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Gerrymandering is a crucial litmus test for the presidency 

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With the 2024 election less than one year away, controversy abounds among both Democrats and Republicans.  

Joe Biden remains steadfast to run for reelection, despite strong sentiment within his party that he step aside. Much of their concerns center around his age, not his policies, and his ability to effectively serve over the next four years. Running against him within his own party for the nomination are Marianne Williamson, Dean Phillips and Cenk Uygur. A collection of others running as independents include Robert F. Kennedy Jr, Cornell West and Jill Stein.    

On the Republican side, front-runner Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls, despite his ongoing legal problems, which include 91 felony counts. Among the other Republican hopefuls, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy continue to hold the second through fourth positions in national polls, hoping that the legal challenges faced by Trump will end his candidacy, positioning them to take the nomination.  

What DeSantis and Haley have in common is that they both served as governors. Given that governors are the de facto chief executive of a state, their experience may be useful to prepare them for the presidency, even though moving from a governor’s mansion to the White House is an enormous leap.  

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However, with such experience comes a track record that may reveal how they will serve.  

No one issue should dictate a person’s suitability for serving as president. However, given that the president is sworn to defend the Constitution, which implicitly means to defend democracy, his or her stance on such issues can tell us a lot.  

One such issue is gerrymandering.  

Those who support gerrymandering indicate their support for — or lack thereof — the power of the people and our democracy. When a governor permits or facilitates gerrymandering, he or she is explicitly indicating a disrespect for democracy — a red flag for their presidency.     

Haley took office in January 2011, signing into law congressional maps drawn up by the state legislature. When challenged, a federal court ruled in favor of the defendant, making the South Carolina congressional map law. She supported legislation that required photo IDs to vote, which some argue is too restrictive. This law was eventually blocked by the Department of Justice.  Overall, there is insufficient evidence to indict her based solely on gerrymandering, since she was not directly involved in the mapping process in her state.  

DeSantis’s record on the issue is far more revealing.   

DeSantis intervened when the Florida state legislature drew their 2021 map, closely aligning it with the 2011 map. DeSantis’s map eventually broke apart an area of north Florida containing black communities that were in the same district in 2011. He intentionally and deliberately worked to draw highly partisan congressional maps, cracking this community into four districts that eliminated their voting influence. The courts ruled his maps unconstitutional, effectively violating the Voting Rights Act.  

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As the state’s leader, DeSantis’s egregious efforts to gerrymander his state’s congressional map should not be ignored. If he were to gain the presidency, the same type of efforts might be made that could undermine democracy and the voice of the people nationwide.      

If President Biden were to step aside, a governor that has been mentioned as a presidential contender has been J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, who openly supports Biden for a second term.  Unfortunately, his record on gerrymandering has been almost as concerning as DeSantis’s.  

When running for governor, Pritzker vowed to end gerrymandering. Once elected, and in a position to sign into law a map drawn by a highly partisan Democrat-majority legislature, Pritzker’s promise was quickly forgotten. The 17-district congressional map contained no competitive districts, with Republican voters effectively packed together or cracked apart to ensure that they would not influence outcomes. The results in 2022 were as predicted, with 14 districts won by Democrats.  

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project declared the Illinois map the most gerrymandered in the nation, earning failing grades for partisan fairness, competitiveness and geographic features. Even DeSantis’s map earned better grades (garnering a “C” for competitiveness and a “B” for geographic features).   

Though gerrymandering occurs at the state level, how governors support or counter it is a good barometer for how they will support democracy for all voters. Given DeSantis’s effort in Florida, and Pritzker’s efforts in Illinois, both reveal how they would act as the nation’s leader.    

Indeed, voters should heed such warnings and make informed choices at the ballot box. As the saying goes, “a leopard cannot change its spots.”  This is most certainly true with politicians.  

Sheldon H. Jacobson, Ph.D., is a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He uses his expertise in data-driven risk analysis to inform issues in public health and public policy.  He is the founding director of the Institute for Computational Redistricting at the University of Illinois, committed to bringing transparency to the redistricting process using optimization algorithms and artificial intelligence.        

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Source: The Hill

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