Seeing the Round Corners

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October 19, 2021


For oh so many decades, gerrymandering has been a “legal” way of “drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage over its rivals (political or partisan gerrymandering) or that dilutes the voting power of members of ethnic or linguistic minority groups (racial gerrymandering).

Each census (2020 being the latest) compiles detailed population and demographic data. The release by the Census Bureau prompts states and local governments to begin the once-a-decade process of drawing new voting district boundaries known as redistricting.

Most politically interested citizens and certainly those planning to run for office during the next ten years know that gerrymandering is not far behind “when those boundaries are drawn with intention of influencing who gets elected.”

In 2019, a case was heard by the United States Supreme Court that contributed to perhaps the “most ominous round of map drawing in this country’s history,’ according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

  • The Brennan Center provided six points readers should understand about gerrymandering and how it impacts our democracy.
  • Gerrymandering is deeply undemocratic.
  • There are multiple ways to gerrymander.
  • Gerrymandering has a real impact on the balance of power in Congress and many state legislatures.
  • Gerrymandering affects all Americans, but it’s most significant costs are borne by communities of color.
  • Gerrymandering is getting worse.
  • Federal reform can help counter gerrymandering, but Congress must act soon.

Gerrymandering is deeply undemocratic:

  • Communities change so redistricting is critical to our democracy.
  • Maps must be redrawn to ensure that districts are equally populated and comply with laws such a the Voting Rights Act, and are representative of a state’s population.
  • John Adams said, “Done right, redistricting is a chance to create maps that are an exact portrait, a miniature of the people as a whole.”


Sometimes politicians use gerrymandering to choose their voters. Which happens so often when line drawing is left to legislatures and one political party controls the process – a process that has become increasingly common. The process means “maps where electoral results are virtually guaranteed even in years where the party drawing maps has a bad year.”

There are multiple ways to gerrymander: 

Two of the most recognized ways of gerrymandering are packing and cracking. Packing involves map drawers place so many groups of voters in as few districts as possible. The “packed” groups are likely to elect their preferred candidates, butt the group’s voting strength is weakened everywhere else.

Cracking comes into play when groups with similar characteristics such as voters of the same party affiliation are split across multiple districts.

Map drawers are wise to packing and cracking in order to build a partisan advantage into the boundaries of districts. While these two techniques result in regularly shaped districts, disguised are districts skewed heavily in favor of one party.

Gerrymandering has a real impact on the balance of power in Congress and many state legislatures:

The Brennan Center found that many states have the reputations for the worst gerrymandering – Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania – and “produced some of the most extreme gerrymandering in history.”

Overall, in 2010, Republicans pushed a campaign to win majorities in as many state legislatures as possible, “resulting in control over the redrawing of 213 congressional districts,” according to the Brennan Center. Redrawing resulted on giving Republicans a “virtual lock on 13 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, even where Democrats won the majority of the statewide congressional vote.”

Gerrymandering also impacts significant partisan bias in maps. In 2018, Wisconsin found itself in a position after gerrymandering of winning “every statewide office and a majority of the statewide vote, but won only 36 of the 99 seats in the state assembly.

In Maryland, Democrats returned the favor and “used control over map drawing to completely eliminate one of the state’s Republican congressional districts.”

The bottom line to all this gerrymandering: “It is the public who loses out.” “Elected officials wonder why more Americans feel there votes don’t matter.”

Gerrymandering affects all Americans, but its most significant costs are borne by communities of color.

Rucho v Common Cause, a 2019 United States Supreme Court case, made residential segregation and racially polarized voting patterns even worse. The ruling means that targeting communities of color can be an effective tool for creating advantages for the party that controls redistricting, regardless of who, Democrats or Republicans, are in charge.

The Rucho ruling presents Republican controlled states with the opportunity to “defend racially discriminating maps on grounds that they are permissibly discriminating against Blacks, Latinos, or Asian voters.”

Gerrymandering is getting worse.

Gerrymandering has been made easier because of the gerrymanderers can now choose from thousands of computer-generated maps, compared to olden days when only hand-drawn maps were available. The Brennan Center states:  Today, intricate computer algorithms and sophisticated data about voters allow map drawers to game redistricting on a massive scale with surgical precision.” People of color – Blacks, Latino, and Asian Americans – live in diverse suburbs as opposed to previously living in highly segregated cities.

Federal reform can help counter gerrymandering, but Congress needs to act soon.

Legislation passed by the House in Washington is a step in the right direction toward countering the gerrymandering of today.

The piece of legislation referred to is For the People would “enhance transparency, strengthen protections for communities of color, and ban gerrymandering in congressional redistricting. The added perk:  Voters’ ability to challenge gerrymandering maps in court would be improved.

Attention readers:  The need for this piece of legislation, For the People Act, is urgent with the 2022 election just a year away. The Brennan Center strongly urges:  “Unless that happens, we risk another decade of racially, politically discriminatory line drawing.”

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