What is Gerrymandering and is it anything like the UK voting system?

Gerrymandering Defined

Gerrymandering, or the political process of arranging legislative districts to the advantage of a specific political, ethnic, racial, or other defined group, has a very long history in the U.S. The term itself dates back to an 1812 effort by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry to align legislative districts to benefit his political party. One such district reportedly was so oddly shaped that a local newspaper said it looked like a salamander, and the name “gerrymander” was born. Gerrymandering occurs in response to the census, which is conducted every 10 years. Among other things, the census requires the redrawing of congressional and state legislative district lines in response to population changes and redistributions. This is often a political process whereby the party in power attempts to draw the lines in a way to ensure that it keeps its power.

Classic gerrymandering occurs by a combination of “packing” and “cracking,” which means that a small number of districts are “packed” with overly large numbers of a target group, and the remaining members of the group are “cracked” among the remaining districts. As an example, say a region containing 10 legislative districts has an overall voting population that’s split roughly 50-50 between the Tory party and the Whig party. To get a Tory advantage, the party might draw the lines of the districts so that three of them have a “packed” 80% majority of Whigs, virtually ensuring that the Whigs would overwhelmingly win those districts. However, because there is now a minority of Whigs remaining among the other seven districts, those district lines could be “cracked” so that each district has a Whig minority. The result is that in a region with a 50-50 split, the Tory party, which drew the lines, would be expected to win seven of the 10 districts. Source: Infoday.

The distorted shape of districts is the focus of one of the most anticipated cases the Supreme Court will hear this term: Gill v. Whitford, which will be argued today. The Gill case concerns a redistricting plan put into place in Wisconsin in 2011. Republican state legislators developed a new electoral map in secret and then passed it on a party-line vote. The effect was immediate. In the following election, in 2012, Democrats won a majority of votes but Republicans captured sixty out of ninety-nine seats in the State Assembly. “I’d never seen anything like that before,” one Wisconsin state senator, a Republican, told Emily Bazelon of the Times. Something “powerful and unbelievable” had taken place—something new and different from the crude, ad-hoc gerrymandering of old, the kind that was practiced even before Gerry gave it a name.

What’s new are the technological tools available to district-drawers. Today, a consultant armed with an algorithm and a precinct map can build a district that is better insulated against shifts in the political winds, and better able to remain in one party’s control for years. The most extreme manipulations of the map are seen in states such as Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Michigan, where single-party control of the redistricting process has allowed the G.O.P. to entrench an advantage. In 2014, for example, Republican candidates for the State Senate in Michigan won only the slimmest majority of the vote—fifty-one per cent—but secured seventy-one per cent of the seats. Source. The New Yorker

Lesson plan

  1. Read the text above and write on the OneNote what Gerrymandering is. Why is it an issue, and what will be decided by the Supreme Court.
  2. Watch the video below and add the new information to your notes. Make an easy explanation that can be used by students who do not know what this is.
  3. Watch the video below about the UK election and take notes. Who is the Prime Minister in the UK today, what are the names of the major parties and their leaders, and why did Theresa May call a general election on June 8th? What was the result, who is the leader of the Labour party and what has Brexit to do with anything? See more info here  BBC
  4. Compare the gerrymandering to the British system where each constituency elects one MP by the first past the post system of election.
  5. Write a brilliant blog post where you make sense of all of this!



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