Gerrymandering is a form of redistribution in which electoral district or constituency boundaries are manipulated for electoral advantage. Gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder particular constituents, such as members of a political, racial, linguistic, religious or class group.
The term gerrymandering is derived from Elbridge Gerry (1744–1814), the governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812. The term first appeared in the Boston Gazette on March 26, 1812 (see image). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill into law that redistricted his state to benefit his Democratic-Republican party.
Most democracies have partly proportional electoral systems, where several political parties are proportionally represented in the national parliaments, in proportion to the total numbers of votes of the parties in the regional or national elections. In these more or less proportional representation systems, gerrymandering has little or less significance.
Some nations, such as the UK and Canada, authorize non-partisan organizations to set constituency boundaries to prevent gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is most common in countries where elected politicians are responsible for defining districts. They have obvious self interest in determining boundaries to their and their party's interest. The United States of America is an example of such a system.
Gerrymandering should not be confused with malapportionment, whereby the number of eligible voters per elected representative can vary widely. Nevertheless the ~mander suffix has been applied to particular malapportionments, such as the "Playmander" in South Australia and the "Bjelkemander" in Queensland. Sometimes political representatives use both gerrymandering and malapportionment to try to maintain power.
The word "gerrymander" is named for the Governor of Massachusetts Elbridge Gerry (July 17, 1744 – November 23, 1814), and is a blend (or portmanteau) of his name with the word "salamander," used to describe the shape of a tortuous electoral district pressed through the Massachusetts legislature in 1812. Jeffersonian democrats devised the boundaries —and Gerry reluctantly signed the district into law — to reduce competition by their electoral opponents in the upcoming senatorial election. "Gerrymander" is used both as a verb, meaning "to divide into political units to give special advantages to one group", as well as a noun to describe the resulting electoral geography. Although Elbridge Gerry's name was pronounced with an initial /g/ (a hard g), the "jerry" pronunciation has become most common. President Ronald Reagan always used the hard G and some older professors in the US still pronounce gerrymandering with the "hard g.
The two aims of gerrymandering are to maximize the effect of supporters’ votes and to minimize the effect of opponents' votes. One strategy, packing, is to concentrate as many voters of one type into a single electoral district to reduce their influence in other districts. A second strategy, cracking, involves spreading out voters of a particular type among many districts in order to deny them a sufficiently large voting block in any particular district. The strategies are typically combined, creating a few "forfeit" seats for packed voters of one type in order to secure even greater representation for voters of another type.
Gerrymandering is effective because of the wasted vote effect. By packing opposition voters into districts they will already win (increasing excess votes for winners) and by cracking the remainder among districts where they are moved into the minority (increasing votes for eventual losers), the number of wasted votes among the opposition can be maximized. Similarly, with supporters holding narrow margins in the unpacked districts, the number of wasted votes among supporters is minimized.
As the chance of influencing electoral results by voting is reduced, voter turnout is likely to decrease. Correspondingly, political campaigns are less likely to expend resources to encourage turnout. With a reduction in competition, a candidate puts more effort into securing party nomination for a given district rather than gaining approval of the general electorate. In a gerrymandered district, the candidate is virtually assured of a win once nominated. In 2004, for example, when California's 3rd Congressional District became an open seat after Republican Congressman Doug Ose ran for higher office, the state's three strongest Republican congressional candidates campaigned vigorously against one another for nomination in the district's primary election. Several other districts were uncontested with no Republican nominees making even a token campaign effort.
This demonstrates that gerrymandering can have a deleterious effect on the principle of democratic accountability. With uncompetitive seats/districts reducing the fear that incumbent politicians may lose office, they have less incentive to represent the interests of their constituents, even when those interests conform to majority support for an issue across the electorate as a whole. Incumbent politicians may look out more for their party's interests than for those of their constituents.
Gerrymandering can have an impact on campaign costs for district elections. If districts become increasingly stretched out, candidates must pay increased costs for transportation and trying to develop and present campaign advertising across a district. The incumbent's advantage in securing campaign funds is another benefit of his or her having a gerrymandered secure seat.
Gerrymandering also has significant effects on the representation received by voters in gerrymandered districts. Because gerrymandering is designed to increase the number of wasted votes among the electorate, the relative representation of particular groups can be drastically altered from their actual share of the voting population. This effect can significantly prevent a gerrymandered system from achieving proportional and descriptive representation, as the winners of elections are increasingly determined by who is drawing the districts rather than the preferences of the voters.
Gerrymandering may be advocated to improve representation within the legislature among otherwise underrepresented minority groups by packing them into a single district. This can be controversial, as it may lead to those groups' remaining marginalized in the government as they become confined to a single district. Candidates outside that district no longer need to represent them to win election.
As an example, much of the redistricting conducted in the United States in the early 1990s involved the intentional creation of additional "majority-minority" districts where racial minorities such as African Americans were packed into the majority. This "maximization policy" drew support by both the Republican Party (who had limited support among African Americans and could concentrate their power elsewhere) and by minority representatives elected as Democrats from these constituencies, who then had "safe seats."
Gerrymandering can also be done to help incumbents as a whole, effectively turning every district into a packed one and greatly reducing the potential for competitive elections. This is particularly likely to occur when the minority party has significant obstruction power — unable to enact a partisan gerrymander, the legislature instead agrees on ensuring their own mutual reelection.
In an unusual occurrence in 2000, for example, the two dominant parties in the state of California cooperatively redrew both state and Federal legislative districts to preserve the status quo, ensuring the electoral safety of the politicians from unpredictable voting by the electorate. This move proved completely effective, as no State or Federal legislative office changed party in the 2004 election, although 53 congressional, 20 state senate, and 80 state assembly seats were potentially at risk.
In 2006, the term "70/30 District" came to signify the equitable split of two evenly split (i.e. 50/50) districts. The resulting districts gave each party a guaranteed seat and retained their respective power base.
In the United States, however, such reforms are controversial and frequently meet particularly strong opposition from groups that benefit from gerrymandering. In a more neutral system, they might lose considerable influence.
To help ensure neutrality, members of a redistricting agency may be appointed from relatively apolitical sources such as retired judges or longstanding members of the civil service, possibly with requirements for adequate representation among competing political parties. Additionally, members of the board can be denied access to information that might aid in gerrymandering, such as the demographic makeup or voting patterns of the population. As a further constraint, consensus requirements can be imposed to ensure that the resulting district map reflects a wider perception of fairness, such as a requirement for a supermajority approval of the commission for any district proposal. Consensus requirements, however, can lead to deadlock, such as occurred in Missouri following the 2000 census. There, the equally numbered partisan appointees were unable to reach consensus in a reasonable time, and consequently the courts had to determine district lines.
In the US state of Iowa, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau (LSB) (akin to the US Congressional Research Service) determines boundaries of electoral districts. Aside from satisfying federally mandated contiguity and population equality criteria, the LSB mandates unity of counties and cities. Consideration of political factors such as location of incumbents, previous boundary locations, and political party proportions is specifically forbidden. Since Iowa's counties are chiefly regularly shaped polygons, the LSB process has led to districts that follow county lines.
In 2005, the US state of Ohio had a ballot measure to create an independent commission whose first priority was competitive districts, a sort of "reverse gerrymander". A complex mathematical formula was to be used to determine the competitiveness of a district. The measure failed voter approval chiefly due to voter concerns that communities of interest would be broken up.
Electoral systems with different forms of proportional representation are now found in nearly all European countries. In this way, they have multi-party systems (with many parties represented in the parliaments) with higher voter attendance in the elections, fewer wasted votes, and a wider variety of political opinions represented.
Electoral systems with election of just one candidate in each district, and no proportional distribution of extra mandates to smaller parties, tend to create two-party systems (Duverger's Law). In these, just two parties effectively compete in the national elections and thus the national political discussions are forced into a narrow two-party frame, where loyalty and forced statements inside the two parties distort the political debate.
In contrast to proportional methods, if a nonproportional voting system with multiple winners (such as block voting) is used, then increasing the size of the elected body while keeping the number of districts constant will not reduce the amount of wasted votes, leaving the potential for gerrymandering the same. While merging districts together under such a system can reduce the potential for gerrymandering, doing so also amplifies the tendency of block voting to produce landslide victories, creating a similar effect to gerrymandering by concentrating wasted votes among the opposition and denying them representation.
If a system of single-winner elections is used, then increasing the size of the elected body will implicitly increase the number of districts to be created. This change can actually make gerrymandering easier when raising the number of single-winner elections, as opposition groups can be more efficiently packed into smaller districts without accidentally including supporters, further increasing the number of wasted votes amongst the opposition.
The use of fixed districts creates an additional problem, however, in that fixed districts do not take into account changes in population. Individual voters can come to have very different degrees of influence on the legislative process. This malapportionment can greatly affect representation after long periods of time or large population movements. In the United Kingdom during the industrial revolution, several constituencies which had been fixed since they gained representation in the Parliament of England became so small that they could be won with only a handful of voters (rotten boroughs). Similarly, in the US the state legislature of Alabama refused to redistrict for more than 60 years, despite major changes in population patterns. By 1960 less than a quarter of the state's population (from rural areas) controlled the majority of seats in the legislature. By contrast, Switzerland and Spain have bicameral national legislatures like the United States, but both of its houses use fixed districts - However, those use proportional representation and not FPTP. The Supreme Court decision Baker v. Carr established a rule of "one man one vote," effectively banning fixed districts (even by existing municipal boundaries such as counties) in state legislatures, although if combined with multiple at-large representatives within more populous districts, it would theoretically be legal.
One idea is to define within the constitution a specific minimum isoperimetric quotient , or minimum ratio, between the area and perimeter of any given congressional voting district. Computer algorithms could ensure that population districts were drawn in such a way so as to minimize Isoperimetric inequality and effectively eliminate gerrymandering. Although technologies presently exist to define districts in this manner, there are no rules in place mandating their use, and no national movement to implement such a policy. Such rules would prevent incorporation of jagged natural boundaries, such as rivers or mountains. When such boundaries are required (such as at the edge of a state), certain districts may not be able to meet the required minima.
Another method is to define a minimum district to convex polygon ratio. To use this method, every proposed district is circumscribed by the smallest possible convex polygon (similar to the concept of a convex hull). Then, the area of the district is divided by the area of the polygon; or, if at the edge of the state, by the portion of the area of the polygon within state boundaries. The advantages of this method are that it allows a certain amount of human intervention to take place (thus solving the Colorado problem of splitline districting); it allows the borders of the district to follow existing jagged subdivisions, such as neighborhoods or voting districts (something isoperimetric rules would discourage); and it allows concave coastline districts, such as the Florida gulf coast area. It would mostly eliminate "bent" districts, but still permit long, straight ones. However, since human intervention is still allowed, the gerrymandering issues of packing and cracking would still occur, just to a lesser extent.
This district-drawing algorithm has the advantage of simplicity, ultra-low cost, clear unbiasedness, and it produces simple boundaries that do not meander needlessly. It has the disadvantage of ignoring geographic features such as rivers, cliffs, and highways. This landscape oversight causes it to produce districts differently than those an unbiased human would produce. These features can produce very complicated boundaries (such as Arizona's 2nd congressional district, which contains a fine filament winding for 200 miles along the river inside the Grand Canyon).
Also, splitline districts sometimes do not work well when one of the first few splitlines cuts through a large metropolitan area. This is most evident in the splitline allocation of Colorado.
As of July 2007, shortest-splitline redistricting pictures are now available for all 50 states.
In 2006, a controversy arose on Prince Edward Island over the provincial government's decision to throw out an electoral map drawn by an independent commission. Instead they created two new maps. The government adopted the second of these, designed by the caucus of the governing party. Opposition parties and the media attacked Premier Pat Binns for what they saw as gerrymandering of districts. Among other things, the government adopted a map that ensured that every current Member of the Legislative Assembly from the premier's party had a district to run in for re-election, whereas in the original map, several had been redistricted. Despite this, in the 2007 provincial election only seven of 20 incumbent Members of the Legislative Assembly were re-elected (seven did not run for re-election).
The current federal electoral district boundaries in Saskatchewan have also been labelled as gerrymandered — the province's two major cities, Saskatoon and Regina, are both "cracked" into multiple districts which group parts of the New Democratic Party-friendly cities with large Conservative-leaning rural areas.
After Chileans voted General Augusto Pinochet out of power in a 1988 plebiscite, the military government began working on a law to define the new electoral system for the 1989 elections. The 60 electoral districts for the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) were designed so that — if the results of the 1988 plebiscite were extrapolated to the coming parliamentary elections — in no district would the NO option duplicate the YES option. (The NO option was for removing Pinochet from power and to trigger democratic elections.) The rationale for this — in a system in which only two candidates are elected per district and where a coalition needed to duplicate the vote of the opponent to gain both district seats — was that the voters who favoured the NO option would vote for the Centre-Left coalition, which opposed the Pinochet dictatorship, and the ones that favoured the YES option would be inclined to vote for the candidates of the right, which supported the military government.
In the Senate —where a whole administrative region consists of one or two constituencies— gerrymandering of districts had a limited effect. Therefore, the government, to ensure that the winning majority (the Center-Left coalition, as it was expected) would be unable to reach the quorum necessary to change the Constitution by itself, allocated a number of seats to appointed senators. These unelected senators were eliminated in the 2005 constitutional reforms, but the electoral map remains untouched.
After having won four seats in Berlin in the 1998 national election, the PDS was able to retain only two seats altogether in the 2002 elections. Under German electoral law, a political party has to win either more than five percent of the votes, or at least three directly-elected seats, to qualify for top-up seats under the Additional Member System. The PDS thus were unable to qualify for top-up seats and were confined to just two members of the Bundestag, the German federal parliament. But the elected representatives held their seats as individuals. In the election of 2005, the PDS (renamed the "Left Party") gained 8.7% of the votes and thus qualified for top-up seats.
However, the number of Bundestag seats of parties which traditionally get over 5% of the votes cannot be affected very much by gerrymandering, because seats are awarded to these parties on a proportional basis. Only when a party wins so many districts in any one of the 16 federal states that those seats alone count for more than its proportional share of the vote in that same state does the districting have some influence on larger parties — those extra seats, called "Überhangmandate", remain.
In 1947 the rapid rise of new party Clann na Poblachta threatened the position of the governing party Fianna Fáil. The government of Éamon de Valera introduced the Electoral Amendment Act, 1947 which increased the size of the Dáil from 138 to 147 and increased the number of three-seat constituencies from fifteen to twenty-two. The result has been described as "a blatant attempt at gerrymander which no Six County Unionist could have bettered." The following February the 1948 general election was held and Clann na Poblachta secured ten constituencies instead of the nineteen they would have received proportional to their vote.
In 1989 and 1990 elections, some accused the Popular Front of Latvia (PFL) of gerrymandering in favor of ethnic Latvians. For example, in 1990 the nearly pure Latvian-ethnic Ventspils district (with about 0.6% of population) was awarded 3 constituencies out of 201 (1.5%), with 2 of PFL candidates running unopposed.. In 1991, most native Russians were denied citizenship and therefore had no voting rights. Naturalization of native Russians began in 1995. In 1993 the country returned to proportional representation.
In 1929 the Parliament of Northern Ireland passed a bill shifting the Parliament's electoral system from the relatively proportional single transferable vote (STV) to the less proportional first past the post or block voting system. The only exception was for the election of four Stormont MPs to represent the Queen's University of Belfast. Many scholars believe that the boundaries were gerrymandered to underrepresent Nationalists. Some geographers and historians, for instance Professor John H. Whyte, disagree. ) They have argued that the electoral boundaries for the Parliament of Northern Ireland were not gerrymandered to a greater level than that produced by any single-winner election system, and that the actual number of Nationalist MPs barely changed under the revised system. Most observers have acknowledged that the change to a single-winner system was a key factor, however, in stifling the growth of smaller political parties, such as the Northern Ireland Labour Party and Independent Unionists.
The United Kingdom suspended the Parliament of Northern Ireland and its government in 1972. It restored the single transferable vote (STV) for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly in the following year, using the same definitions of constituencies as for the Westminster Parliament. Currently in Northern Ireland, all elections use the STV except those for positions in the Westminster Parliament, which follow the pattern in the rest of the United Kingdom by using "first past the post."
The Elections Department was established as part of the executive branch under the Prime Minister of Singapore, rather than as an independent body. Critics have accused it of giving the ruling party the power to decide polling districts and polling sites through electoral engineering, based on poll results in previous election. Opposition parties have alleged that the Elections Department decisions have given unfair advantage to the ruling party and have affected the outcome of some electoral battles.
Critics point out the dissolution of the Group Representation Constituencies (GRC) of Cheng San GRC and Eunos GRC. Each was dissolved by the Elections Department with voters redistributed to other constituencies after opposition parties gained ground in elections. Such action was controversial. Critics have speculated about the possibility of the Elections Department's dissolving next the Aljunied GRC in the next General Elections, likely in 2010 or 2011. The opposition Workers' Party gained ground there in the General Elections in 2006, when it earned approximately 44% of the votes.
PAP strongholds, such as Tanjong Pagar GRC and Ang Mo Kio GRC, where Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong respectively contest, have seldom been contested by the opposition. When Ang Mo Kio GRC was last contested in 2006, the PAP has won 66% of the votes.
The United States has a long tradition of gerrymandering which precedes the 1789 election of the First U.S. Congress. In 1788, Patrick Henry and his Anti-Federalist allies were in control of the Virginia House of Delegates. They drew the boundaries of Virginia's 5th congressional district in an attempt to keep James Madison out of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Historically, each state legislature has used gerrymandering to try to control the political makeup of its United State House delegation. Partisan legislators typically try to maximize the number of congressional delegation seats under the control of the legislature's majority party.
The practice of gerrymandering the borders of new states continued past the Civil War and into the late 19th century. Congress split territories in the Rocky Mountains area into separate, relatively low-population states rather than fewer, larger ones to help the Republican Party maintain control of the Presidency . By the rules for representation in the Electoral College, each new state carried at least three electoral votes regardless of its population.
All redistricting in the United States has been contentious because it has been controlled by political parties vying for power. Under the constitution, districts for members of the House of Representatives are to be redrawn every ten years following each census. In many states, state legislatures have redrawn boundaries for state legislative districts at the same time.
When faced with losing power, however, members of some legislatures simply refused to redistrict. Early struggles for power were between rural and urban interests, as well as between political parties. The state legislature of Alabama, for instance, refused to redistrict from 1901 to the 1960s, despite changing conditions in a state that was industrializing and where population was rapidly moving to cities. Rural interests became prevalent in state politics, hampering the state's progress for most of the 20th century. In 1960, approximately a quarter of the state's population controlled the state legislature. When the state legislature could not agree on boundaries, a federal court worked with a new non-partisan body to conclude defining new districts in 1972.
Intense political battles over contentious redistricting typically take place within state legislatures responsible for creating the electoral maps. Since passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, federal courts may be involved to ensure that historical patterns of discrimination are not perpetuated.
This process can create strange bedfellows interested in securing reelection; in some states, Republicans have cut deals with opposing black Democratic state legislators to create majority-black districts. By packing black Democratic voters into a single district, they can essentially ensure the election of a black Congressman or reelection of a black state legislator due to the packed concentration of Democratic voters — however, the surrounding districts are more safely Republican in areas like the South, where white conservatives have increasingly shifted from the Democratic to the Republican Party in national elections in the last four decades.
In Pennsylvania, the Republican-dominated state legislature used gerrymandering to eliminate Democratic representative Frank Mascara. Mascara was elected to Congress in 1994. In 2002 the Republican Party altered the boundaries of his original district so much that he was pitted against fellow Democratic candidate John Murtha in the election. The shape of Mascara’s newly drawn district formed a finger that stopped at his street, encompassing his house though not the spot where he parked his car. Murtha won the election in the newly formed district.
State legislatures have used gerrymandering along racial or ethnic lines both to decrease and increase minority representation in state governments and congressional delegations. In the state of Ohio, a conversation between Republican officials was recorded that demonstrated that redistricting was being done to aid their political candidates. Furthermore, the discussions assessed race of voters as a factor in redistricting, because African-Americans had backed Democratic candidates. Republicans removed approximately 13,000 African American voters from the district of Jim Raussen, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives, in an attempt to tip the scales in what was once a competitive district for Democratic candidates.
International election observers from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, who were invited to observe and report on the 2004 national elections, expressed criticism of the U.S. congressional redistricting process and made a recommendation that the procedures be reviewed to ensure genuine competitiveness of Congressional election contests.
With the Civil Rights Movement and passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, additional federal enforcement and protections of suffrage for all citizens were enacted. Gerrymandering for the purpose of reducing the political influence of a racial or ethnic minority group was prohibited. Poll taxes for federal elections were prohibited by ratification of the Twenty-fourth Amendment in 1964, and a later Supreme Court case struck down poll taxes as a prerequisite for any election. Gerrymandering for political gain has remained possible under the Constitution.
After the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, some states created "majority-minority" districts. This practice, also called "affirmative gerrymandering", was supposed to redress historic discrimination and ensure that ethnic minorities would gain some seats in government. Since the 1990s, however, gerrymandering based solely on racial data has been ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court under the Fourteenth Amendment, first in Shaw v. Reno (1993) and subsequently in Miller v. Johnson (1995).
The constitutionality of using racial considerations to create districts remains difficult to assess, despite past injustices. In Hunt v. Cromartie (1999), the Supreme Court approved a racially focused gerrymandering of a congressional district on the grounds that the definition was not pure racial gerrymandering but instead partisan gerrymandering, which is constitutionally permissible. With the increasing racial polarization of parties in the South in the US as conservative whites move from the Democratic to the Republican Party, gerrymandering may become partisan and also achieve goals for ethnic representation.
In a few circumstances, the use of goal-driven district boundaries may be used for positive social goals (at least considered so from less partisan viewpoints). When the state legislature considered representation for Arizona's Native American reservations, they thought each needed their own House member, because of historic conflicts between the Hopi and Navajo nations. Since the Hopi reservation is completely surrounded by the Navajo reservation, the legislature created an unusual district configuration which features a fine filament along a river course several hundred miles in length to attach two Navajo regions.
In another case (frequently cited as an outrageous example of gerrymandering), the California state legislature created a congressional district that extends over a narrow coastal strip for several hundred miles. It ensures that a common community of interest will be represented, rather than the coastal areas' being dominated by inland concerns. These are illustrative of factoring in communities of common interest in drawing district boundaries.
Rather than allowing more political influence, some states' citizens are considering shifting redistricting authority from politicians and giving it to non-partisan commissions. For instance, Washington state created the standing Washington State Redistricting Commission and Arizona the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. The Rhode Island Reapportionment Commission and New Jersey Redistricting Commission are ad hoc but developed the past two decennial reapportionments tied to new census data.