The deliberate rearrangemant of the boundaries of congressional districts to influence the outcome of decisions. The original gerrymander was created in 1812 by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry, who proposed a district for political purposes that looked like a salamander. Gerrymandering allows the concentration of opposition votes into a few districts to gain more seats for the majority in surrounding districts or the difussion of minority strength across many districts.

Source:The Center for Voting and Democracy

While Webster 1913 got the definition of "Gerrymander" correct, he was slightly vague on the history.

Elbridge Gerry, a Democrat, was Governor of Massachusetts in 1812 and had a Democratic legislature serving with him. In order to secure increased representation in the State Senate, they redistributed the state, dividing it up so that the Federalist minority would not be able to elect a true percentage of the legislature. As a result of this, a district in Essex County was formed with a very irregular outline. Benjamin Russell, editor of the Columbian Centinel,"[sic] hung a map of the new district in his office. Gilbert Stuart, a visiting painter, saw this map and noticed the peculiar outline of the district in Essex County; he added a head, wings, and claws to it. Gilbert exclaimed "This will do for a salamander." "No," said Russell, "a Gerrymander." Thus, to "redistribute a state to get the maximum possible representation for one party at the expense of the other" became known as "Gerrymandering".

The governor was quite insulted by the name, and voiced his comments. Within a few days, the editor stopped using the phrase. However, Gerry only held office for another 5 months. The day after Gerry stepped down, Russell had the phrase right back on the front page.

Source: My AP English notes. Node your homework!
The History Channel's website ( was used to check most facts, dates, and names.

Gerrymandering is the deliberate redistricting of boundaries to influence outcomes of elections for congressional districts. Historically speaking, it’s been around since 1812 when Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts, created a district in the shape of a salamander.

Salamander + Gerry = Gerrymandering.

His last name plus the lizard theatrics are why it is possibly called “gerrymandering.” It maximizes the vote of their support groups while minimizing the vote of the opposition. It’s rather influential to redraw district lines, states have the ability to pack or concentrate as many voters of one type into one district as they possibly can, to offset or reinforce a voting style.

Congress passed a regulation on redistricting in 1967. All representatives have to be now elected in the form of single member districts. However, even in 1982 a new amendment to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was supposed to protect minorities during redistricting, has led to states gerrymandering again "lawfully."

Population Control Impossible - Blame the Census

Every ten years a census is taken. Districts do in fact change, people move in, people move out, and the concentration of people should change district lines. Now if I was a politician trying to run for a Congressional seat, I’d happily say gerrymandering is okay. But ethically speaking, it just seems to be a nasty tool to disallow fair voting. It can be used not only to protect an elected official, but also push one out. Even though the state of Utah tried to redraw the lines to prevent a repeat elected official, and failed, it is still being used for unethical practice.

Non-partisan Redistricting

An organization who is not interested in the political outcome should be in charge of redistricting. That probably will never be the case on a full scale basis, however, some states have adopted it already. That still has its own problem too. If someone who was disinterested in the political outcome, lines would only concern themselves with the population figures. Not the people’s demographics (Although that's good), not the geographics, and possibly not even the city limits.

It’s problematic when lines are drawn for demographic reasons. Minorities can be grouped with the majorities to silence them. Poor people can be grouped with the rich, or vice versa. A bad part of town might be divided in two just to prevent political back lash for a politician’s actions or inactions. It would almost be wiser to just leave district lines alone completely, than alter them for demographics.

Some nations authorize non-partisan organizations to redistrict, such as the UK and Canada. That’s definitely a step in the right direction against gerrymandering. It prevents the ruling political party, like the Republicans in our state, from keeping Republicans in control. Although democrats in Utah may argue they still are affected by the “wasted vote effect,” they still could influence their own district if it isn’t gerrymandered. It’s already uncompetitive enough as it is in Utah without gerrymandering. Utah is far more likely to become a battle ground state for anything if concentrations aren’t messed with, because then elections aren’t blow outs. The closer elections are the more likely people are to be interested in them. At least some states have started to develop commissions that are non-partisan, Washington, Arizona, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have all created one.

The advantages for incumbents is unbelievable, and if you don’t believe gerrymandering is still going on, take a look at this statistic. “In 2002, according to political scientists Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann, only four challengers were able to defeat incumbent members of the US Congress, the lowest number in modern American history.” ( That being the case, then its nearly impossible to beat an incumbent if gerrymandering occurs. It also seems to me that the Supreme Court has ruled it constitutional to redraw maps in attempts at protecting their own political parties, so long as they don’t affect minorities. Even as recent as the summer of 2006, the Court ruled a 7-2 decision that Texas’s redrawn maps were okay even though there wasn’t even a consensus. This means you can redraw as often as you like!

Preventing Gerrymandering

Single-member districts:
A single-member district is where each district votes on one person to represent them in a legislative body. Thomas L. Brunell, in his book, Redistricting and Representation, makes the argument that competitive elections are bad for America. The book’s explanation on single-member districts left me wondering whether or not Congress believes in it or not. Since they change the redistricting laws every census any way, the notion behind single-member districts seems moot. The idea behind it does make sense, however, but it is not compelling to fix gerrymandering. Brunell argues that single-member districts solves for the loss of votes for the losing candidate. He argues Gerrymandering is good for the sake of everyone voting for the same guy. Why there is concern over “wasted votes” in terms of voting for the losing candidate is beyond me. If the districts were drawn fairly in the first place it wouldn’t matter how many people voted for the loser or winner. It would just be fair, and justice would be “served.” The winner take all aspect definitely seems corrupt. It might be a speedier process in determining a winner, but it is not going to determine a legitimate winner.

The single-member district system is flawed in the sense of representation. If every election the same 49% vote for the “other guy” and 51% vote for the incumbent, those 49% will never be represented in the way they would like. True the voted in representative should still represent that other side, but it doesn’t mean they will. I wouldn’t call the 49% wasted votes, however. They still had their say. They just never come to terms with their candidate.

Every innovation and change has truth and sustenance behind it in one way or another. But the next change can completely overhaul the intentions of the previous change. One change may fit the ballot for a particular election to sway voters, or protect themselves.. Either way really, if all you have to do is pass a law every 4 years to quiet the masses, of course they’re going to do it. This one just fits the bill perfectly for it.

Equal Population:
The notion of equal population in all districts is probably the best way to make voting fair. It doesn’t matter if there are larger geographical locations, as long as the districts are equal in terms of population. It would fix California’s issue of 15,000 to 6 million ratio in comparing their smallest to largest districts. That is not equal representation. The Supreme Court has ruled on numerous cases to help rectify this problem. Dividing the population in a state by the amount of seats it gets gives you how many districts there should be.

This would not fix gerrymandering either, however, because the discrepancy on how you draw those lines is going to be arbitrarily altered by the “population factor.” I agree the only non arbitrary factor is 0 population difference between districts. Nearly unobtainable, but still yet proven truth. Iowa’s justification for not breaking county lines, however, is acceptable. In principle equal districts is a great ideal. However, because the data is usually outdated, inaccurate, it is impossible to adhere to 100%. However, a 95% rate of accuracy would still be far better than a 400 to 1 ratio of population discrepancy.

In conclusion no matter what system the law deems appropriate, gerrymandering can never be fully resolved. Not when the census is random… Not when they have the ability to redraw the maps in their own party's favor… Not when the checks and balances are typically slow and preposterous, and especially not in a place where the voter difference is highly favored on one side. An election can be swayed, many ways, it’s just a matter of discretion. A matter of hiding it behind public eyes, so that the politics can prop themselves up to hold the good old boys in the system, and keep out that new shiny sheriff from cleaning the baddies out.

Ger`ry*man"der (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Gerrymandered (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Gerrymandering.]

To divide (a State) into districts for the choice of representatives, in an unnatural and unfair way, with a view to give a political party an advantage over its opponent.

[Political Cant, U. S.]

⇒ This was done in Massachusetts at a time when Elbridge Gerry was governor, and was attributed to his influence, hence the name; though it is now known that he was opposed to the measure.



© Webster 1913.

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