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Democracy undermined: UMKC professor talks gerrymandering

A group of concerned citizens braved sub-zero temperatures Tuesday evening, gathering at Community Christian Church near the Plaza to hear UMKC law professor Allen Rostron speak on a subject that undermines democracy.

For more than 30 years, lower courts have examined the practice of gerrymandering—reconfiguring district boundaries for political parties’ benefits—and nothing has changed. Last week, the Supreme Court decided to hear two new cases. Republicans in Wisconsin are accused of moving lines to get the upper hand in their races, whereas Democrats are accused of the same in Maryland.

With this renewed spark, Roston discussed how gerrymandering impacts everyday people.

“This issue affects our lives,” said Rostron. “Congressional incumbents and the party in power have an advantage. With candidates like Trump and Oprah, it’s very clear that folks would like something different.”

Rostron said the current situation is “like a fox watching the chicken house.” However, he also reflected on the strategy’s long history.

Gerrymandering originated in 1812, when Governor Gerry signed a bill to redistrict Massachusetts. This benefited his political party. When mapped, one of his new districts resembled a salamander. The term “gerrymander” resulted from combining the governor’s last name and the word salamander.

“This has gone on for over 200 years and the process has become very, very sophisticated,” said Roston. “With the right amount of information captured, you can push a button and get what you want.”

Given this progression, there has been a push since 2004 to set new guidelines. Courts promise a decision by June of this year.

dbv98@mail.umkc.edu

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