How the result of the Kentucky redistribution is gerrymander’s definition

Joshua A. Douglas

The word “gerrymander” dates back to 1812, when a political cartoonist compared a proposed Massachusetts legislative map endorsed by then Governor Elbridge Gerry to a salamander. The word was a combination of Gerry’s name and the lizard shape of a neighborhood that would help Gerry’s political party.

But the term could also apply to proposed congressional maps that Republicans in Kentucky unveiled at the start of the legislative session. Put the First District on its side and it looks strangely to the first gerrymander.

The Kentucky legislature is engaged in the 10-year redistribution process, a constitutional requirement to respond to population changes and ensure that every district has roughly the same number of people. But instead of producing fair cards, Republicans in the Kentucky legislature have shown that they seek to benefit current politicians, not the voters who elect them.

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How else to explain the First Congressional District, which would stretch from the far west of the state to Frankfurt, where current incumbent James Comer and his wife bought a house in 2012? Frankfort, a pocket Democrat, is currently in the Sixth Congressional District, which is the state’s only swing district. Therefore, moving Frankfurt to the First District (and out of the Sixth) could help Comer while strengthening the Sixth District for incumbent Republican Andy Barr.

The Congress Map has so many bizarre shapes that a person driving from Louisville to Lexington would pass by five of the state’s six congressional districts within this short drive. Still, the drive from Paducah to Frankfurt, both in the proposed first district, would take four hours, and that just crossing the entire length of the proposed second district.

To compound the problem, the districts proposed for the State House are difficult to decipher, in part because Republicans initially freed them as a 95-page document that only contained lists of counties and constituencies. Not many people can understand what this means. I am studying electoral law and am not sure if this map complies with legal redistribution requirements as the data is not readily available for me to analyze.

This lack of transparency has embodied the process so far. Republican lawmakers worked for weeks behind closed doors to create these maps, without any input from the public. Good government groups such as the League of Women Voters have argued tirelessly for greater transparency and fair cards, to no avail.

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Once the actual maps were available, it became clear that gerrymandering is also underway in the state’s legislative proposals. For example, the House map divides Covington into multiple counties – experts call this tactic “cracking” – thus dispersing voters of a similar political conviction across multiple districts so that it is more difficult for them to form a majority. . The Covington Board of Trustees, the city’s governing body, called unanimously it is up to the legislature to keep its part of the House intact. It seems, although, again, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly how the maps were published, that Jefferson and Fayette counties will also experience cracks.

It is also impossible to say, from the published data, whether the cards meet the requirement of a person’s population equality, a vote, or the mandate of the Voting Rights Act to ensure a some representation of minorities.

This is no way to run a democracy. The very politicians who will benefit the most from the redesigned districts have developed these maps in secret, without any public input, and then plan to enact the maps with virtually no public debate. Politicians are basically telling people, ‘just trust us’. No one who sought to draw fair maps without cardholder protection as the number one goal would create these districts. The first congressional district – the salamander on the side – is laughable just looking at it.

The legislature should start over, with fair cards and fairness to voters as a guiding principle. If they insist on adopting these cards, the courts should overturn them. Kentucky’s Constitution states that “all elections shall be free and equal,” and courts in other states have used similar language to invalidate blatant partisan gerrymanders. A secret process that produces a biased representation fails to adhere to this constitutional ideal.

Joshua A. Douglas is Professor of Law at the University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law. He is the author of Vote for US: How to Take Back Our Elections and Change the Future of Voting. Find him on and follow him on Twitter @JoshuaADouglas.

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