What is it?
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing the boundary of an electoral district strategically so that it benefits one political party over another. Gerrymandering was coined after Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts in 1812 when he put a law into place that allowed for the re-defining of state senatorial districts. This re-drawing of senatorial district lines resulted in the favoring of Democratic-Republicans over the Federalist Party, as the Federalist Party vote appeared smaller due to the consolidation of the party as a result of the new lines.
Since then, gerrymandering has become a common practice, enabling electoral lines to be re-drawn to the benefit of those in power. This is a problem because it often causes disproportionate representation of voters, either causing minority voters to not be reflected because the lines are drawn so that there is such a small population of minority voters in each district that these votes are not reflected, or on the other hand, the lines are drawn intentionally so that the minority appears as the majority, by drawing districts so unrealistically that it makes it seem like there is more of the minority than there are. Both of these manipulations of representation are made possible through gerrymandering.
Who does it benefit?
Gerrymandering benefits the parties who make use of it by redrawing district lines to their advantage. A study from the University of Michigan found that there was a 9.1 percent increase in republican support in the House of Representatives in the last twenty years as a result of electoral lines being redrawn. However, the study found that in Democratic-leaning states, gerrymandering resulted in an 8.9 percent decrease in Republican representation in the House of Representatives; this number was even larger in some other states.
Gerrymandering also benefits politicians who no longer have to become more moderate in order to win votes. This happens because lines are conveniently drawn in a way that these politicians can still attain votes, whilst remaining hardlined on various issues.
Who does it hurt?
Currently, gerrymandering hurts all Americans. Gerrymandering is a result of extreme partisanship, and it causes polarization to grow. Polarization is one of the most destructive aspects of our democracy currently, and gerrymandering does not cause polarization, but it does worsen its effects. It does so by causing politicians to take on more extreme perspectives to appeal to the extremists in their district, furthering the political divide among candidates, rather than maintaining more moderate views that could produce positive cooperation between parties.
Gerrymandering also currently disproportionately affects minorities. Racial gerrymandering has been the cause of African Americans having little to no voice when it comes to their voice being heard, especially in the past. African Americans, less now due to improved voting laws in regards to race, but even still have notoriously been spread throughout electoral districts to the point that their vote becomes diluted. This is a problem for all minority groups, as a result of gerrymandering. Racial groups have been drawn around and through so specifically that they are either compacted to the point of having only little representation, or there are so few of them per district that they get no representation at all.
How do we stop it?
There have been numerous laws put in place to stop the effects of gerrymandering, but there is still work that needs to be done.
The Voting Rights Act was put into place in 1965. This law functions as a protection for minority communities, so that minorities are neither too highly concentrated to the point that their votes are wasted, nor are they too dispersed throughout the voting field that their votes become diluted. Following this, the court also put into place a law requiring states to have majority-minority districts, so that minorities would be concentrated enough that they could elect their candidate of choice.
A primary issue when it comes to the practice of gerrymandering, and preventing it is the issue of information. Many people are not educated on the practice of gerrymandering. They may have heard the buzzword before, and if you explained it to them, they would most likely be against it, but there is little exposure to the evils of it. As a result of this, one primary way of preventing it, is educating the public about it.
One initiative that showed success in stirring up curiosity about gerrymandering was a Redistricting Game created by political scientists. This game was created to help the public understand the effects, and get them passionate about the issue.
Another idea that gained a lot of support was the California Proposition 11. It worked to change the balance of power by putting districting in the hands of citizens, making them the accountability organism instead of them having to rely solely on the government for accountability in designing voting districts. This would be possible through the selection of a 14-person legislative redistricting commission who would have the authority to redraw Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization district boundaries. Any citizen of California who meets the qualifications and doesn’t have any conflicts of interest, are able to apply for a position on the commission.
I was aware of the practice of gerrymandering and what it entailed, but it was interesting to find out how early the practice started in trying to deliberately advantage one political party over another. This is such an important post to warn against how gerrymandering is facilitating and deepening political polarization in the United States. I had not heard about the game developed by political scientists in order to educate and impassion people about redistricting! Is the biggest obstacle to abolishing or reforming gerrymandering the education of the public? The Supreme Court has recently decided not to really weigh in on gerrymandering going forward. I’m wondering how large of a role the courts play in upholding the practice and how best pressure politicians to reform the process?
Muntaha Syedah Qadri
Hi Gracie! Gerrymandering is such a fascinating method used by politicians nowadays. It is interesting to note that over 2000 years ago, a governor from Massachusetts had this method in his mind. This method is like a game. People either benefit from it or get hurt from it. I wonder if gerrymandering is used across the world or if it is only used in the United States? I feel like it would only pertain to places with senatorial district lines, so only the United States, maybe. I feel as if it can have a major effect on democracy. It can cause polarization and partisanship to increase. As one thing increases, it will ultimately cause other aspects to increase. For example, if gerrymandering occurs, it will essentially cause political polarization to increase. This ends up causing election violence to increase significantly. In my perspective that I see this method being used, it should essentially be reduced. Reducing it could have a way to protect the country’s democracy in a way. Sure, there have been laws or acts to stop the effects of gerrymandering, but more needs to be done to reduce it significantly.
Hi Grace! Your blog was quite informative and very interesting. While I was already familiar with gerrymandering, you provided a lot of new information that I had yet to consider. The study conducted by the University of Michigan highlights how gerrymandering benefits different parties on a state-by-state basis. I agree that politicians do not have to become more moderate or compromise to attain votes, even in a moderate state. It is also important to highlight who is hurting from gerrymandering. You talked about racial and minority groups who are subject to being spread out in a way that their voice does not matter. I enjoyed the connection you made between gerrymandering and polarization. Sadly, our country is facing extreme polarization to the point where it feels like people live in one of the two versions of the United States. How do we reform or replace gerrymandering when it is the lawmakers who benefit from them? If one of the other branches of government attempted to get rid of gerrymandering, would this become a stronger indicator of democratic backsliding?
Gracie, I really enjoyed reading your post. I have done similar research on gerrymandering and its effects on the US political system. One aspect that you mentioned was that gerrymandering can allow for less moderate politicians to still gain support even while having more extremist ideals. This was an idea that I had not thought of. I also think it is important that you mentioned how both republicans and democrats are responsible for gerrymandering. Your analysis of gerrymandering and its relationship with polarization was intriguing and something that I also agree with. I believe that if we can fix gerrymandering and create more diverse districts then the polarization that we see in the United States today may be fixed. I have seen first-hand politicians in my district, in Virginia, align themselves with far-right conservative groups. like the tea party, to gain support from their constituents. It is very difficult to fix gerrymandering like you said in your response. I would have liked for a little more explanation on the Redistricting Game that you wrote about in the second to last paragraph. I think that an interesting strategy towards redistricting is similar to how the state of Iowa redistricts. Which is a nonpartisan third party that draws districts may be better suited to creating them equally.
Hi Gracie! I found your post about gerrymandering to be very interesting. The section suggesting ways to prevent gerrymandering in the future interested me the most. In Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), the Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering was a matter of political interest, so the Court could and should not rule on it. I found this case to be of interest because if the Courts are not holding politicians accountable, then who will? I disagree with the majority opinion in this case because the Supreme Court is supposed to defend the constitution and gerrymandering is antithetical to democracy and the constitution. The legislation in California is a good step in the right direction, but I don’t think politicians in other states have any incentive to yield their redistricting power to a third party. Because of this conflict of interest, I think the only way for the process of gerrymandering to come to an end is if the judicial or executive intervene. The Supreme Court has already stated its neutrality on the issue, and I am not sure what the executive can tangibly do, but I still think it is of upmost importance for the executive to intervene in some way.
Hi Gracie! In my mind, the act of gerrymandering is a lot like a game of Jenga. You pull and pull bricks until they all crumble, with the sole purpose being to win an advantage- or be the last man standing. In the case of gerrymandering, politicians redraw district lines over and over again until they are called out or get the result they want, with the sole purpose being to win an advantage over the opposite party. The topic has always been fascinating to me, and your post has added a few layers I wasn’t aware of to the gerrymandering mythology, so to speak. I had no idea that the intention of gerrymandering was to make the majority look like the minority when it was actually the opposite case. Somehow, it makes the act more sinister. However, I do wish there’d been more of an insight into the minorities that gerrymandering affects. Obviously, racial minorities suffer the effects of gerrymandering more than most others, especially in the south, but who else has to deal with it? Moreover, does it negatively affect one minority group more than another? African American voters have a history of gerrymandering being used against them in the American South, but do any other racial minorities have this similar consequence? I feel like another interesting part of gerrymandering is that politicians use it so they don’t have to moderate their views any longer. How does that benefit anyone? If the constituency doesn’t want someone less moderate, then it should be their right not to elect that person rather than having the lines redrawn to benefit one certain party or the incumbent. In that regard, gerrymandering is very frustrating, and it is surprisingly a topic that very few voters actually know about. All in all, great post! Gerrymandering is such an interesting topic.
Hi Gracie! I believe you did a great job explaining gerrymandering in the United States. Gerrymandering is such an important topic to discuss, especially in relation to democratic erosion. I like how you mention some history of Gerrymandering. It was very informative to learn that the first practice of gerrymandering in the United States was done to benefit a political party, specifically the Democratic-Republicans. I did not previously know this, and it shows how gerrymandering has been a tactic used to benefit political parties for over 200 years in America. You explain how gerrymandering benefits political parties and politicians but hurts Americans and minority groups. In a democracy, government officials ought to make decisions to ensure that the people are the ones benefiting instead of the politicians in power, not the other way around. It is also important in America for minority groups to have a voice in politics. It is frustrating to see that gerrymandering has been used to suppress African American votes, as well as other minority groups. I like how you included that there have been improved voting laws in regards to race to help prevent racial gerrymandering. I think that you included great ideas to stop gerrymandering in the last section. I especially liked the idea of educating the public as a way to prevent gerrymandering. The public must be able to hold officials who partake in gerrymandering accountable for their undemocratic actions.
Hey Gracie! I enjoyed reading your post about gerrymandering and its electoral consequences in the United States. It is so interesting to think that the United States, often considered the bastion of democracy, has a practice such as gerrymandering that can so blatantly affect electoral outcomes. Because of gerrymandering, the incumbent party every 10 years when the census is held, and the districts are redrawn gain a distinct advantage. Through the practices of packing, cracking, and stacking to manipulate boundary lines based on the demographics of the constituents of particular areas, incumbents can cater the elections for the next 10 years in their favor. Another negative effect of gerrymandering that you touch on is how it increases polarization. You state how “polarization is one of the most destructive aspects of our democracy currently, and gerrymandering does not cause polarization, but it does worsen its effects”. I like how you showed how gerrymandering can also disproportionately affect minorities and give them even less of a say than they initially have because of biased drawn boundaries. With things such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which serve to allow for constituents’ votes to count equally regardless of which district they are in, there have been attempts to lessen the negative effects of gerrymandering. However, I believe that the only way to resolve this broken system is to scrap it altogether for a different system that draws boundaries based upon partisan cooperation and by city or county boundaries instead of some of the outrageous districts created by gerrymandering such as the Zorro District in Louisiana. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed your post as gerrymandering is an increasingly salient issue with increasing polarization!
Gracie! This blog post is incredibly educational and interesting to read. Your concise organization of the descriptions by using questions truly laid out the process of gerrymandering to me. Gerrymandering contains so many negative consequences and is only able to benefit those who seek out a district advantage. The indirect result of increased polarization is a direct threat to American democracy and disables the integrity of US elections. Your inclusion of the history of Gerrymandering reflects on the timelessness of the utilization of this method and makes me wonder if it would be possible to ever truly but Gerrymandering to rest. Additionally, your acknowledgment that it disproportionately affects minorities helped bring together the issues regarding Gerrymandering. As these issues have such historical implications, it is difficult to not feel hopeless regarding their effects. Your inclusion, therefore, of possible solutions, was very refreshing and interesting to read. I think the main goal, from a citizen’s perspective, should be to stay informed and educated and promote the spread of awareness as well in order to create a driven impact. Getting involved in the process of disallowing the negative consequences of election manipulation is essential to the United States’ democracy, and, therefore, our future.
Gracie, this is a very informative and enlightening post. I have always thought the concept of gerrymandering is so interesting because it is so blatantly against the values of democracy, but it is not often talked about. When people talk about threats to democracy they usually talk about issues that have arised in recent years, such as fake news and unfair elections. Gerrymandering has existed since the founding of this country. It is an issue that hurts all Americans, and it makes me think that my vote does not really have as big of an effect as it should. Gerrymandering makes me have less confidence in our government and government figures, which also poses a huge problem for democracy. For democracy to work, citizens must have confidence in their government. Gerrymandering needs to stop if the United States ever wants to have a full functioning democracy.
Hi Gracie! I really enjoyed your article and thought you did a very thorough job explaining what Gerrymandering is and how we could eventually change it as a whole. This has always been such an interesting topic to me, as the effects of it can be lifelong and affect certain communities, specifically people of color and the impoverished, more than anyone else. I think it is so important to continue to let people know of how gerrymandering affects the country and democracy as a whole. Do you think that changing the rules of gerrymandering would help, or would it be better to get rid of the system altogether?
You made a really good people when it comes to polarization in the country. Polarization is only growing with the increase of nationalism, party identity, and divisive language from all sides of the aisle.
This is a fascinating post, Gracie. Gerrymandering is designed to hurt those who rely on voting the most to better their lives. It truly is a flaw in our democracy that we have biased politicians drawing districts. This challenges the freedom of elections within the United States of America. Gerrymandering seems like it would have been something that was changed in the 20th century. It does not seem like something that should have a profound impact on our elections, yet it is still around. Your post does an excellent job of explaining the issues and wrongness involved with gerrymandering. It is unethical to hurt voters trying to help themselves through the government. I enjoyed reading your post, and I think that you did a great job.
Great blog post! Your writing style is informed but concise so it’s easy to follow, even if the concepts you are discussing are not necessarily easy. Your take on gerrymandering exacerbating political polarization through facilitating extremists winning districts was interesting. That had not occurred to me before you pointed it out, though now I agree that it could definitely be a major factor. However, I disagree with one of your suggestions to combat this gerrymander. Passing a law that would require states to have majority-minority districts would be unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, which essentially guarantees that no decisions affecting one’s right to vote will be decided entirely based on race. The Supreme Court has affirmed this precedent in multiple cases, such as in Bush v. Vera, Shaw v. Reno, and Miller v. Johnson. And while the intent behind this proposition is admirable, I feel that passing a law of this nature would be inherently problematic as it could separate and polarize citizens based off race. Also, the power could be abused in the future by persons with very different intentions. I would much prefer a solution like Proposition 11 that you mentioned later in the post. However, even this method faces its own challenges. For example, it would be hard to coordinate and screen a group of 14 unbiased and well-educated citizens, as these things are hard to definitively measure. One could make the argument that it is similar to widely accepted concept of jury duty, but if a juror is unsuited for their position the worst-case scenario is that they sway a decision affecting only a handful of people. If a re-districter is unsuited for their position, this could affect entire states and by extension the operation of our government. Ultimately, I feel that Prop 11 is the better option of the two, but work needs to be done to better guarantee its legitimacy and safeguard against any biases or lack of qualifications.
Hey Gracie, This was a great blog post. I think your concise language and easy-to-follow explanations help get the point across. I also really like how you broke up gerrymandering into sections. My question is that after watching the documentary on gerrymandering in class is what type of gerrymandering do you think is most detrimental to society and democracy in general. I was going to say that I think incumbent gerrymandering is probably the worst just because it makes it so unfair for new younger candidates to run. Yeah, those are just my thoughts. Great post!!
Hi Gracie! I was unaware of the true effects of gerrymandering and what it actually meant before watching the documentary “Gerrymandering” in class. However, I found your post really interesting because you highlighted some of the documentary’s main points and also added new information that I was unaware of. I remember the documentary mentioning the person it was named after but did not really pay attention to the year. I found it very interesting to learn that this process was started to basically cut out another party, the Federalist Party, in 1812. I found this particularly interesting because the whole process began with seemingly anti-democratic roots, its original purpose was to cut out an opposing party. To this day it is used for virtually the same purpose, to cut out the opposing party, whether that be Democrats or Republicans, depending on the district. It is truly amazing that this process is still occurring today and I agree that the best thing to do is draw more attention to gerrymandering and educate citizens on what it truly means. Before watching this documentary, I had heard the term gerrymandering but did not really think it was a bad thing because it is a fairly common word in politics. But after learning more about gerrymandering, it is very clear that it should not be allowed, or at the very least, redrawing lines should be put in the hands of a neutral third party rather than the incumbent themselves? This is a grossly unfair advantage of the incumbent and it allows politicians to cut opposition out in order to maintain their seat. This prevents voters from holding politicians accountable and having the ability to vote out incumbents if they are not doing a good job. Great post and I think spreading awareness on the issue of gerrymandering is the best plan of action!!
Hey Grace, your post regarding gerrymandering in the United States is informative, interesting, and has essential subjects that one must account for when talking about gerrymandering. A question I have regarding gerrymandering is, what are the first steps in stopping gerrymandering? I do think there should be more public awareness of the consequences of gerrymandering. I would be doubtful that state legislators in the majority would be willing to strip their ability to redistrict their state since they can give their own party an advantage. I have also questioned what could be done to stop or weaken gerrymandering. I personally think that independent commissions, like California Proposition 11 had, having control of redistricting districts would be better than having state legislators in the talk. Due to the high levels of polarization, an issue you mentioned, I do think it will be hard to have these types of propositions pass in many states. Either side could believe it benefits the other side, so they could be hesitant on voting yes on a proposition like California’s. Democrats like former U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were against California’s Proposition 11. While neither publicly stated it in their arguments against Proposition 11, maybe they wanted to make sure Democratic state legislators were still in control so it could benefit them and their party.