By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — After decades of losing to Democrats the Republican party plans to dissolve those seats through gerrymandering, Representative Jim Cooper said in an interview.
This is one of the most concerning issues facing the state, he explained, because the end result will carve Nashville up into districts explicitly favoring the GOP, which holds a supermajority.
Cooper is one of only two Democratic legislators representing Tennessee in the House of Representatives, the other Steve Cohen of Memphis. Cooper currently serves the state’s 5th Congressional District which includes Nashville, Cheatham County and Dickson County.
Redistricting happens once every decade after the U.S. census numbers are collected and is the process of drawing up new congressional and state district maps. Gerrymandering is when a party divides voters in districts up to give it an edge over
It occurs in two ways: “packing” and “cracking.”
The Brennan Center website explains that packing, as it is aptly named, is the process of packing certain voter groups into as few districts as possible to weaken their voting power at-large.
Cracking divides groups of people with similar characteristics across multiple districts.
Ultimately the process is unpopular in the eyes of many voters due to how easily corruptible it is. In theory, redistricting would bolster democracy. In practice, it can smother it.
Technological advances have allowed the manipulation of redistricting to become laser-focused, Cooper noted. Further, the amount and type of data gathered about voters has increased, enabling map drawers to be even more precise in their efforts.
In 2019 the Supreme Court ruled that judicial challenges to gerrymandering would not be heard, the Brennan Center for Justice reported. This election cycle will be the first in which the ruling would take effect, making gerrymandering efforts bolder.
Tennessee has been a Republican stronghold for decades and is currently one of the most conservative states in the nation, but it hasn’t always been that way.
Davidson, Shelby and Hamilton counties are the last remaining areas with Democratic representation and they are also the counties with the highest percentage of African American voters in the state.
Carving up Nashville will depress the representation of communities of nonwhite voters and increase conservative representation.
According to the Brennan Center, “residential segregation and racially polarized voting patterns, especially in southern states, mean that targeting communities of color can be an effective tool for creating advantages for the party that controls redistricting. This is true regardless of whether it is Democrats or Republicans drawing the maps.”
Republican efforts are aided by the failure of Democrats to produce candidates at all levels of representation with many seats going uncontested year after year, especially in more rural areas.
University of North Carolina’s Process Series created an interactive gerrymandering website that allows people to navigate the process at www.packingandcracking.com.