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The midterm elections: voting rights and gerrymandering

With the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, drastic climate disasters and increasing political polarization among U.S. citizens, the midterm elections are essential in determining our government’s ability to take on these issues. As Amber Phillips said in her article about the importance of the midterm elections, this election has the power to reshape our country. 

For context, the midterm elections determine what representatives will have a seat in Congress. Senators serve six-year terms making ⅓ of the 100 seats open for candidates. The way our government functions is entirely dependent on which political party fills the majority of the seats in Congress. Usually, Americans vote for Congressional representatives based on the popularity of the president. Biden’s 53% disapproval rating risks the potential for a loss of majority Democratic rule. However, with the recent overturn of Roe v. Wade, the popularity of Democratic candidates for Congress has increased. When looking at the differences between a Republican and Democrat-controlled Congress, it is important to consider the top concerns of the American people and how efficiently a political party’s majority rule would play in creating solutions to a wide variety of issues. 

According to Phillips, some of the key issues — in order of importance — are the economy, abortion, inflation, education in schools, immigration, climate change and crime. While the overturn of Roe v. Wade is helping Democrats stay on the winning side of public opinion, Republicans are attempting to shift the focus from this issue to other areas where Democrats are lacking efficient policies such as gas, groceries, crime and border crossings. Essentially, the majority rule of the Senate will significantly impact which issues get attention from the government and which ones get ignored. 

The most critical element of the midterms will be paying attention to how gerrymandering will impact the outcomes of the election. Every 10 years, states redraw district lines to ensure that districts are equally populated. However, Senators, particularly in the South, have been using this practice to draw boundaries to influence who gets elected, otherwise known as gerrymandering. Essentially, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters. According to an article written by the Brennan Center for Justice, this undemocratic practice takes place in two forms: cracking and packing. Cracking splits people with similar characteristics apart to divide voting strength and make it more difficult to get their preferred candidate elected. On the other hand, packing crams certain groups of like-minded voters into as few districts as possible to minimize the number of districts and the overall influence of a certain political party. Gerrymandering makes elections less competitive and enhances the common feeling embedded in Americans that their vote doesn’t matter. Additionally, gerrymandering targets communities of color to advantage the party that controls district restrictions. The tactic of packing is used to push minorities into one district in order to prevent democratic minorities from voting in other districts. In an article, Kim Soffen describes the harm in packing majority-minority districts beyond the threshold for it dilutes the overall representation of the interests of people of color. Since minorities are more likely to favor Democratic candidates, packing minorities has the same impact as packing Democrats: Both instances cause the district map to favor Republicans. In addition, strategic restrictions on access to poll booths in majority-minority districts take away the fundamental right to vote and silence minorities’ political opinions. This unjust practice is both racist and undemocratic; it limits the diversity of voting in districts, restricts voting access for minorities and undermines the democratic system by separating equality from voting rights. 

This November, it is essential that every person who has the ability, option and opportunity to vote does so. Voting is a right, but in our present-day democracy, it is a privilege as many voices are being silenced through legislative restrictions. While existential dread is a common feeling among Americans during times of crisis, we need to examine the infrastructure of our society to strengthen it. Unjust policy that favors personal political interests and success over equality is undermining our democracy. By using the power of a true, authentic democratic system, we can begin to make institutional changes that will create room for the critical concerns of American citizens to be heard, acknowledged and addressed. While strategies like gerrymandering restrict voting access for minorities, everyone must continue to draw attention to this issue by speaking out about our government’s failure in upholding equal voting rights for all U.S. citizens. Use your vote to make political change and your voice to make social change; both matter and are powerful ways to make an impact. 

While the deadline to register to vote has already passed, you can check your registration status, vote by mail (absentee ballot) or find a polling place near you here.

Grace Sullivan is a first-year at Notre Dame studying global affairs with a minor in gender studies. In her column I.M.P.A.C.T (Intersectionality Makes Political Activist Change Transpire), she is passionate about looking at global social justice issues through an intersectional feminist lens. Outside of The Observer, she enjoys hiking, painting and being a plant mom. She can be reached at @gsulli22@nd.edu.