Cabell Library hosted a showing on Feb. 13 of “GerryRigged: Turning Democracy On Its Head,” produced by VCU assistant professor of journalism Bill Oglesby.
The hour-long film was created in conjunction with NPR and PBS’ Community Idea Stations, and advocacy group OneVirginia2021.
“I think (gerrymandering) is an issue everywhere. It’s something I think is relevant to certainly anywhere in Virginia,” Oglesby said. “I think there’s lessons for Richmond and for every community.”
Gerrymandering, the film’s topic, occurs when state legislatures redraw voting districts based on demographics of residents according to race or party affiliation with the intent to skew votes in favor of winning future elections. Districts are can be redrawn with every census, based on the new data.
“GerryRigged” conveys how gerrymandering results in oddly-shaped districts. Filmmakers showed individuals maps of voting districts across the country and asked what the pictures looked like. A dragon lying on its side and Michael Jackson were just a few of the answers respondents gave.
Oglesby said this “gameshow”-esque section of the film was one of the creative efforts to make the message more clear. Explaining gerrymandering often warrants the use of maps and technical terms, which is why Oglesby said the design of the film was important — to include aerial landscape shots filmed with drones.
According to “GerryRigged,” the effects of gerrymandering have led to extremely high re-election rates for congressmen and members of state legislatures, without legitimate representation of the population — ultimately creating a more gridlocked government.
“People have to wake up to the fact that this is the ethical issue of the day for our politics and I think they are. This film helps that a ton,” said Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, Brian Cannon.
OneVirginia2021 is an anti-gerrymandering coalition seeking an amendment to the Virginia Constitution establishing an independent, transparent group to set voting districts, Cannon said.
Cannon passed out a petition for audience members to sign in support of the cause at the film screening.
In the case of former Virginia Delegate Ward Armstrong of what was then the 10th District, the districts were changed with the intent of bumping a candidate’s residence into a different district where they would have a harder time winning election.
Armstrong moved after the 2010 census resulted in his placement into the 16th District, in an attempt to run for election in the 9th since the 10th District was redrawn too far away from his home.
Armstrong’s interview took place outside the home where he lived during his campaign for the 9th District.
“We wanted to go there because that was where he had actually moved. He literally was spending his nights there because (the house) was in his family, but it was in a different district,” Oglesby said.
Oglesby, who conducted all but one of the interviews, said his most memorable interaction was with George Allen, a former Virginia senator and governor. Before becoming governor, Allen lost his seat in the House of Delegates due to gerrymandering.
“I was really going to interview (Allen) just to find out details about his particular incident with gerrymandering, but I had not idea if he supported reform or not,” Oglesby said.
During the interview, Oglesby discovered that Allen is in favor of reform to prevent gerrymandering.
“It also helped make the point, I think, in a very graphic way that it’s a bipartisan effort. It’s not just Democrats, it’s Republicans as well,” Oglesby said.
Georgia Geen, Staff Writer