Allowing legislators to choose their voters rather than the other way around has real world consequences for their constituents. Thanks to successful gerrymandering, the legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan are dominated by Republicans even though their governors are Democrats. 

As executors of state laws, governors are normally limited to executing existing laws, not enacting new ones. When the COVID-19 pandemic arose, however, governors Evers and Whitmer imposed emergency lockdown orders designed to halt the spread of the virus. The lockdown orders worked, helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

Over time, however, at President Trump’s urging, the Republican legislatures stepped in and voted to end their Democratic governors’ anti-COVID-19 emergency declarations. The results for constituents were, unfortunately, predictable. Both states have experienced surges in COVID-19 cases, with Wisconsin (3,861) and Michigan (2,458) reporting their highest-ever one-day case counts last week, and with Wisconsin reporting its highest-ever one-day death count (34). 

U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts had an opportunity to limit the most extreme cases of gerrymandering but could not make sense of the statistical models used to demonstrate how effective gerrymandering was at reducing voters’ influence on the political composition of their state legislature. Despite admitting that voters’ political preferences were being ignored, he sided with his conservative colleagues in allowing even the most egregious instances of gerrymandering to go unchallenged by federal courts. The result is Republican state representatives being more responsive to their political party and to political donors than to their constituents, even when this meant that more of their constituents would die as a result. 

Although Republican legislators are virtually guaranteed re-election at the gerrymandered district level, the aggregate effect of prioritizing party loyalty over constituents’ lives has severely damaged Republican prospects in statewide elections for president and the U.S. Senate, as we will see in early November. It did not have to be this way. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 86 percent approval rating and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s landslide election victory last week demonstrate that voters appreciate leaders who prioritize saving lives over keeping billionaire campaign donors happy.

William McCarthy

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