Anne Sandager
3 days ago

Gerrymandering Explained: History and Modern Examples

How gerrymandering, a tactic dating back to the 1800s, continues to shape elections today.
Artwork by iqoncept
Artwork by iqoncept

Gerrymandering is the strategic manipulation of electoral district boundaries to favor a specific political party or group. The term originated in 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill redistricting the state to benefit his party. The oddly shaped district resembled a salamander, leading to the portmanteau “Gerry-mander.”

There are generally two methods lawmakers use to carve out electoral districts to gain political advantages: cracking and packing. Cracking is when politicians dilute the voting power of the opposition by spreading them across many districts. Packing is when the opposition is concentrated in a few districts to reduce their influence elsewhere.

Gerrymandering has been used throughout U.S. history to influence elections. Initially, it often targeted racial minorities to suppress their voting power. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to combat such racial gerrymandering, though partisan gerrymandering remains prevalent.

United States:

In the 21st century, gerrymandering has been notably evident in states like North Carolina and Wisconsin. For instance, North Carolina's 2016 congressional map was drawn to favor Republicans by packing African-American voters into a few districts, thereby diluting their influence in other areas. Legal battles ensued, but a 2019 Supreme Court ruling stated that federal courts cannot adjudicate cases of partisan gerrymandering.

United Kingdom

In the UK, the recent voter ID requirement, seen by some as a 'gerrymandering tactic', sought to disenfranchise Labour voters. However, it also affected elderly Tory voters, demonstrating the unintended consequences of such strategies.

Gerrymandering remains a contentious issue, highlighting the need for electoral reforms to ensure fair representation. Both historical and modern examples show the complexities and far-reaching consequences of manipulating electoral boundaries for political gain.

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