Gerrymandering

Different ways to apportion electoral districts

Gerrymandering (ŋ/ GERR-ee-mand-ər-ing)[1] is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries.

The term is named after Elbridge Gerry, who, as Governor of Massachusetts in 1812, signed a bill that created a partisan district in the Boston area that was compared to the shape of a mythological salamander.

In addition to its use achieving desired electoral results for a particular party, gerrymandering may be used to help or hinder a particular demographic, such as a political, ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious, or class group, such as in Northern Ireland where boundaries were constructed to guarantee Protestant Unionist majorities. The U.S. federal voting district boundaries that produce a majority of constituents representative of African-American or other racial minorities, known as "majority-minority districts". Gerrymandering can also be used to protect incumbents. Wayne Dawkings describes it as politicians picking their voters instead of voters picking their politicians.[2]

The term gerrymandering has negative connotations. Two principal tactics are used in gerrymandering: "cracking" (i.e. diluting the voting power of the opposing party's supporters across many districts) and "packing" (concentrating the opposing party's voting power in one district to reduce their voting power in other districts).[3] A third tactic, shown in the top-left diagram in the graphic to the right, is homogenization of all districts (essentially a form of cracking where the majority party uses its superior numbers to guarantee the minority party never attains a majority in any district).

The resulting district is known as a gerrymander (i-/); however, that word is also a verb for the process.[4][5]

Etymology

Printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. The caricature satirizes the bizarre shape of a district in Essex County, Massachusetts, as a dragon-like "monster". Federalist newspaper editors and others at the time likened the district shape to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a portmanteau of that word and Governor Gerry's last name.

The word gerrymander (originally written Gerry-mander) was used for the first time in the Boston Gazette (not to be confused with the original Boston Gazette) on 26 March 1812. The word was created in reaction to a redrawing of Massachusetts state senate election districts under Governor Elbridge Gerry. In 1812, Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a mythological salamander.[6]

The original gerrymander, and original 1812 gerrymander cartoon, depict the Essex South state senatorial district for the legislature of The Commonwealth of Massachusetts.[7]

Gerrymander is a portmanteau of the governor's last name and the word salamander.

The redistricting was a notable success for Gerry's Democratic-Republican Party. Although in the 1812 election both the Massachusetts House and governorship were won by Federalists by a comfortable margin and cost Gerry his job, the redistricted state Senate remained firmly in Democratic-Republican hands.[6][clarification needed]

The author of the term gerrymander may never be definitively established. Historians widely believe that the Federalist newspaper editors Nathan Hale, and Benjamin and John Russell coined the term, but the historical record does not have definitive evidence as to who created or uttered the word for the first time.[7]

Appearing with the term, and helping spread and sustain its popularity, was a political cartoon depicting a strange animal with claws, wings and a dragon-like head satirizing the map of the oddly shaped district. This cartoon was most likely drawn by Elkanah Tisdale, an early 19th-century painter, designer, and engraver who was living in Boston at the time.[8] Tisdale had the engraving skills to cut the woodblocks to print the original cartoon.[9] These woodblocks survive and are preserved in the Library of Congress.[10]

The word gerrymander was reprinted numerous times in Federalist newspapers in Massachusetts, New England, and nationwide during the remainder of 1812.[11] This suggests some organized activity of the Federalists to disparage Governor Gerry in particular, and the growing Democratic-Republican party in general. Gerrymandering soon began to be used to describe not only the original Massachusetts example, but also other cases of district shape manipulation for partisan gain in other states. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word's acceptance was marked by its publication in a dictionary (1848) and in an encyclopedia (1868).[12] Since the letter g of the eponymous Gerry is pronounced with a hard g /ɡ/ as in get, the word gerrymander was originally pronounced ər/. However, pronunciation as ər/, with a soft g /dʒ/ as in gentle, has become the accepted pronunciation.

From time to time, other names are given the "-mander" suffix to tie a particular effort to a particular politician or group. These include the 1852 "Henry-mandering", "Jerrymander" (referring to California Governor Jerry Brown),[13] "Perrymander" (a reference to Texas Governor Rick Perry),[14][15] and "Tullymander" (after the Irish politician James Tully).[16]