Gerrymandering has been defined as the act of manipulating the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to benefit one party or class. Some call it the greatest electoral scam ever perpetrated on the American people.
It is certainly the most effective way of manipulating election outcomes because political power in Congress is based on population. The larger states are rewarded with more seats than the smaller states. The constitution requires that a census be held every ten years because the population is constantly changing. This is necessary to determine how many of the 435 congressional seats each state gets. The states with rapidly growing populations get more seats that are taken from the states that have had a smaller growth. After this, each state alters the boundaries of their congressional district to account for the changes. This process is called redistricting and the United States is the only advanced democracy in the modern world in which politicians participate in the redistricting progress. Everybody lives in a district, and lines separate the districts. The district where you live determines who represents you for decades at a time.
The act was named after Elbridge Gerry and it all began with a group of elite men who did not trust the people to vote in their favor and so they redistributed the space. Way back then, white men who did not own property could not vote, neither could women nor Blacks and other minorities. The redistricting process is a sort of war and the weapons in the arsenal are many. There’s racial gerrymandering in which the lines are drawn to favor a particular race, partisan gerrymandering that favors a certain political party, and incumbency gerrymandering in which the lines are drawn to favor certain incumbents. The process takes away from the public the process of evaluating the performance of their leaders by avoiding competitive elections.
In the process, the lines drawn make out weird shapes and most people shrug their shoulders and say it’s just politicians acting like politicians and they fail to make the connection between those decisions and how it impacts them directly. Many voters only pay attention to the district lines when it affects where their children get to go to school. Otherwise, most people don’t really care about redistricting.
For years states like California have been trying to take away from politicians the power to draw district lines. Proposition 11 transfers authority to redraw Assembly, Senate, and Board of Equalization district boundaries to a commission of 14 citizens.
Redistricting breaks down democracy into an interesting list of choices: who you’re going to allow to vote, where you’re going to allow them to vote, who you’re going to allow them to vote for, and how to group them together in order to choose their representatives.
Gerrymandering is American’s best-kept secret that isn’t written in stone. Maybe it’s time for a change. Watch this thought-provoking documentary now.