Partisan Redistricting: How Do I Make My Vote Count?

March 21, 2021

Students engage in inquiry to uncover the history of redistricting and gerrymandering and discuss the provisions of H.R.1, which proposes an end to partisan redistricting.

 

Day One
 

Inquiry Challenge #1
 

Divide students into dyads. (In Zoom or Google Classroom, send them to breakout rooms in dyads.) Pose the following brain teaser to the class.
 

Solve the following equation (5 minutes).  See a pdf of image below here.

A map of my state

+   Certified census data for my state
+   My favorite marker
+   Lots of patience 

=   ???

Challenge 1

Tell students:

  • They have five minutes to solve the puzzle.
     
  • They’re free to quickly conduct research to try to solve the puzzle.
     
  • They should record their answer in the chat (if using Google Classroom or Zoom).


NOTE: If students are struggling to answer the brain teaser, offer hints:

Hint: Some of these, when outlined, have peculiar shapes that, at times, cause major outrage and protests.

Hint, hint: Some of these are said to be able to determine the power of my vote.


Answer: Newly drawn Congressional and legislative districts.


Once the first team has come up with the correct response, all students will reconvene.

Give the whole group a brief overview of Congressional districts and state legislative districts.

  • There are 435 congressional districts or regions out of which we elect representatives to go to Washington, D.C. These representatives introduce and vote on legislation that impacts everyone in the country.
     
  • State legislative districts are the regions in our state out of which we elect representatives to serve our state. These representatives introduce and pass laws that impact everyone in the state.
     
  • U.S. and state legislative districts are determined by a process called “apportionment.”
     

Next, tell students that we’ll be watching this 6-minute YouTube video from Citizen Genius that explains the apportionment process.  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-dEYhcR2LY)
 



Inquiry Challenge #2


Tell students:

We just saw a video that showed a map of congressional district lines. (Or, if you don’t show the video: “There are 50 states. We know that each state has both congressional and state legislative districts.”)

Ask: 

  • Who determines the size and shape of those districts? Who actually draws the lines and  determines what cities and towns are included in our voting districts?
  • Tell students that we are now going to break into groups of four. (In Google Classroom or Zoom, send students to breakout rooms in groups of four.) Each group will have eight minutes to research the answers to the questions above.
     
  • At the end of eight minutes, each group will take no more than two minutes to present its findings to the larger classroom.
     

Once each group has presented their findings, make sure everyone is clear on how different states handle the drawing, redrawing, and creation of Congressional districts and state legislative districts, using the information below.

(Also see this pdf version of the information below on redistricting and H.R. 1.)
 

Information on Redistricting

(Source:  Associated Press, March 21, 2019)

In most places, state lawmakers and governors are responsible for drawing and approving maps for U.S. and state legislative districts following each U.S. Census.

There is a census every 10 years. The latest census was in 2020, but it was extended because of the Covid pandemic.

A growing number of states are shifting the task of redistricting to independent or bipartisan commissions, or making other changes intended to reduce the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is a term used to name what many believe are unfairly drawn districts that limit the power of the people living in those districts and prevent them from electing the representatives they want because of the way the districts are drawn.

The following states use commissions or other nontraditional methods for the current round of redistricting: Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

 

Information on H.R. 1, the For the People Act
 

Next, talk with students about H.R. 1, also called the For the People Act.

On March 3, 2021, the House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1, (H.R. 1) the For the People Act, a bill that addresses both the redistricting process and voting, including voting access, integrity in voting, and secure voting. Most say it is unlikely to pass in the Senate, especially given current filibuster rules, which require a 60-vote majority to pass a bill.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan law and policy institute, “As of February 19, more than 253 bills restricting voting access had been… introduced in 43 states, and the number is rising. Already, two of these bills have passed, and many are moving aggressively through state legislatures.” The proposed laws will limit early in-person voting, mail-in voting, and absentee voting. One Georgia law, HB 531, makes it a misdemeanor to deliver food and water to anyone waiting in line to vote.

The Brennan Center charges that many of the 253 bills are “discriminatory in design,” and “have the potential to dramatically reduce voting access, especially for Black and brown voters.” They support passage of the For the People Act, which would thwart bills that restrict voter access.

Section two of the For the People Act proposes that all states “adopt independent redistricting commissions for purposes of drawing Congressional districts.”



Videos: A Case Study
 

After reviewing this information, tell students that we’ll now watch two 2-minute videos from Common Cause on partisan redistricting, also known as gerrymandering.

The first video is about the impact of such redistricting  on one college campus in North Carolina. The second is footage from a hearing in which a North Carolina legislator justifies the redistricting.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01zyvZxY3u8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBweZMNIm2M

Afterward, discuss students’ responses and reactions to both videos.



Homework and preparation for Day 2


Students will read and annotate the following November 2020 article in the Guardian giving an update on the effort by students at A & T State University to stop government officials from limiting their voting power.  (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/nov/01/republican-north-carolina-sixth-district-gerrymandering)

 

Bonus brain teaser:  What do salamanders and gerrymanders have in common?

 



Day 2
 

Begin by answering any questions student have from the day before.

Discuss students’ answers to the brain teaser and show them a picture of the first recognized “gerrymander.”

Next, spend 10-15 minutes in a whole-class discussion of the Guardian article. Question prompts:

  • Why did the writer conclude that the partisan gerrymandering attempted by officials in 2016 backfired in North Carolina?
  • Explain this paragraph: “Smith said he’s already seen impacts from the redistricting. Congressional candidates have been spotted around campus and in the community, something that rarely happened when the area was a surefire Republican stronghold.” What is Smith telling us about politicians?
  • Now that you have a greater understanding of how and why certain Congressional districts are drawn, what do you think about the provision in H.R. 1 that requires all states to implement independent commissions to draw and decide on Congressional voting districts?


Lastly, ask students to use a government database to look up their own and others’ voting districts here: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/map

 



Vocabulary Word Scaffolding for Students

Partisan

Bi-partisan

Non-partisan

Census

Certify

Representative

Electors

U.S. territory


 

Sources
 

https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/congress-could-change-everything

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/interactive/2021/voting-   restrictions-republicans-states/

https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2021/mar/09/facebook-           posts/georgia-bill-would-  ban-giving-food-water-voters-li/

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/18/opinion/republicans-voting-rights.html