Gerrymandering: Funny Word, Dangerous Consequences
Gerrymandering is a practice of redrawing a district’s boundaries that favor one or more groups of voters and some candidates over others. The process is extremely partisan and has been exploited by both parties for political advantage.
The United States is the only advanced democracy in the world where politicians directly participate in the redistricting process. Biased redistricting might not be the only cause of the problems in the U.S. political climate, but it has considerable negative affects.
Districts divide states into geographical territories where most of the federal, state and local representatives and legislatives are elected from. Redistricting originally started in the Colonial Era as a method of redrawing the districts in a State to ensure fair representation of all people in every area of each State.
After the several cases have been presented to the Supreme Court regarding population disparity, in mid 1960s the court decided that the population disproportion violated the U.S. Constitution, and it required district boundaries to be periodically readjusted to reflect the population growth and changes. Now, every 10 years following the Census, district boundaries have to be redrawn.
Since then, redistricting has become a contentious subject due to its predisposition to corruption and partiality. Because there are no national standards on how to redistrict a State, elected ruling party has the advantage and the votes to redraw a State’s districts according to its benefit.
Gerrymandering can be used in favor of ruling incumbents or a political party drawing the map. It is particularly effective in plurality voting systems also known as the ‘winner-takes-all’, or ‘simple plurality,’ such as in USA.
Gerrymandering undermines the democratic process by corrupting the election practices which in turn can tarnish the elector’s trust in the system. It also affects every aspect of the communities included or excluded in certain districts, from school board decisions to economy of the region.
The word’s origin dates back to early 1800s when the Massachusetts governor Eldridge Gerry signed a bill to redistrict Massachusetts to benefit his party. After the redrawing of the map, one of the contended districts in the Boston area resembled the shape of a salamander. The term was a combination of the governor’s last name and the word salamander.
Several non-profit organizations are actively working on resolving the problems of redistricting and gerrymandering. The Center for Voting and Democracy and EndGerrymandering.com has numerous resources and information on the reforms being considered to make the redistricting process more transparent and fair.
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