Gerrymandering and the Environment

by Basim Hussain


What You Can Do:

  • Deploy the League of Women Voters’ redistricting testimony at your local redistricting hearings. It can be found here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-FLfKco80_leTJHakFVcGFHQTVVVG5xaGZ3emp0ZE1MRmFN/view [5]
  • Contact your state legislature and declare your support for an independent citizen-redistricting commission. [1]
  • Read up on the redistricting process in your state, and how citizens can have their voices heard in the coming process. [5]

This year, state legislatures all over the country will be redrawing their districts. The process of redrawing districts occurs every ten years, and it serves as an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans in state legislatures to participate in a process called gerrymandering, whereby districts are redrawn to electorally favor the party in power [3]. Given that the GOP controls most of the state legislatures after the 2020 election, state legislatures will likely be redrawn to favor Republican candidates [1]. Combatting this gerrymandering should be high on the environmentalist agenda, as it stimies the passage of national pro-environment policy, forces communities of color to disproportionately suffer from environmental hazards, and prevents communities with local environmental interests from having their voices heard.

Given that the coming redistricting is set to favor Republican candidates, we should be worried about how this influx of Republicans into the House will limit the passage of pro-environment policy. House Democrats have an 85% pro-environment voting record, compared to Republicans’ mere 10% [2]. Since the gerrymandering will favor Republicans, it is directly opposed to the passage of strong environmental policy. This is especially concerning given that, should the planned Republican redistricting take place, the Republican party could flip the entire House of Representatives to Republican control even with the same national vote as 2020 [3]. Given that the Green New Deal and other pro-environment policy will likely be on the legislative agenda in the coming years, maintaining a pro-environment House of Representatives is crucial.

Furthermore, gerrymandering disproportionately puts communities of color in the way of environmental hazard. In reports done in 1987 and twenty years later in 2007, 60% of African Americans were reported to be living near a toxic waste facility [4]. While gerrymandering is already known to reduce the impact of votes of color, studies also show that African Americans are disproportionately “gerrymandered out” of lower environmental hazard districts, effectively putting them in the way of environmental danger [4]. For example, in North Carolina, districts that have been gerrymandered to undermine the African American vote are also most of North Carolina’s sites of coal ash, thus disproportionately exposing the districts’ African American residents to these sites’ air pollution [1]. Furthermore, gerrymandered communities of color are often chosen as sites for dangerous environmental production precisely because of their lack of political power [5].

When a community with a collective interest is split due to gerrymandering, it’s harder for that community’s voice to be heard in politics. One such collective interest that is often diluted by gerrymandering is the local environment. For example, urban areas in Texas that suffer from air pollution often vote Democrat, and thus have been gerrymandered by the Republican state legislature to prevent the election of Democractic representatives. This in turn means that citizens living in these cities struggle to voice their environmental grievances through the electoral system [5]. In North Carolina, of the 14 coal ash sites that Democrats seek to improve, only three are represented by Democratic candidates, as the others have been gerrymandered to favor Republicans despite the local public’s Democratic bent [1].

Given that the redistricting process will soon be underway, the environmentalist movement must take steps now to organize in order to stop gerrymandering. The rampant gerrymandering in state legislatures that has gone on unchecked has inhibited the passage of environmental policy, targeted environmental hazards at communities of color, and muffled the political voices of local environmental interests.


References:

  1. https://www.ecowatch.com/gerrymandering-environmental-vote-2651053476.html
  2. https://kkfi.org/program-episodes/how-gerrymandering-hurts-the-environment-in-missouri/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/31/us/politics/gerrymander-census-democrats-republicans.html
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/319369335_A_Spatially_Informed_Analysis_of_Environmental_Justice_Analyzing_the_Effects_of_Gerrymandering_and_the_Proximity_of_Minority_Populations_to_US_Superfund_Sites
  5. https://www.sierraclub.org/texas/blog/2019/09/redistricting-and-what-it-means-for-people-s-health-and-environment