Partisan gerrymandering is malicious, bizarre, and surprisingly — legal.
Gerrymandering involves manipulating the boundaries of a voting district to sway the vote a particular way. It’s completely legal (though the Supreme Court will have their official say about that) and often used for dubious purposes, allowing elected officials to choose their voters and not the other way around. Racial gerrymandering in particular can diminish the power of people of color to affect change in their communities.
While partisan gerrymandering is among the primary enemies of American democracy, it can be really hard to get people fired up about lines on a map … unless those lines are a racecourse.
North Carolina resident John Kennedy saw the effects of gerrymandering in action in the wake of his state’s devastating “bathroom bill” that zipped through to the governor’s desk.
“I saw how district borders were affecting our ability to make laws,” Kennedy told Runners World. “I was so mad that I couldn’t even find out who my representative was to write to them.”
Kennedy’s wife Cinnamon suggested John combine Asheville’s active running community with the need to understand these confusing borders by creating a “Gerrymander 5K” run/walk.
But organizing and directing a 5K is expensive and would be time-consuming for a single person to take on. So Kennedy gifted the idea to the local chapter of the League of Women Voters.
For Alana Pierce, president of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County, joining forces to bring attention to such a bureaucratic, literally divisive problem was a no-brainer.
“We want to demonstrate what [gerrymandering] is, how it can divide our communities and dilute our vote — no matter what party you’re part of,” she writes in an email. “Secondarily, this is a fun way to get the attention of the people who are supposed to be representing us to say that we don’t believe this methodology is fair and we don’t feel like you are really representing us.”
The 5K (3.1 mile) out-and-back route is a portion of the border of North Carolina Districts 10 and 11 in West Asheville. It twists, turns, and juts out around certain homes and buildings. In a word, it’s a mess. But what appears chaotic and unorganized is anything but. It was meticulously drawn that way, and this event encourages people of all political parties to start asking, “Why?”
250 people have registered to run the Nov. 4 race, about 100 more than originally planned.
News of the event has also sparked interest from community groups and organizers outside the area interested in supporting the effort.
“We are also getting a lot of emails from people out of state who are not able to attend but want to support us and/or put on a similar event in their community,” Pierce writes.
Proceeds from the 5K’s $20 fee will go toward the next Gerrymander 5K, happening in 2018 ahead of the midterm elections, and other regional and state-level leagues working to get the word out about partisan gerrymandering.
No matter who wins, the goal is met. People are thinking about gerrymandering and their own districts in a brand-new way.
And, according to Pierce, it’s not a moment too soon.
In May, the Supreme Court struck down North Carolina’s districts, saying the state violated the 14th Amendment of the Constitution by filling two districts with black voters, reducing their voting power. North Carolina redrew the maps using city boundaries and the results of past elections, so while they’re no longer explicitly race-based, they’re potentially just as bad. That’s why Pierce and the League of Women Voters, along with other local and national groups, are working so hard to bring attention to the ruinous effect of partisan redistricting.
“The League, Common Cause and other organizations have been advocating for a non-partisan redistricting committee for a number of years, but since the 2010 census, the redistricting has gone to a new level, as demonstrated by the number of law suits and the Supreme Court ruling on racial gerrymandering,” she writes. “Essentially, this event is a way to get our voices heard in a constructive and community-oriented way.”
And … you get a T-shirt. Can’t beat that.
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