We traditionally think of redistricting as an issue that impacts us only politically. Redistricting is the redrawing of districts based on the shared ideologies within the district without regard to the actual citizens that compose the district. It has become a problem because it effectively decides who gets elected in a given district. Redistricting has become a way to suppress voters. However, redistricting is more than a political issue; it is a faith issue as well. If a certain candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, wins a district based on theo-ethical issues alone without regard for their larger political platform, voters discredit rather than promote their beliefs at the polls.
I recently read an article penned by attorney and former Vice Presidential Chief of Staff, Ron Klain. In the article, Klain lauded the recent opinion of Judge Terry Lewis striking down a hyper-partisan redistricting plan in Leon County in Florida. The best example Klain provides as evidence of the problem of redistricting is the case of Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia’s Seventh District. In Cantor’s district, redistricting pushed the district further to the right. Redistricting appears to be simply a district by district issue but one look at our House of Representatives shows that redistricting is harming our national politics.
However, we should be clear that redistricting is not simply a partisan concern. Redistricting severely limits the diversity of thought within the Legislative Branch of our government. Progressives have not made redistricting reform a top political priority, which Klain suggests is for two reasons. First, because both political parties have benefited from strategic redistricting, and second, because of the question of race and districting. I am going to focus on the second reason.
Klain writes, “an uneasy alignment of black Democrats and white Republicans in some places has led many Southern legislatures to compact black voters into majority-minority districts”. I pause to focus on what Klain has described as the uneasy alignment that might be driving votes to the right in these districts. It seems that the only logical alignment between voters who seem to have very different concerns is an alignment on issues of faith. Redistricting is political in nature but its impact is primarily religious.
When a district is redrawn to include culturally disparate white and black voters whose only similarity is that they are Evangelical, districts are often pushed further right as they uneasily agree to vote based on their religious values alone. Too often this issue is shared opposition to same-sex unions. They take only some of their values to the poll because the demographics of their district indicate that it is the only way their vote will be heard. However, to vote along these lines detracts from the ability of faith voters to be prophetic. People of faith must take their theo-ethical stances with them everywhere they go, including the polls, however, to vote on those issues alone while ignoring the social and economic issues included in any one candidate’s platform is equally, if not more ethically precarious ground.
Back in 2012, there was stir among African American pastors when President Obama said he was not opposed to same sex unions on a state-by-state basis. Many in the white Evangelical community were opposed to Obama’s statement and chose to vote for candidates who staunchly opposed same-sex unions; there were African American Christian voters who did likewise. However, other African American voters were torn. They wanted to vote Democrat but they did not know whether to do so was misaligned with their religious beliefs. Still others threatened not to vote at all because to do so would be a vote against their interests either way. The latter line of thinking appalled me! I could not believe that any woman, person of color, or other member of a marginalized social group who knew about the historic struggles for voting rights would so easily relinquish that right because they were fearful of a social order in which all marriages were considered equal in the eyes of the law.
I was shocked to see that the very group of people who had fought for desegregated schools, equal housing, interracial marriage, and so many other freedoms would now simply choose not to vote at all because they feared another oppressed group’s burgeoning freedom. According to my reading of Scripture, to be exclusionary, judgmental, and afraid to the point that we try to control the behaviors of the people around us is simply unchristian.
So, what is one to do? The decision in Florida that redistricting is unconstitutional is probably the right one and Klain is correct that progressives should fight for redistricting reform. However, we must create a nation where regardless of district every American believes that their vote is counted. In our democratic society, every American must be free to vote for the candidate of their choice and they must know that their vote matters and will be counted. Furthermore, for the racial minorities impacted by redistricting, the question is whether we take all of our values to the polls, or just a few of them.
Jaimie Crumley is a summer intern at the Eleison Group. She is an alumna of Wellesley College and a current student at Yale University Divinity School.