What is Gerrymandering?

The practice of manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts for party or class gain is as old as the United States -- though the term is not. It can be argued that the U.S. is the only democracy in the world where politicians have an active role in creating voting districts, perhaps contributing to the divisive nature of our politics.

The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then-governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts to the north of Boston was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.  Redistricting was a notable success but cost Governor Gerry his position.

From Wikipedia:  "Partisan gerrymandering, which refers to redistricting that favors one political party, has a long tradition in the United States that 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 unsuccessful attempt to keep James Madison out of the U.S. House of Representatives.

"The word gerrymander (originally written "Gerry-mander") was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette (not to be confused with the Boston Gazette) on 26 March 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under the then-governor Elbridge Gerry (pronounced ɡɛri/; 1744–1814). In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts to the north of Boston was said to resemble the shape of a salamander.[2] Gerrymander is a portmanteau of the governor's last name and the word salamander. The redistricting was a notable success. In the 1812 election, both the Massachusetts House and governorship were won by Federalists by a comfortable margin (costing Gerry his position), but the senate remained firmly in Democratic-Republican hands."

Texas Gerrymandering

In 1991, the Democrats redrew the state’s congressional map to create “the shrewdest gerrymander of the 1990s . . . with incredibly convoluted lines . . . pack(ing) heavily Republican suburban areas into just a few districts.” The resulting litigation ended when a federal court voided primary elections in 13 districts and imposed a court-drawn map.

In 2003, it was the Republicans’ turn to gerrymander, resulting in the famous flight of Democrats to New Mexico and then to Oklahoma in an ultimately futile effort to block the maps. That round of redistricting also resulted in a trip for Texas to the Supreme Court.

In 2011, Republicans captured near super-majorities in both chambers of the Texas Legislature, almost entirely on the strength of Anglo voters. That brought with it intense pressure on GOP lawmakers to find a way to cement those gains at both the congressional and legislative levels.  Minority groups say the only way lawmakers were able to do so was by deliberately undermining the political strength of the state’s growing minority population.  A panel of three federal judges in San Antonio issued rulings this year that the State of Texas did “violate either the U.S. Constitution or the federal Voting Rights Act” for both Congressional and Legislative districts.