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The League of Women Voters educates the community about redistricting, gerrymandering

By Staff | Jul 6, 2018

The League of Women Voters hosted “A Conversation on Redistricting” at the Robert C. Byrd Center on June 28.

The event featured refreshments, conversation and a Facebook livestream of a portion of the national League of Women Voters’ conference in Chicago, Illinois, which featured a discussion about current gerrymandering and redistricting issues with the Campaign Legal Center’s husband-and-wife team Nick Stephanopoulos and Ruth Greenwood, who both worked on the U. S. Supreme Court case of Gill versus Whitford.

“The U.S. Supreme Court last and this week ruled on related redistricting cases. With the 2020 census coming up, West Virginia will also go through redistricting,” said LWV President Euphemia Kallas. “The League is partnering with several local groups, and we will be providing programming strictly on redistricting. The general public needs to understand redistricting, in order to ensure that their vote and their voice has equal weight to that of every other citizen.”

“Gerrymandering has been with us since 1813, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry approved a bill that redistricted Massachusetts in favor of his political party,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood said gerrymandering often happens when the political party in power will redistrict its state to favor that party’s remaining in power. Lawyers are able to recognize gerrymandering by looking at states’ districts and seeing where districts’ lines are drawn. If voters from the opposite party are crammed together into a district or thinly divided between districts to weaken the power of their votes, legal action needs to be taken.

Although the Supreme Court has said — since a legal case with the state of Indiana in 1986 — that gerrymandering is illegal, proving gerrymandering is occurring can be difficult.

The Supreme Court required Greenwood and Stephanapoulos to go back to the drawing board with the Gill versus Whitford case, and find people who can prove personal injury resulting from gerrymandering in Wisconsin.

According to Greenwood, eight states in the U.S. have gerrymandering laws, which keep those states’ redistricting commissions in check. However, a federal law defining and banning gerrymandering is needed, to prevent redistricting commissions in all 50 states from unduly favoring a candidate or political party.

“This is a big topic of interest. The public need to know about how our government functions,” said LWV former president Debbie Royalty, of Charles Town. “People are very busy, and some of these issues are complicated and hard to follow. However, the more people understand how democracy works, the more they feel a part of it.”

Visit planscore.org to see how states’ districts compare across the country.