I just came across a post on tumblr including some congressional district borders.

gm1 gm2

How come state courts do not outright throw this out through the window for not following the compactness rule? I understand the rule might be somewhat fuzzy, but just look what happens between districts 17 and 19! You'd have to be insane to claim this is "compact".

Edit: Since this question has created some discussion as to what is Gerrymandering, what is its impact and how can it influence elections, let me suggest something that brings you from zero knowledge to "pretty much aware of the situation": The redistricting game. It's a flash game (to be played in browser) that tasks you with redistricting given populations to achieve specific goals, for example depriving a surefire opposition candidate of votes, consolidating opposition in one area leaving one opposition candidate with almost all their voters and all the rest with less than enough to win, or just assuring status quo between the two parties by marginalizing uncertainty coming from undecided voters. As you play the game these concepts become quite obvious. (plus the game has much stricter "compactness" requirement than the reality...)

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    the definition seems pretty clear (for fuzzy versions of "clear"), but what I was mostly interested in was how legal it is. Is this a concept written in specific law? Constition? technical term in accepted political science literature? In other words, why would a sitting politician care about "compactness"? – user4012 Mar 14 '13 at 16:19
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    Because Judges are political too and Illinois judges are mostly Democrats. – SoylentGray Mar 14 '13 at 17:10
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    @chad AFAIK, judges don't draw district lines. – user1530 Mar 14 '13 at 19:23
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    @DA - The do decide what is legal though. – SoylentGray Mar 14 '13 at 19:27

Technically, Gerrymandering is illegal, in the United States, per Karcher v. Daggett (1983) and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The problem is that what you may consider gerrymandering is not something that an impartial court can technically say. As Tom Delay found out in in Texas in 2003, one can still get a lot of what others would call gerrymandering past the court. After the redistricting plan went to the Supreme Court, only one district was found to be unconstitutionally gerrymandered, a decision that was considered a defeat by several groups.

In many ways, gerrymandering is like pornography - I may not be able to define it (compactness rule included) but "I know it when I see it." That said, even if you know it, it doesn't mean that the court can always definitively call it as such.

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    Why the downvote? I've added the citations! – Affable Geek Mar 14 '13 at 17:12
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    The Illinois map was upheld by both the Illinois supreme court and the the US Supreme court. The decision said that the populations must be roughly equal not that there was any restriction on the shapes of the districts so long as they are contiguous. And it worked the Dems were able to unseat a very popular Bobby Schilling with an unpopular Cheri Bustos who could not have won had it relied on her home county that is a Strongly Democrat Rock Island – SoylentGray Mar 14 '13 at 17:15
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    Gerrymandering is not illegal, the citation does not say it is illegal it says that you can not create districts that have a population imbalance. In the case I mentioned there is a strip of land 50 feet wide and 10 miles long occupied entirely by interstate 74 that makes district 16(formerly 17) continuous. Gerrymandering is the shaping, that has been ruled legal – SoylentGray Mar 14 '13 at 19:14
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    The voting rights act doesn't say that Gerrymandering is illegal but specifies that very specific gerrymandering in favor of minorities has to be done. – Christian Dec 26 '17 at 21:11
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    I hate to relitigate a 6 year old answer, but this answer is incorrect. Karcher v. Daggett says nothing about gerrymandering. It just says that districts have to be of equal population (and is not the first case to so hold; see Wesberry v. Sanders, 376 U.S. 1 (1964), which came out even before the VRA).The Supreme Court in cases like Davis v. Bandemer, Vieth v. Jubelirer, and Gill v. Whitford has declined to rule on the legality of political gerrymandering. – Publius Feb 10 '19 at 15:37

The first thing to consider is the definition of illegal redistricting that is illegal gerrymandering. As stated redistricting should use county lines and geographical separation but must not systematically disadvantage one class or group. The second thing to remember is that the law requires equal population per the most recent census so there are going to be some boundaries very carefully drawn to meet that requirement.

The Court was therefore right to judge this Illinois districting perfectly compliant. County lines are followed AMAP and there is no systematic disadvantage for any population group.

The thing to look for is the use of county lines where possible. The Courts are slow to intervene into what is clearly a state right beyond the present ruling.

  • Welcome to Politics Stack Exchange. Please note that answers on this website should answer the question, nothing more and nothing less. We also try to keep personal opinions out of answers and only stick to the facts. I therefor removed a part of this answer which did not address gerrymandering but the completely different problem of voter registration and how this problem should be approached in the opinion of the author. – Philipp Feb 10 '19 at 11:47
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    The problem is issues like voter fraud are illegal, just poorly enforced. Gerrymandering is a heavy abuse of the democratic process - and as you stated - fully legal. It's easy to keep populations balanced, not cross county lines, and still use a lot of "flair" in choosing the district lines to consolidate or dilute specific votes. – SF. Feb 10 '19 at 17:04

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