Gerrymandering

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Gerrymandering is the typically act of dividing electoral districts or altering existing electoral district boundaries for the political advantage of a political party, social group, policy position, or incumbent office holders. Partisan and ethnic gerrymanders may accomplished by drawing lines that concentrate or disperse voters in the population to be disadvantaged.

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History

A contribution to the world polticial lexicon, the term "gerrymander" comes from the name of former Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who drew a State Senate district that snaked along the Merrimack river between areas of support. It was called "Gerry's mander" in a cartoon, likening it to a salamander.

The carving of territories into U.S. states was also subject to Gerrymandering, where before the war states were admitted on a formula of "one free state for each slave state". This caused Maine to be split from Massachussetts, and decided that Texas and California would both enter as single, large, states. During the late 19th century the territories of the Rocky Mountains were split up to help the Republican Party maintain control of the White House, each new state brought in 3 electoral votes.

Dysfunctionality

Gerrymandering is most powerful when there is a conflict between local representation as a value, and parliamentary control of the final result. It has become an increasing issue as computer software has allowed districts to be drawn with sufficient precision and to search through more and more possible scenarios. Gerrymandering produces states where the majority party elects all, or nearly all, of the representatives to Congress, such as in Massachussetts where the entire congressional delegation is composed of Democrats.

Gerrymandering is also an issue of contention among voting blocs, who often disproportionately support one party, but are divided up to provide a "base" of support in several districts, but not being able to send one of their own members to the final legislature.

The more majoritarian the final body is - that is the more there is a winner take all result - the more pressure for gerrymandering seats to either improve a party's chances or to force opposition party candidates to run against each other.

Remedies

In the U.S., districts were often drawn with widely varying numbers of inhabitants until a series of representational cases established basic minimums and the principle of "one man, one vote". The Civil Rights Voting Act has often been used to challenge final districting plans, and even overturn them. The cumbersomeness of this remedy led Lani Guinier to propose its replacemnt with multi-representative districts. The antidisestablishmentarianists were so afraid of such change that they forced Bill Clinton to remove her from consideration as a member of his government.

With the advent of electronic mass media, some commentators question the value of local representation. Modern voting systems of proportional representation eliminate the ability to Gerrymander. Moreover, the Additional Member System (Wikipedia) seeks to compromise between goals of regional accountability and proportional representation.

In the opinion of some, contesting every seat would constitute a remedy, but by defintion Gerrymandering gives minority-party candidates very little possibility of election.

Links

Further Reading

  • David Lublin. 1997. The Paradox of Representation: Racial Gerrymandering and Minority Representation. Princeton: Princeton Univeresity Press.
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