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Gerrymandering: An Overview

What is Gerrymandering and how does it work?

By Lindsey Bates/News Reporter

Gerrymandering is a common phenomenon in the U.S. because of how the election system works. In an election, whoever gets the most votes in a district, wins the district. Because of this, many candidates and elected officials have turned to gerrymandering to turn the tides of the election in their favor.

Gerrymandering is described by Merriam-Webster as,

“the practice of dividing or arranging a territorial unit into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage in elections.”

In simple terms, Gerrymandering is a process in which a political group tries to change a voting district to create a result that helps them or hurts the group who is against them. It puts more votes of winners into the district they will win so the losers win in another district. Gerrymandering was determined illegal in 1995, when the case Miller vs. Johnson was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. The plaintiffs stated that the rearranging of districts based solely on race wasn’t valid. The Supreme Court majority agreed, stating

“ if a district is drawn predominantly on the basis of race, it violates the Equal Protection Clause”

This was the point where gerrymandering was considered illegal under federal law and precedent. But, it was and still is largely a problem.

For example, extreme gerrymandering is a severe problem. Extreme gerrymandering describes the intentional manipulation of district boundaries to discriminate against a group of voters on the basis of their political views or race, as opposed to just favoring one party or the other.

One form of extreme Gerrymandering involves drawing districts in order to protect incumbents. Likewise, sometimes districts are drawn to ensure a favored candidate can successfully run for office. These cases of gerrymandering often occur through bipartisan collusion between political parties, and can be harmful to democracy by pre-determining outcomes and depriving voters of meaningful choices at the polls.

People often associate gerrymandering with the creation of super-safe districts that a party wins by overwhelmingly large margins. But, in fact, making districts too safe makes it hard to do an extreme gerrymander. Rather, the goal of a party seeking to use an extreme gerrymander to grab a disproportionate share of seats is to spread its supporters out among districts, letting it win a larger number of seats.

In some states, voters and elected officials are working to roll back gerrymandering. For instance, in the 2018 midterms, voters in Michigan pushed proposal 2 to pass. This proposal would create a Redistricting Commission to oversee the resectioning of the state’s congressional districts.

Michigan’s 12th congressional district. Courtesy of Michigan Radio.

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