Gerrymandering — in which politicians manipulate electoral boundaries for partisan advantage — is emerging as a key issue in the midterm elections. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently redrew the state’s GOP-dominated congressional map, boosting Democratic chances of taking back the House of Representatives. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to outlaw gerrymandering and has three big cases on its docket this year from Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas. Gerrymandering has gone from a wonky technical problem to a matter of great political intrigue. Yet there are many misperceptions about how the process works.
Practically every history of gerrymandering includes a reference to Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 approved a state Senate district shaped like a salamander that became known as a “Gerry-Mander.” It’s a frequent talking point among politicians that gerrymandering is as old as American democracy itself. “It is well established that partisan intent in districting is lawful,” the state of Wisconsin argued when its new State Assembly map was challenged in court. “Districting is ‘inherently political’ and ‘there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent’ consideration of political factors,” the leaders of Pennsylvania’s legislature wrote in January.
Read more: The Washington Post, March 8, 2018