The Correlation Between Race, Party Affiliation, and Gerrymandering

By: Francis Carlota

Chicago is usually the first thing people think about when Illinois comes to mind. People might even assume the greater chicago area is likely democratic, which means people likely think Illinois is a blue state. The fact former President Barack Obama was an Illinois Senator and Illinois voted blue in the 2016 presidential election helps reinforce this idea. But the 2016 election’s electoral map shows a completely different color: red.

According to Ballotopedia, of the 102 counties in Illinois, 12 of them voted for Democratic candidate Hilliary Clinton, and 90 voted for President Donald Trump. But Clinton won all 20 electoral votes mainly because she won Cook county, which contains Chicago, and the surrounding counties. The United States Census Bureau says there are 12,741,080 million people in Illinois, and 5,180,493 million of them live in Cook county. 2,705,994 live in Chicago. Of this number, 49.14% are white, 30.51% are black or African American, 11.19% are another race, and 6.22% are Asian per World Population Review.

As stated in FiveThirtyEight’s article The Most Diverse Cities Are Often The Most Segregated, most people of color live in the heart of Chicago, while most white people live in the suburbs. Those people of color are more likely to vote Democrat as shown in the 2016 Presidential election where 74% of non-white people voted for Clinton per The state legislature of Illinois keeps this in mind when dividing the state into Congressional districts to benefit a particular party, which is called gerrymandering.

The greater Chicago area contains 11 of the 18 districts in Illinois. This means 61% of districts are concentrated in the Chicago area, which likely means these districts are drawn in unconventional ways. An example of one of these oddly drawn districts is District 4, which is drawn like a horseshoe. Comparing an image of the 4th district to the ethnic breakdown of Chicago in the FiveThirtyEight article, it looks like the district is drawn to focus on the people of color who live on the west side of Chicago.

Compare the shape of the 4th district to the 16th district, and there is a stark contrast between the conventionalism of the two. The rest of the districts are much larger and more conventionally drawn than in the Chicago area in general. But it is no coincidence these districts mainly consist of white people as shown here, and have Republican representatives. Mathematically, putting 11 of the 18 districts in the Chicago area means it is likely there will be more Democratic representatives in Congress regardless of how the rest of the districts vote.

The correlation between race and party affiliation is no secret. But the way districts are drawn to maximize their party’s representation in Congress is designed to take advantage of this correlation, and the Supreme Court cannot do anything to stop this. Just a month ago the US Supreme Court ruled on two cases: Rucho v. Common Cause and Lamone v. Benisek. Rucho dealt with alleged partisan gerrymandering by North Carolina Republican legislators and Lamone dealt with alleged partisan gerrymandering by Maryland Democrats. In a 5:4 decision split along ideological lines, the Court deemed both cases nonjusticiable, finding allegations of partisan gerrymandering raise political questions, which cannot be brought before the Court. To clarify, this Supreme Court ruling means partisan gerrymandering exploiting the correlation between race and party affiliation cannot be stopped by the courts.

But there are many groups fighting partisan gerrymandering such as Common Cause and Campaign Legal Center in DC, the Public Mapping Project in Gainesville, Florida, the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, and others. Furthermore, various bills have introduced to Congress on this issue such as H.R. 1. As detailed in an article for the Pacific Standard, this bill would transfer “the authority to draw congressional districts from state legislatures to independent, non-partisan commissions.” While the Supreme Court cannot fix this problem, the fight against partisan gerrymandering continues with a flickering light at the end of the tunnel.

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