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Ever wonder why congressional districts are shaped so oddly? The answer is gerrymandering: drawing districts in part to sway election outcomes. State legislators across the nation are redrawing their electoral boundaries. But who, exactly, does gerrymandering benefit? And does it deserve the bad rap it gets?
- Justin Levitt Professor at Loyola Law School; former Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice; maintains the website 'All About Redistricting'
- Michael Munger Professor of Political Science at Duke University
- Kelly Ward Interim Executive Director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee; former Executive Director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC)
- Chris Jankowski Republican strategist; former Executive Director of the REDMAP Project at the Republican State Leadership Committee
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What Exactly Is Gerrymandering?
Simply put, “gerrymandering is usually drawing districts unfairly,” Professor Justin Levitt says, “That’s how people described districts that they think were drawn, in a way that they think is unfair, and everybody has a different view of what that means.”
Is Gerrymandering Legal?
“Sort of,” Levitt says. “The last time the Supreme Court revisited the subject in 2004, all nine justices unanimously said too much partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. The fight is over at want point some is ‘too much’ and whether the courts will do anything about it.”
Where Does The Word Gerrymandering Come From?
“[In] early elections, the U.S. was trying to choose how our institutions would work, and famously there was Governor [Elbridge] Gerry of Massachusetts. In the 1812 election [he] had signed off on a map that one of the districts – that his party, the Democratic Republicans would get a seat in the state legislature. And people imagined on the map that it looked like a salamander. So it’s a portmanteau. You take the ‘Governor Gerry and salamander,’ and you get gerrymander,” says Professor Michael Munger.
On Whether Lawmakers Should Draw Districts, Or Whether Independent Panels (Or Computers) Should
“The process of redrawing lines is inherently political,” says Chris Jankowski, the founder of RedMap, a project to elect state lawmakers to redraw districts that are favorable to conservatives. “If you look at our founders and how they set up the Constitution, they tended to put inherently political activities in the hands of inherently political people.”
Population Data Can’t Fix Everything
“The point of using the data is to craft districts that reflect something about people inside the districts,” Levitt says. “The problem is not with the data, the fight is over which people should be in which district and who gets the voice. Representatives end up choosing their voters instead of the other way around.”
Why Not Just Make All Districts A Grid?
“No one lives in a grid,” Levitt says. “We live in districts that look messy on their face but they reflect real patterns of who we expect our neighbors to be and generally shared values, at least locally.”
Is Gerrymandering Bad For The Country?
“Redistricting has to happen; gerrymandering doesn’t,” says Kelly Ward, who leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. “Gerrymandering, as inherently political is something that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. The definition, although it is broad and vague … is that it is inherently unfair.”