How Distorted Districts Lead to Distorted Laws

Lawmakers study a map of a proposed redistricting plan at the State House in Montgomery, Alabama, May 9, 2012.

The principle of “one person, one vote” requires states to redraw their election districts every 10 years in order to account for changes in population. In most states, legislators can manipulate district boundaries to benefit their own political party. This manipulation, called gerrymandering, weakens voters’ ability to affect election outcomes and exercise accountability over the government. Distorted election districts lead to skewed representation and legislators who are less responsive to the will of the voters—and it happens in both Republican and Democratic state legislatures. The manipulation of districts means that politicians are picking their voters instead of the other way around.

Polls show that these gerrymandered state legislatures are enacting policies that voters do not support and are refusing to pass laws that voters do support. The expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act is something that the vast majority of voters’ support, but 19 states have refused the federal funding that covers almost all of the cost. As a result, 2.6 million low-income people cannot obtain the health care insurance that they could receive if they lived in states that expanded Medicaid. Many state legislatures are also passing laws that pre-empt local laws that are broadly popular, such as expanded civil rights protections and minimum wage increases.

Billy Corriher is the deputy director of Legal Progress at the Center for American Progress. Liz Kennedy is the director of Democracy and Government Reform at the Center.