Gerrymandering: What Is It and How Does it Affect Our Elections?

Lillian Eschweiler

It’s a term you have likely heard around election season, Gerrymandering. An odd word that most Americans are unaware of and yet it heavily affects our voting process. It is a considerably controversial and considerably undemocratic part of elections. So here’s the necessary information on Gerrymandering, and how it specifically affects our elections.

The term, “Gerrymandering” came about in the 19th Century when the governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry, so blatantly reshaped a district, that a critic of his commented it looked like a salamander, and then another said that it was a “Gerrymander.”. 

The practice of redistricting has been used by Republicans and Democrats alike, to make sure that communities are equally populated and that they comply with the Voting Rights Act, redistricting is a normal part of democracy because, when communities change, districts need to as well to give an accurate representation of the population. However, Gerrymandering is redistricting to give an advantage to whatever party is drawing the lines. And this can influence who gets elected, how many house seats there are, and can determine the voting power within a district. And this in itself allows politicians to choose the voters that they have. 

For example, in the 2012 North Carolina election, the popular vote showed that the Democrats won against the Republicans, with the Democrats receiving 1.4 million more votes. However, due to the redistricting done by the party in 2010, Republicans gained house majority.

The techniques that the members of one party use to gain an advantage over the other, are “packing” and “cracking.”

“Packing,” is where districts are reshaped to cram as many opposition voters into a few voting districts. 

And “cracking,” is when districts are reshaped to spread opposition voters out thinly into a bunch of districts, so they cannot get a majority vote. 

States like Democratic, Maryland have used these techniques to, according to the Brennan Center for Justice: “… control over map-drawing to eliminate one of the state’s Republican congressional districts.” 

It seems like it should be illegal seeing as it gives those in power the unfair advantage to choose their voters, and, the conditions in which gerrymandering is typically considered illegal, is if it goes against the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, (e.g. redistricting to disadvantage minorities). However, a political party using redistricting to give an advantage to their party is completely legal. 

And politicians have found a way to use this to their advantage in a way that makes it a loophole, that puts communities of color at a disadvantage while still making it legal, according to the Brennan Center for Justice: “Residential segregation and racially polarized voting patterns, especially in southern states, mean that targeting communities of color can be an effective tool for creating advantages for the party that controls redistricting…Because of residential segregation, it is much easier for map drawers to pack or crack communities of color to achieve maximum political advantage.” 

And this is only an issue that is going to get more duplicitous due to the invention of technology that can make these redistricting choices more precise to the line drawers’ advantage and will continue to disadvantage communities of color and lower-class areas.

To fix this problem many states have chosen to take the drawing decisions away from politicians, and give them to independent commissions, which while not making it completely unbiased, certainly has proven to be more effective than giving them to the people who have the advantage to gain.