Updated: May 4, 2020
Let me tell you a secret. You know that game Superhex.io? Here’s what it looks like in case you don’t:
In the game, you as a player are a small, colored dot on a grid. The dot draws a line as it moves. And when the line it draws connects with another space of your color, you gain all the spaces inside of the area you drew. The goal is to compete for possession of the largest space. Other players will challenge you, drawing in your space to make theirs bigger. And if you’re drawing a line and you get cut off, you lose and have to start over.
So what does Superhex.io have to do with anything?
This game parallels the drawing of congressional districts. At least once per decade, usually after a Census, lawmakers redraw voting district lines block by block. In many cases, members of the state’s majority party get to draw the lines . In other words, the party with power gets the advantage to stay in power. This practice eerily mirrors video games like Superhex.io.
Their districts are misshapen, cutting out whole neighborhoods to include voters of their party and exclude voters of the other. This is called gerrymandering, and it wasn’t always this sinister. The practice is hideously old, but has only recently become a political weapon.
The rules about the drawing of party lines are muddled, allowing for voting districts to look like the 14th Congressional District in Michigan:
This looks ridiculous, I know. And it’s not far from something that you’d see in Superhex.io. The strange district you see here is made up of two of the poorest, blackest parts of Michigan. The lines are purposefully drawn to exclude areas where Republican voters live. Look at the ridiculous cut on the left side of the map. The district excludes Farmington—a predominantly white, Republican voting area—while including surrounding Black Democratic areas.
Gerrymandering influences the representation that each state has, and as The Rachel Maddow Show has illustrated, it’s causing discrepancies between the number of votes each party receives and the number of Congressional seats they occupy. Take what the New York Times called The Great Gerrymander of 2012, for example.
In Michigan, a very important swing state, Democratic candidates received 241,181 more votes than Republican candidates, but Republicans still won more than half of the available House seats.
In Pennsylvania, another swing state, Democratic candidates received 84,008 more votes than Republican candidates, but received only 27% of the seats. Republicans gained 49% of the vote, and won 72% of the available seats.
This process is reversible however. People in California are already taking steps to get better representation through the redrawing of districts, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently released a new congressional district map after finding the former map unconstitutionally gerrymandered. You have the power to fight gerrymandering too. This game they started is far from over. And once we learn how to play, they don’t stand a chance. Legislators have been cutting into our territory and dividing us up for too long. It’s long past time we take our dot, and start drawing our own lines.
For more information on gerrymandering, check out Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind The Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy by David Daley.
James Braxton Peterson III is a second-year student at the University of Pennsylvania majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing and a focus on storytelling in game design. He is the writer of the soon-to-be-released series The Soldiers of Truth. If his words are not painting the near limitless universe that occupied him over the last five years, they are delivering deep messages within his music and poetry, or being sputtered out in utter nonsense.