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Gerrymanders

How Redistricting Has Protected Slavery, White Supremacy, and Partisan Minorities in Virginia
Brent Tarter
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BUY Cloth · 140 pp. · 5.5 × 8.5 · ISBN 9780813943206 · $19.95 · Oct 2019
BUY Ebook · 140 pp. · ISBN 9780813943213 · $19.95 · Oct 2019

Many are aware that gerrymandering exists and suspect it plays a role in our elections, but its history goes far deeper, and its impacts are far greater, than most realize. In his latest book, Brent Tarter focuses on Virginia’s long history of gerrymandering to uncover its immense influence on the state’s politics and to provide perspective on how the practice impacts politics nationally.

Offering the first in-depth historical study of gerrymanders in Virginia, Tarter exposes practices going back to nineteenth century and colonial times and explains how they protected land owners’ and slave owners’ interests. The consequences of redistricting and reapportionment in modern Virginia—in effect giving a partisan minority the upper hand in all public policy decisions—become much clearer in light of this history.

Where the discussion of gerrymandering has typically emphasized political parties’ control of Congress, Tarter focuses on the state legislatures that determine congressional district lines and, in most states, even those of their own districts. On the eve of the 2021 session of the General Assembly, which will redraw district lines for Virginia’s state Senate and House of Delegates, as well as for the U.S. House of Representatives, Tarter’s book provides an eye-opening investigation of gerrymandering and its pervasive effect on our local, state, and national politics and government.

Reviews:


"No other author has attempted what Tarter accomplishes here. This is an important work that is especially timely given the coming wave of redistricting that will follow in the wake of the 2020 census."

J. Douglas Smith, author of On Democracy’s Doorstep: The Inside Story of How the Supreme Court Brought "One Person, One Vote" to the United States

A comprehensive examination of gerrymandering in Virginia, this important study of a pivotal and contested mechanism of power could not be more relevant to today’s politics. Virginia offers a clear example of how gerrymandering shapes political outcomes.

Toni-Michelle C. Travis, coauthor of The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race and Ethnicity, Sex and Gender, Social Class, Sexuality, and Disability

Tarter broadens understanding of gerrymandering to include a variety of efforts to favor one set of electoral interests over another, efforts ranging from suffrage restrictions to malapportionment.... There are some fascinating nuggets from Virginia’s political history here—for example, there is a discussion of a possible attempt by then–Governor Patrick Henry to use the gerrymander to keep James Madison out of the first Congress (Tarter is skeptical).

Choice

Tarter creates a powerful narrative of exclusion using the intersections of race, class, and... gender to demonstrate how discriminatory manipulations within representational government have grown like a disease, impacting not just racial minorities but all citizens except those who directly benefit from gerrymandering. His narrative poses the question as to whether or not the benefits for a powerful few are really worth the price of sacrificing voter trust in representational government. In short, Tarter blazes a gutsy path that other historians should follow to shed more light on this important subject.

H-Atlantic

About the Author(s): 

Brent Tarter is a founding editor of the Library of Virginia’s Dictionary of Virginia Biography and the author of A Saga of the New South: Race, Law, and Public Debt in Virginia(Virginia).

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