“Gerrymander” may sound like an amphibian creature, but the term actually describes the redrawing of political districts to unfairly benefit a certain party. It’s a big five-dollar word — one that actor Ed Helms had to learn the hard way.
In a satirical short film released this week, it slowly dawns on Helms, who played Andy in The Office, that the public service announcement he’s starring in isn’t about rescuing a species from extinction. Rather, it’s an effort to save gerrymanderers' reputations.
“These honest, noble folks just want their party to win, regardless of what voters want,” Helms says before shaking his head in disgust.
Soon, Helms realizes the threat that gerrymandering poses to voters nationwide, especially in states like Texas. After a series of failed takes, he consults with the PSA’s director.
“The only reason I’m here is because I thought gerrymanders were adorable endangered lizards,” Helms says.
“They’re not animals,” the director replies.
“Yeah, I’m starting to understand that now,” the actor shoots back. Later, Helms storms off the set, and his Office co-star Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight, fills in.
The short film is the latest push to tackle gerrymandering by the star-studded anti-corruption organization RepresentUs. In addition to Helms, who serves on the board of directors, Hollywood royalty Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Douglas and Spike Jonze are members of the group’s “cultural council.”
“Gerrymandering allows politicians to literally choose who votes for them. I know this sounds super illegal, but it's not," Helms said in a news release. "We could be stuck with the same corrupt politicians for the next decade — if we don’t act now and pass the For the People Act.”
On top of restricting partisan gerrymandering, the For the People Act would expand voting rights and reform campaign finance laws.
Last year, the federal government gathered data for the 2020 U.S. Census, which state lawmakers will use this legislative session to redraw political districts. Republicans retained control of the Texas Legislature during November's general election, meaning the conservative majority will also dictate how districts will look here for the next decade.
In 2021, Texas is at risk of “extreme gerrymandering,” along with two dozen other states, according to RepresentUs’ Gerrymandering Threat Index. Texas gives its politicians “complete control over an often-secretive, poorly-protected redistricting process,” the group wrote.
Texas’ 2nd Congressional District, served by Republican U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw, and its 35th, held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, are two egregious examples of gerrymandering, according to RepresentUs.
More than two-thirds of voters nationwide say partisan gerrymandering is a major issue, according to a recent poll by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In other words, most Americans would agree that gerrymandering isn't doing them any favors. Or, as Helms puts it: “This is some dark Orwellian sh*t.”
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.