Wednesday, August 03, 2016

LearnNBlog #8: Gerrymandering

Following the seemingly never-ending American Presidential elections provides a fascinating learning experience, even for a citizen of the world’s largest democracy (India, just in case you are wondering). This long-drawn process of selecting the person for the most powerful post in the world keeps throwing out interesting terms – electoral colleges, primaries, delegates et al. Seemingly a fair and transparent process but open to manipulations through procedures like “gerrymandering”.

What is Gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries during the process of defining electoral districts (constituencies).

The term was first used by the Boston Gazette on 26 March 1812. Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts passed a bill to redraw the senate election district boundaries to benefit his party. When mapped, one of the contorted districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander. 
The Original Gerry-mander (Source Wikipedia)
Gerrymandering has been used (rather, heavily used) by incumbent officials (in US) to ensure their re-election. The incumbent official would re-adjust the district boundaries to ensure that his voters have a larger share in higher number of districts. 

Gerrymandering has been a fairly common practice conducted by both the major parties at times in collusion. And its not just at the ground level. North and South Dakota were created along this line instead of a single Dakota state. It has ensured that the likelihood of change in guard at the Congress is quite low. 

This could be done by ensuring their voters are spread in more areas, or that all the opposing camp voters are packed up in a single area. “Cracking”, “Packing”, “Hijacking” & “Kidnapping” are some of the different methodologies of gerrymandering. 

This has resulted in creation of very odd-shaped electoral districts. 
Stealing an election via gerrymandering (Image Source - Wikipedia)
US townships have historically been divided along racial and ethnic lines with different areas belonging to different communities, which generally tend to vote as a block. Thus easing the work for the incumbent officials who also have the power to re-draw the boundaries. (Unlike say in India, where all election activities are conducted by a fairly independent and neutral election commission).

Manipulation is the name of the Political Game everywhere in the world.

Other Readings
  • Gerrymandering (Wikipedia)
  • Electoral District (Wikipedia)
  • What America would look like without Gerrymandering (Washington Post)
  • Understanding Congressional Gerrymandering (NPR)
  • Why are there two Carolinas and two Dakota (MentalFloss)
Previously on LearnNBlog – Tax & Cess

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