Redlining and its impact 

The practice of redlining (also known as gerrymandering) has been common in American politics for nearly a century now. It sees the redistricting of counties to make it more likely for standing politicians to maintain in power. Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash.

As midterm elections near, ethics surrounding voter rights start appearing in the national conversation. Every 10 years, politicians across the country redraw district lines in order to best reflect the electorate. A good redistricting process represents all of a community equally, so all people are represented in government. However, many politicians abuse their power by drawing district lines in favor of their expected voters. This process, known as gerrymandering or redlining, often distorts representation.  

Redlining dates back to the Great Depression, when the National Housing Act was passed and the Federal Housing Administration was established. This act resulted in majority-Black neighborhoods not having easy access to mortgages. Consequently, the act decreased the value of homes in Black neighborhoods and increasingly segregated white and Black people into different areas. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed in order to combat this problem by banning housing discrimination based on race, gender and religion. However, the effects of the National Housing Act were already well-established, and discrimination continues today through redistricting. 

One concern of redlining is that politicians often discourage minorities from voting as district lines are drawn so that they are under-represented. Politicians use a process known as “packing” and “cracking” to accomplish their goals of under-representing certain voters. “Packing” is when map drawers place all “undesirable” voters in a category so that they only count for one district. Specifically, this means placing all voters that will not vote for the politician drawing the maps in one area. “Cracking” is when few undesirable voters are scattered in districts where they are the minority so that their vote doesn’t count as much. These strategies for redistribution arguably cause lower voter turnout. For example, Julia Vaughn, a policy director at Common Cause Indiana argued that Indiana’s low voter turnout of 61.4% in 2020 was due to gerrymandering. Specifically, during the last redistricting cycle in 2011, congressional districts were shown to be consistently biased in favor of Republicans, thereby discouraging Democratic voters. 

Another concern of redlining is its effect on environmental justice, healthcare and education. For example, redlined neighborhoods have twice the chance of oil and gas wells being placed in their communities. Furthermore, research indicates that redlined neighborhoods have worse air quality, a lack of green space, elevated health risks and poor birth outcomes. To add, if redlined in a “hazardous” area, families often only had access to underperforming schools. Specifically, if one’s ZIP code is associated with high quality education, property value will be higher than homes with access to only low-quality education.  

However, the redistribution problem will not be solved until people consistently show up when they feel under-represented. When voters put pressure on politicians to change these laws, real change can happen. One way to solve this problem is through establishing affirmative policies such as automatic voter registration, same-day registration, early voting and expanding online registration. One bill, the North Carolina Voting Act sought out to accomplish these goals in December 2018 and was blocked by politicians who would be disadvantaged. Increased education and awareness of voters is important, so these bills won’t get blocked.  

Another way to solve the redistribution problem is by educating citizens about gerrymandering and teaching “Critical Race Theory” in schools. Specifically, students would learn about the history of gerrymandering and its effects today, which would encourage them to get to the polls. 

Furthermore, there are ways for communities to get involved in the redistricting process every 10 years. For example, if minorities feel under-represented, they can testify at public hearings and advocate for what their community needs and work with politicians to get new maps passed. By actively engaging with this issue, voters can feel empowered to use their voices. 

Overall, even though gerrymandering may discourage voting, there are ways to get people to show up for the polls.  By encouraging voting through social media and talking to friends and family, you can encourage individuals to show up on Election Day. 

Also, by emphasizing and spreading resources for early voting, you can help others prepare to vote. The upcoming midterm election is on Tuesday, Nov. 8; the polls open at 6 a.m. and remain open until 8 p.m. in Connecticut. For those not able to vote in-person, fill out an absentee ballot. This year, let’s get to the polls and make our voices heard! 

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