Gerrymandering in America: What It Means, Its Effects, and How to Do It Yourself

By Suneil Avirneni

In modern American political discourse, the word gerrymandering is heard a lot. As to whether the term is used properly by politicians and people is always a toss-up. According to the Miriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of gerrymandering is “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.” The term originates from the name of former American Vice-President Eldbridge Gerry who drew a Massachusetts congressional map, while he was the governor, with the sole purpose of benefiting his Democratic-Republican Party. A common mistake when using the term is to use it to describe the drawing of any map a certain politician doesn’t like. If you don’t want a fair map, it is not gerrymandering if the opposing party draws a proportional map.

Let’s go through a couple of real-life examples of gerrymandering before I show you how to do it yourself using ‘Dave’s Redistricting App’.

  1. Ohio
  1. Illinois

Now that you, the readers, have seen what gerrymandering in real life looks like, you can now learn how to do it yourself using ‘Dave’s Redistricting App’. The truth is there are only two steps to it, packing and cracking. The first step, packing, means that you take the voters that tend to vote for the party that you are opposing and make districts that pack them all in as few districts as possible. The next step, cracking, means taking the resulting map after packing and ensuring that the boundaries are drawn so that your preferred party wins the rest of the seats by a comfortable, but not overwhelming, margin. This may not go perfectly the first time and you may have to do some more packing and cracking, but following the principles of packing and cracking will eventually get a proper gerrymander.

I have always felt that demonstration was the best form of teaching, so I will be drawing a map for you all to see these principles in action.

The first principle to observe is packing. In the yellow, dark green, and bright blue districts, I put as many of the conservative rural voters as I could. Next, you can see that with the remaining voters. I cracked the remaining voters into blocks that vote the same way using a bit of creativity.

That’s how you turn a state, such as Missouri, which voted for Trump with a 15.4% margin, into a state where Joe Biden can win over 60% of the districts.

You can visit Dave’s Redistricting App Here!

The effects of gerrymandering are two-fold. The first is that the party who got to draw the maps if they managed to gerrymander properly, will have a disproportionate amount of representation in the body to which they are elected. The second result, which is partly caused by the first, is that the party that was shut out of the redistricting process will be disenfranchised. This will be the inevitable response when election after election the same people keep getting elected and the balance of power remains the same. When voters feel like their vote will not change the outcome of any election, a lot of them tune out politics altogether. This result, unless you don’t believe in representative democracy, is unequivocally terrible. Federal reforms to ensure that maps in all 50 states are proportional and fair must be implemented if we are to have any chance of fixing these problems.

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