One way to prepare for the next era of divided government: stop gerrymandering

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton listens to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

In the second presidential debate, Trump latched onto a new, as colorful critique of Clinton: if she had been effective, she would have solved every problem during her 30 years in public service. Many were quick to point out how the line of attack did not logically follow, given the structure of our government and policy-making process, and relationship between the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

As we head into the final weeks of the election and Clinton widens her lead in national polling, many have begun asking how this very interplay will manifest itself in a Clinton Administration with a divided government. In fact, given recent events, many congressional Republican candidates are pivoting their campaign messages, running ads saying they will act as checks on President Clinton. However Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight forecast currently gives the Democrats a 60.4 percent of winning control of the Senate after losing their majority in the 2014 midterm elections, given the fact that more Senate Republicans are up for re-election and the effect of having Donald Trump on the top of the ticket.

Democrats are also likely to make gains in the House of Representatives. Yet, despite internal disarray and the suggestion of a challenge to Paul Ryan’s speakership, Republicans are safely projected to maintain control. And regardless of what else may transpire in American politics, it is unlikely this may change until 2020 at the earliest, at the end of Clinton’s first term.

In a 2010 Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, Republican strategist Karl Rove outlined, quite clearly for the American people, how the GOP planned to do so: a deliberate strategy of targeting state legislative races to control congressional redistricting in their favor, also known as gerrymandering. “Some of the most important contests this fall will be down the ballot,” Rove wrote, “These are state legislative races that will determine who redraws congressional district lines after this year’s census… winning these seats would give them the control of drawing distinct lines for nearly 190 congressional seats.”

The Republican State Leadership Committee had launched REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project, which on its official website touted, “Shortly after the 2008 elections, the RSLC began planning for the 2010 election cycle, formulating a strategy to keep or win Republican control of state legislatures with the largest impact on Congressional redistricting… focused resources on states projected to gain or lose Congressional seats in 2011 based on the most recent Census data.” 

It is true that population patterns may inherently make House races more favorable for Republicans, Democrats have also been accused of gerrymandering (although data suggests it is not symmetrical), and that such redistricting has been challenged in court as constituting disenfranchisement. However it is truly remarkable that in 2012, Democrats received 1.4 million more votes than Republicans in House races, but were met with a 33-seat GOP majority. It is further troubling that in 2015 the RSLC announced a $125 million investment to launch REDMAP 2020 to continue the strategy.

To combat this from continuing in the future, more states should follow suit of California and Arizona to establish non-partisan independent redistricting commissions. Relying on court rulings against gerrymandering is slow and reactionary. Some opponents argue that they constitute an unconstitutional delegation of power to control the “time, places, and manner of holding elections” given to the legislature in the Elections Clause. These independent commissions have been challenged, but ultimately upheld in court.

Our Founding Fathers wrote this, but they were also fearful of the development of political factions. Some argue that in theory, factions and divided government may not necessarily be so bad – creating incentives for compromise and thereby lasting reforms, protecting minorities, and acting as a check on one-party rule. However, it goes without saying that is not how the partisan politics has manifested itself in our government.

To be productive in this inevitable period of divided government will require a fundamental change in political culture and understanding civil discourse, of the type Trump is steering many within his own base and party away from. However, fighting gerrymandering, being cognizant of the REDMAP 2020 strategy, is an important place to begin and will have long-term benefits. No government can function properly or find consensus if purposefully designed to not be reflective of its citizens and the changing mood of the country.

Marissa Piccolo is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at She tweets@marissapiccolo.