What is gerrymandering?

Is Adam Ruins Everything - Why Rigging Elections Is Completely Legal an accurate description of gerrymandering?

What was the original idea behind it?

  • 3
    You should try doing some basic research (ahem [Wikipedia] (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering) or similar), and then ask a more detailed question if something is not covered/explained enough with those basic sources.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 11:44
  • 1
    @SJuan76 : If I'm not supposed to either ask an in depth question like this nor a high level question like What is gerrymandering?, what's the friggin' point of politics.SE? Can you please remind me again what kind of questions politics.SE is intended for? I'm totally puzzled, really —— By the way, I tried to be specific, by referencing Adam Ruins Everything's explanation of gerrymandering as a source.
    – user3025
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 11:55
  • 3
    Your other question was not too deep (relates to a very complicated issue), it was too broad (asks a lot of issues in one question). The only issue with too deep questions is that, if there is no member in the public with enough knowledge of the issues, it might go unanswered.
    – SJuan76
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 12:00
  • 6
    The question would be better posed if it wasn't essentially just a link. I don't know what's in the video, and I don't have the time to watch right now. So even though I know a bit about gerrymandering, I can't possibly answer it as presented. Summing up the main points of the video and asking about a specific part would probably work better.
    – Geobits
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 14:50
  • 2
    For what it's worth, I think this question is just fine and perfectly on-topic, with the exception of the video link without a brief summary (as @Geobits mentioned).
    – Bobson
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


Gerrymandering is the act of redefining borders between voting districts in order to gain a political advantage. The practice is named after the US politician Elbridge Gerry, who was the governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812. In 1812 he redefined the voting districts of Massachusetts. After that reform, one voting district had roughly the shape of a salamander, which was nicknamed "the Gerry-mander" by the press.

How can a politician benefit from this?

Some countries have an election system where the country is divided into multiple districts. When the country votes for president/parliament/whatever, every district is counted separately, and whatever option has the most votes in that district wins that district. When counting the election result on the national level, the whole district is considered as voting for the winning option, no matter how close that win actually was.

This system can lead to an interesting side-effect: It is possible to win an election without winning the popular vote. Let's say your country has 5 districts, and two parties (dog party and cat party). These are the vote counts of the election:

District  Cat  Dog Winner
1         11   1   Cat
2         8    2   Cat
3         3    4   Dog
4         9    10  Dog
5         4    5   Dog
Sum       35   22

As you can see, there were far more people who voted the Cat Party than people who voted the Dog Party. But the Dog Party still won the election, because they won three districts while the cats only won two.

How could that happen? It's because the cat lovers are concentrated on two districts while the dog lovers are more evenly distributed, giving them a small majority in the others. If the borders between the districts were redefined, the election result could be completely different. By concentrating all the followers of the other party in few districts, one can greatly increase the chance to win such elections. This gives great power to whoever has the power to define the borders between voting districts.

Another reason to perform gerrymandering is to improve the reelection chance of a specific person. Let's say each district votes for their district representative. Fido of the dog party currently governs district 3 and would like to get re-elected. But unfortunately he recently said something very insulting about the dogs in a city at the eastern border of the district and they hate him now. His re-election is in danger. Fido could now ask his friends in the federal dog party to change district borders to make that problematic city a part of the neighboring district 2. That district is a solid cat district anyway, so some disgruntled dog-voters can't cause much damage over there. In exchange Fido could get another part of another district which is decidedly pro-dog.

In case you wonder "why is this legal?". Because someone must have the authority to define voting districts. Whoever is in power in a country decides who gets that authority. And considering how powerful of a tool Gerrymandering can be to stay in power, they would be stupid to not give that power to themselves.

  • So Adam Ruins Everything's explanation of gerrymandering is pretty much accurate, right? What was the original idea behind it? Is anyone actually convinced this is a fair system? ( → In my country, Belgium, such a system is unheard of) Who has the power to decide exactly how districts are combined to form districts?
    – user3025
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 12:41
  • @JohnSlegers How the current voting districts and the rules for making them came into being is a historical question which will have a different answer depending on what country/state exactly you are asking about. If you are interested in the history of voting districts of a specific state, please ask it as a new question.
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 12:44
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    @JohnSlegers Different countries have different practices. Please ask a new question about a specific country.
    – Philipp
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 12:50
  • 1
    California in 2000 is a real-life example. Democrats and Republicans created an incumbent redistricting, shifting Democrat voters from Republican to Democrat districts and vice versa. Or Tim Murphy who created (as a state legislator) the congressional district in which he later ran.
    – Brythan
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 14:48
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    @JohnSlegers We have a census every 10 years and that is generally when districts are redrawn as they have to take into account the changes in population densities of different regions.
    – Readin
    Commented Nov 3, 2016 at 6:59

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