups. This is done by drawing districts in unique ways to make sure that specific racial minority groups are the majority. The NAACP, for example, advocates for more minority representation in Congress, and the Civil Rights organization has pushed for more majority-minority districts to achieve that goal.
Blocker said that “most people agree” that Black people should have representation in the Michigan Senate and in the Michigan House of Representatives and in the U.S. Congress.
Many others agree and expressed their feelings during a Michigan Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission (MICRC) public hearing in early October at TCF Center in Detroit. Residents concerned about the way in which they will be represented per the drafts the commission had proposed talked about the matter, the Michigan Chronicle previously reported.
Citizens in Michigan voted in 2018 to rid gerrymandering, a referendum led by the group Voter, Not Politicians. Starting in 2022, the MICRC, a bipartisan group, will take on the role of drawing up new boundaries state-wide.
Ramone Jackson, a member of Pressure, a community advocacy group in Detroit, said during the meeting that Black people don‘t have a majority of voting power in the state.
The MICRC recently voted to take 10 newly-drawn maps to the public. The commission has so far held 16 public hearings before introducing the proposed new maps. A series of hearings will continue across the state.
“I hope the Commission does the right thing and recognize Black representation,” Blocker said, adding that Black voters are continuously needed to get Black people elected. “People died to try to get the Voting Rights Act [passed].”
Detroit native Crystal Parker, an Oak Park resident, told the Michigan Chronicle that good politicians make all the difference in the world.
“A good Black politician is one that can motivate and unite the vast majority of citizens they serve, regardless of race or financial status, to move and benefit from the same positive direction,” Parker said, adding that the political landscape could only grow from here with the right tools in place. “When a politician has some skin in the game, they are more likely to ensure that there is progression in that community.”
To find out more information and how to view drafted maps visit www.michigan.gov/micrc
Staff Writer Andre Ash contributed to this report.