What is Gerrymandering?

The Supreme Court has been called upon to crack down on gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court has been called upon to crack down on gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is a term used to describe the formation of an electoral district to seek political advantages through the manipulation of district boundaries. The newly-formed electoral district from the process is known as a gerrymander. Gerrymandering is normally used to control the political influence and authority of a particular demographic group. The process is also used as a way to protect incumbents and assist them to retain their seats. Gerrymandering shares many characteristics with malapportionment, but the two processes are different from each other. For instance, the manipulation of electoral boundaries seen in gerrymandering is absent in malapportionment. While gerrymandering is legal in most countries, the practice is usually criticized for its other ramifications including the disregard of the cultural background of a community while dividing electoral districts which leads to the division of people from a common cultural heritage. Gerrymandering where persons sharing a common political affiliation are brought together into one electoral district can be labeled as a form of segregation especially if done in regions with a minority group.


The term “gerrymander” was originally used as “Gerry-mander” which was a combination of two separate terms “Gerry” and “mander.” The term “Gerry-mander” was first coined in 1812 in the March 12th publication of the Boston Gazette about a political maneuver by the Massachusetts governor at the time Governor Elbridge Gerry to redraw the state’s election districts to assist his Democratic-Republican Party to win the 1812 elections. Political analysts of the time believed the redrawn districts resembled a salamander and therefore coined the phrase “Gerry-mander” as a combination of the Governor’s name “Gerry” and the term “salamander.” The March 12th, 1812 publication of the Boston Gazette had a political cartoon which depicted a mythical salamander with wings, long claws, and a dragon-like head, a satirical depiction of the oddly-shaped redrawn state. The artist behind the satirical cartoon is believed to be a renowned 19th-century artist, Elkanah Tisdale. By the mid-19th century, the term “gerrymander” had officially been recognized as an English word and first appeared in a dictionary in 1848 and appeared in an encyclopedia in 1868. Over the years, the term has been corrupted to describe similar events including “Tullymander” in reference to James Tully (Irish politician), “Jerrymander” in reference to Jerry Brown (California Governor) and “Perrymander” in reference to Rick Perry (Texas Governor).The term is closely related to a term used to refer to the race-conscious procedure employed in jury selection known as “jurymandering.”


Politicians employ a variety of tactics when gerrymandering to maximize the implications of votes from their supporters while minimizing the implications of opponents’ votes. These tactics used in gerrymandering by the political class are cracking, packing, hijacking, and kidnapping. The kidnapping tactic is usually employed in urban districts where incumbents represent several urban areas, by alienating the large cities from the original electoral district and hence making the district more rural. In a kidnapping, a new electoral district is formed to cut off popular support from an incumbent, transferring these votes to the new district and in so doing, make it difficult for an incumbent to win future elections with the new electorate. The next tactic used when gerrymandering is cracking. Cracking is usually employed in electoral districts with an existing voting bloc. To minimize or limit the power and influence of such a voting bloc, several electoral districts were formed within the bloc, and in so doing, the voters in the presumed voting bloc are spread across numerous districts. Cracking can be employed in urban districts through the formation of several electoral districts to have the original “urban” voting bloc become segmented into “urban” blocs and “suburban” blocs. Another political tactic used when gerrymandering is packing which is the opposite of cracking, in that voters who share common cultural heritage and political affiliation are brought together in the formation of a new electoral district to reduce their political influence in their respective original districts. Packing is, however, a quite sensitize and complex affair since in instances where minority groups are involved, it can be classified as racial segregation. Packing is also required to be implemented in such a way that the interest is not diluted to the point of ineffectiveness. Packing is normally seen and is most effective in districts where a statewide minority group controls the process of districting. The last tactic employed during the gerrymandering process in the hijacking. Hijacking is normally used to create a scenario where two incumbents from the same political party face each other in one electoral district so that one of them is eliminated from the race, while (in most cases) a candidate from a different political party wins the other electoral district.

Technology in Gerrymandering

The advent of technology has increased the practicability, effectiveness, and accuracy of gerrymandering. Using technology, political parties can identify the indices required for districting in a region. An excellent example is the use of databases in gerrymandering. Through the use of databases, politicians can establish the demographic composition of a district including the political affiliation of the district’s inhabitants. Information about the political activity of an individual is usually available in databases including any political functions attended, which political party one is registered to, and the number of elections one has participated. Using this information, political parties can accurately create an electoral district for upmost partisan advantage.

Examples of Gerrymanders

Gerrymandering is usually practiced in democracies where the demarcation of electoral boundaries is conducted by partisan institutions and political parties. Gerrymandering has frequently been practiced in the United States over the years since the term was introduced in the 19th century. A recent example of a gerrymander in the United States is the 12th Congressional district of North Carolina, which is also a perfect example of the employment of the packing tactic. Another example of the packing tactic is the 23rd Congressional district of California which was created to segment voters affiliated to the Democratic Party. Other notable examples are Illinois’s 4th Congressional district, District 22 of Texas, and California’s District 38.


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