Gerrymandering

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Background:[1]

Gerrymandering is an established American political tradition. Its name derives from Elbridge Gerry, a governor of Massachusetts who in 1811 endorsed an electoral district said to look like a salamander. "Call it a Gerry-mander," a wit said, and the term stuck.
Under the devolved US system, the map of a state's congressional districts is drawn by its legislature - not by a non-political body such as the Boundaries Commission in Britain. Changes are usually made after each 10-yearly national census.
Over the years, partisan gerrymandering has become the norm - traditional spoils for the party which wins control in a state, and then tries to design congressional districts that send the maximum number of its own to Washington.
Gerrymandering has hastened the polarisation of US politics. The big threat to an incumbent is often no longer in the general election (81 of the 435 Congressmen ran unopposed in 2002) but at a primary, where radical activists dominate. Incumbents thus become more partisan. Moderate Republicans or centrist Democrats, vital for cross-party co-operation, are threatened species.

Examples

After the 2000 census, [2]

  • Pennsylvania was redrawn so that a state with nearly 500,000 more Democrats than Republicans has a congressional delegation with 12 Republicans and just seven Democrats.
  • In four states that are almost precisely evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats - Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan - Republican legislators drew district lines so that 51 of the 77 seats are Republican, a nearly two-to-one edge.

Note: The terms remapping and redistricting also apply.


Related SourceWatch Resources

External Resources

Headlines

  • 11 December 2003: "The court case that could reshape US democracy" by Rupert Cornwell, The Independent.
  • 7 January 2004: "Texas G.O.P. Is Victorious in Remapping" by Ralph Blumenthal, New York Times: "Republicans who redrew Texas Congressional districts last fall in an effort to gain seats won a crucial victory on Tuesday when a special three-judge federal panel in Austin found no constitutional grounds to intervene. ... Barring any action by the Supreme Court, the Congressional campaigns this fall will be fought using the unfamiliar and sometimes tortuous new lines. ... The court ruled on four issues: whether Texas could redistrict mid-decade; whether the plan discriminated on the basis of race; whether it was an unconstitutional gerrymander; and whether it diluted the voting strengths of minorities. In all cases, the judges decided, it did not violate the Constitution."