Gerrymandering: Definition, History, Types & Examples

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  • 0:01 North Carolina's 12th…
  • 1:19 History of Gerrymandering
  • 2:28 Two Types of Gerrymandering
  • 3:59 Gerrymandering's…
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephen Benz

Stephen has a JD and a BA in sociology and political science.

Gerrymandering is the process of drawing congressional districts in a way that favors one political party or interest group. In this lesson, we'll consider examples of gerrymandering, some typical strategies, and gerrymandering's effect on elections.

Gerrymandering: North Carolina's 12th Congressional District

North Carolina's 12th Congressional District looks kind of like a long blob that stretches out thinly across the state. The district runs awkwardly along Interstate 85, sometimes no wider than the highway itself, and other times wide and bulky. The district was so awkwardly drawn because state leaders wanted to create a predominantly African-American congressional district. The problem was that most African Americans didn't live together in one geographic district. Instead, the majority of African Americans lived in cities along Interstate 85.

North Carolina's 12th District is a prime example of a political process called gerrymandering. Gerrymandering refers to the practice in which state legislatures draw congressional districts in a particular way in order to increase the likelihood of certain political parties or interest groups winning or losing elections. In the case of North Carolina's 12th Congressional District, the state legislature purposely drew the district this way to ensure that the district had a majority of minority voters (in this case, it was a majority of African-American voters).

History of Gerrymandering

The term 'gerrymandering' goes back to the 19th century. In 1812, the Boston Gazette coined the word in reaction to Massachusetts's governor Elbridge Gerry's redistricting of the Boston region. This new district was awkwardly drawn to benefit his political party and happened to look like a salamander on the map. Thus, the term 'gerrymander' was birthed as the newspaper's tongue-in-cheek response.

There are currently 435 congressional representatives. Each state is allocated a certain number of congressional districts based on population results from the U.S. Census, which is mandated by the Constitution to be performed every 10 years. But how those congressional districts are drawn is up to state legislatures. And since state legislatures are comprised of politicians, the process can get inherently difficult and political. If a state legislature becomes predominantly Republican or Democratic, then those parties might be inclined to gerrymander districts so that their party can win more seats.

Two Types of Gerrymandering: Packing and Cracking

There are two main gerrymandering strategies. The first is called packing. In this strategy, congressional districts are drawn in order to put as many people likely to vote for one party in the same district. While that guarantees a victory for the party, it also makes that party less competitive in other districts and diminishes its power. Essentially, you might just be wasting your party's votes.

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